Notes From The Balcony

Progressive Reflections on Post-Modern Living in a Multifaith Age

Empty Collection Plates…

Posted by John Montgomery on August 8, 2010

Now if you opened this post hoping to talk about dwindling finances in some of our churches (not all), then you are in the wrong place. Today’s post is about worship!

Our technology is outrunning our liturgical practices. I’ve seen this coming, but this morning starkly brought it home.

Now school starts tomorrow here in the Atlanta metro area, so worship attendance, following a summer of sparse crowds was quite good. It was helped by the fact that this is the Sunday we give 3rd graders their own personal Bibles and therefore there were lots of family visitors –  aunts, uncles, etc.

It was full enough, that my usual seat down front right was taken and I had to sit about 15 rows back. which was okay, I was in a watchful mood today, so I didn’t mind the view.

I like the rhythm of our worship. I have written about this before, starting with the gathering of the congregation including the children, then moving toward a time of prayer, the scripture reflection (with sermon) and then closing with a high period of  dedication symbolized with our collection.

Collections are important to me – I suppose that my father commiserates about the fact that I did not complete the ordination process by noting that as a professional fundraiser, I still take collections (sort of).  Isn’t that how you know you are at a Methodist gathering – there is a collection. Right.

So here I am sitting 15 rows back – my best guess is that we have about 450 people in attendance this morning. The ushers are dutifully passing the plates and when it got to my row…..THE PLATE WAS EMPTY!

Why John, I didn’t know your church was facing such hard times!

No! We made budget last year and had a surplus. What is going on?

I am sure there are a couple of things going on, but I can’t help but notice that about a month ago, we started taking contributions made on our website by credit cards. For the last 3 or 4 months, since – for the life of me – I can’t find my check book, and since I pay everything else but my pledge on line, I started to use my financial institution’s bill pay functions to deliver on Monday of each week, right on time, a bank cut check to our church office.

But, that’s Monday, not SUNDAY.

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow,

Praise God, all creatures here below,

Praise God, above ye heavenly host,

Creator, Christ and Holy Ghost…

And from my colleagues up north, the pastoral invitation  is….

“Jesus calls us to follow him. One way in which we respond to this call is to offer our gifts—of time, talents, and treasures.”

Seems to me that something’s got to give. Some of you may remember the “Daily Office” liturgy that was first developed at the Faith and Life Community at the University in Austin,  TX – Jack Lewis’ provocative campus ministry cooperative during the 1950s. Or, perhaps more may have run into this experimental liturgy as it became part of the covenant community associated with the work of Joe Mathews at the Ecumenical Institute based in Chicago. My late wife, Judy and I spent some 15 years as members of that “third order.” Daily Office was usually at 4:30 in the morning, a habit that I did not take long to break after leaving the community and returning to grad school.

Nevertheless, the collection (offering) was a bit of a suprise to people. I remember explaining to a group of visitors – “that this is not about paying bills. It is about a renewed commitment to be the church.”

So at either side of the doors coming into the liturgical space, there were baskets of pennies. Upon entering, everybody takes a penny. When the liturgy comes to the time of the offering, as the baskets are passed, everybody (kids, rich, poor, choir, morning clergy) places their penny in the offering plate as a symbol of giving their lives.

Frankly, I’ve become more and more uncomfortable with the practice of averting my glance from the usher every Sunday indicating that I have nothing to put in plate…

I don’t have a proposal yet. I’ve been thinking about prayer cards. It’s all symbolic, but what it symbolizes is so important. Our liturgy gives us a chance each week to rehearse and remake our Christian commitments – that’s finally what worship is about.

Yes, the check is in the mail, but our lives are in the plate.

* * * * *

Photo Used by Permission: I-Stock Phote – DesignEthic

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3 Responses to “Empty Collection Plates…”

  1. bronxcat said

    The church I grew up in has laminated cards in the pews (in the section where the hymnals and bibles are kept) that say “I gave online” so that you can put something in the plate if you feel it is necessary. After the services the cards are put back in the pews.

  2. Kathy Brockman said

    John,
    This is a very thoughtful and thought-provoking post. I really had not given the fact that we do the online giving much notice yet. But, you raise a very good point about the symbolism and meaning of placing something in the plate each week. Thanks for posting this.
    Kathy

  3. Dennis Rice said

    John,
    I remember participating in the experimental liturgy at the Ecumenical Institute in Chicago when I was a visitor there. Symbolic participation in the offering is a very powerful part of the worship experience. Although I pay almost all of my bills electronically, I still put a paper check in the collection plate. Thanks for writing on this topic and I hope this post will generate some other suggestions for participating in the offering.

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