Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Noisy Offerings

This new church we’ve joined has the most awesome offering. Once a month, the youth collect a special offering in addition to the regular pledges. The kids have already picked the mission for that month and everybody knows where it’s going. But it’s not the destination of their money that makes the offering so great--it’s the way it’s collected.

The kids pass around a galvanized bucket and collect the loose change in everyone’s pockets. It’s called Noisy Offering. Paper money is not encouraged although I’ve seen some bills in the bucket. It’s not the amount of the offering that is the goal here, it’s the sound.

After a couple of passes, when they have some coins, they give the bucket a shake and the bucket makes a magical, joyful sound. A few more passes and the sounds gets louder. You might hear someone laugh and comment the bucket is getting heavy. Then the sound changes and gets a bit duller when the coins hit layer after layer of other coins instead of the bottom of the bucket. By the end of the offering, the people who aren’t laughing are smiling from ear to ear.
The youth count and wrap the coins. Lately, as the offering has grown, they’ve considered how much more efficient the Coin Star machine at Walmart could do the job. The offering keeps growing as people find how much fun it is to put your loose change to good use and have fun doing it. It turns out to be a lot of fun making noise in church. And I’ve seen folks bringing their change in baggies because they’ve collected all their coins for the past month in anticipation of the Noisy Offering.

Offerings should be fun. They should ALL be noisy.

Can we agree on this one, folks? The whole process of giving back to God what God has already given us should be an occasion to rejoice. After all, God doesn’t want it all, just part of it. We get to keep the rest. And we get to decide where to put God’s part. There are so many places and we get to choose. Rather than an obligation shouldn’t offerings be seen as a chance to rejoice in such bounty and freedoms? I don't need to remind you how many people in the world would love to have money left over after feeding their children.  Just having shelter and clothing are luxuries to some of our fellow citizens of Planet Earth. And there are those for whom even food is a luxury.

To think that we can have food, and shelter and clothing and then have money left over is a luxury all its own. That alone is cause for celebration. And a noisy one, at that.

When I go to the Synod Youth Workshop every summer one of the first things a small group does is come up with a budget for their week together. There are many things the kids will need money for during the week: Town Night might include eating at a restaurant, going to the movies or bowling; there are snacks to buy and a group souvenir to remember our time together. The main exercise of our week together is building a community of faith. And part of that process is for the group to decide how they will spend their money.

It’s amazing to watch the kids. We assume they mirror the process they see their parents have shown them but I sometimes wonder if their parents could learn from them. Invariably, as they count the money available for the group, the first thing they will do is add up their available funds then literally draw a line on the poster board and multiply by 10%. They take this money and set it aside before they do anything else.

Then, at the final worship service of the week, the only one in which we collect an offering, each group puts in their offering as a family. One year, my pastor was the keynote speaker and she told them what a joyful opportunity they were about to experience to give back to God in thanks for what God has already given us. It started out softly as the first group put their envelope in the basket and let out a tentative “whoop!” The next group was a bit louder, then “Whoop!!” rang through the auditorium, intertwined with gales of laughter and glee. By the time the 26th small group put in their offering we were all laughing and clapping and whooping and the joy of giving was never better.

Is it possible to take this love for giving back to our home churches?

When my church in Garland started getting more and more members from Africa one of the new members commented on how much more fun the offering is in Africa. In Africa, they explained, members literally dance up the aisles to bring their offering to God. Some bright person on the worship committee thought about this and they decided to have a trial offering “African-style” and see what happened. A few of the more staid Old Guard Presbyterians watched cautiously but the majority took the opportunity to dance up the aisles. Even people who had already put their monthly check in the plate the week before were scratching around for a bill or two just so they would have a reason to dance up the aisle and then something to put in the offering. The next thing we knew, the church decided to take the offering African style once a month. And some people changed the week they brought their checks so they could dance up the aisles.

Presbyterians claim Grace so proudly as an integral part of our existence that you would think we had invented it. Who among us upon really understanding Grace wouldn’t want to dance in worship? We are torn between the “decently and in order” tradition and an unqualified response to Grace. I personally vote for dancing in the aisles as being acceptably decent and totally in order.

The only remaining problem we have now is figuring out how to clap while you’re holding a check in your hands. Surely God could send down some message and help us on this one. If we could figure that one out we might switch to a dancing-down-the-aisle African Offering every week. We’ve got the Noisy part down already.

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