The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that passing a collection plate for money is a practice that needs rethinking. The custom reduces one’s understanding of gift to that of an exclusive monetary value and can exclude people from participating. For most parishes the “collection” is that awkward time during the service when people fidget for change in their pocket, scurry to fill an offering envelope with what limited cash they tend to carry, pass the plate along without depositing a gift, or worst of all, sheepishly peer at pew mates to see if they put anything on the plate. It has become an unwelcome interruption to worship.
I am all for generous giving. As I have written time and again, giving should be regular, reliable and real; our offering should be proportionate, sacrificial, consistent and joyful. The offertory can be a welcome opportunity to celebrate all this, but most of the time it isn’t.
More and more church members are turning to Pre-Authorized Giving (PAG) as a way of ensuring that their gift of money is made available to the church on a regular basis. The gift is planned and reliable. PAG is one example of how we can give of our first fruits in a way that does not draw attention to our benevolence. It is usually made on a monthly basis and is completely detached from the formal offertory process.
Most of us experience the preparation of the gifts in a similar fashion: sides-people ensure that the collection plate is passed from the front row to the back of the church; congregants deposit a monetary offering on the plate (or not) and pass the plate along; when the collection of monetary gifts is complete it is brought to the altar (sometimes with the communion wine and water); a blessing is made; and, the collection plate is whisked away to a side room for safe-keeping or immediate counting. The practice leaves me feeling empty.
The act of giving should be a joyful one where all our gifts are welcomed, acknowledged, offered and blessed. Somewhere along the line, we have reduced the totality of our giftedness to money. And we reinforce this sentiment by imparting a blessing on it. However, Christian stewardship is more than money and our gifts extend beyond what we put one the collection plate. Money is absolutely essential for supporting ministry; generous financial gifting to the church demonstrates our faith in God and is a profound act of discipleship. But why does the act of giving money still have a place in the middle of a worship service?
There still might be a place for the offering of gifts during the Eucharistic celebration. What if we took the time to acknowledge the service of one ministry on a weekly basis or thanked our volunteers publicly for their talent, ingenuity, and perseverance? What if, instead of passing a plate for people to place cash or cheques on, we encouraged people to offer their time and talent and intentions and prayers? Then, all the gifts could be blessed and left at the altar as a symbolic act of thanksgiving. This way, everyone present could participate and they would come to realize that gift isn’t synonymous with cash.
God has given each one of us very special gifts. We can reinforce our giftedness and uniqueness each Sunday if we make space for celebrating all those gifts right in the worship service.