Annual church giving tops $50 billion, according to one report.
The average Christian puts roughly $800 a year into the collection plate.
But that's dog-bites-man kind of news, meaning it's not really news. It's too routine.
On the other hand, you know what makes for interesting stories? Churches giving away cash for members to go out and do good deeds, that's what. I like those kind of headlines, especially at Christmastime.
Enter Julie Zauzmer, religion writer for the Washington Post, with a feel-good report out of a Maryland suburb:
On the first Sunday of December, the Rev. Ron Foster invited his congregants to step up to the altar to receive the bread and wine of Communion — and to receive a $100 bill.
“Listen to where the Holy Spirit’s leading you,” he said to the stunned congregation as he distributed a stack of money at Severna Park United Methodist Church, located in a Maryland suburb. “Listen to the need that’s around you, that you find in the community. You may be in the right place at the right time to help somebody, because you have this in your hand.”
One hundred congregants walked out into the Advent season, with the money burning a hole in their pockets.
One stack of bills totaling $10,000, dropped off at the church by an anonymous donor, has turned into 100 good deeds in the Severna Park community this Christmas season.
Ginger ale and soup and warm socks for a cancer patient. Snow pants and gloves so a child with a brain tumor can play outside. Christmas presents for children who are homeless, for children whose parents are struggling with drug addiction, for children whose parents have suffered domestic abuse, for children in the hospital. Cash for dozens of grateful strangers, from waitresses to bus drivers to leaf collectors.
One hundred donations go a long way.
The story notes that the donor — who asked to remain anonymous but granted an interview to the Post — "had heard about other communities, including her mother’s church in Texas, where everyone in the congregation was entrusted with money to distribute."
Indeed, the concept is not new. I first remember writing about such a giveaway in 2002 when I served as religion editor for The Oklahoman:
Imagine showing up for worship one weekend and, instead of putting money in the collection plate, taking home a wad of bills.
You can spend the money however you want.
A movie and a bucket of buttery popcorn? Sure. A new car stereo with a nifty CD player? Fine. A night for two at a posh resort? Wonderful.
There's just one catch: The preacher reminds you that this cash — like all your earthly possessions — belongs to God.
Such was the scenario recently at Edmond's Life Church. As part of a sermon series that stressed relying on biblical principles to manage finances, the church gave away $10,000.
The Bible contains more than 2,300 verses related to money, while two-thirds of Jesus Christ's parables concern financial issues, pastor Craig Groeschel said.
In 2010, I wrote a front-page Christian Chronicle feature when an Atlanta church received $1.5 million "to be divided among all present that Sunday — from first-graders up — and spent on good works in the Lord’s name."
Here at GetReligion, we highlighted the 2014 news that a Chicago church cut $500 checks to more than 300 members with "no strings attached."
Another cool recent story involved an Ohio church — coincidentally, also a United Methodist congregation — that gave a $3,500 tip to five Waffle House workers. When I was a kid, my mom worked for a few years as a Waffle House waitress, but I think the biggest tip she ever received was $50, which — come to think of it — was a lot of money in 1980. But I digress.
Back to Zauzmer's story: The Post writer does a nice job of describing how various congregants used the money — and the spiritual lessons learned along the way:
The donor behind it all said one of her favorite ideas was Dave Doss’s. He and a friend ordered 10 pizzas and a case of Orange Crush to be delivered to the steps of a Baltimore church where they knew homeless men and women hang out. Then they spent the afternoon having a pizza party with them.
“When you have that $100 burning a hole in your pocket, you’re looking around. Should I fill that person’s gas tank? Should I buy that person’s groceries? What can I do? It’s exciting, to have that ability to do that,” the donor said. She said that she and her husband have had good fortune — they own a business — and she feels lucky to be able to give, and to enable others to practice giving.
The piece ends with a theological note:
Foster said congregants confided in him that they thought long and hard about how to use their $100, perhaps even more than they would have had they been handing out their own funds.
“That to me is good theology anyway,” Foster said. “It’s a good way to think about your life, that you’ve been entrusted with great gifts. And how do you turn around and use them?”
It’s an eternal question. This Christmas, his church has 100 answers.
That'll preach — in terms of modern-day parables and strong newspaper writing.
Image via Pixabay.com