Collecting an offering may be a very recognizable part of a Christian worship service as the need to solicit support for ministries is a consistent feature of all denominations and traditions.
While there is plenty to talk about the motivations and spirituality of giving (in fact, we’re in the middle of a stewardship campaign and great sermon series about it), I want to focus on the mechanics of this part of our Sunday morning gathering.
Our practice is to pass a collection plate through the seats, which is a familiar occurrence for many Protestant churches, but not every church operates in this way. In prior churches that I served, everyone would dance to form a circle around the room at one point in the service then file past a collection box to deposit their offering. In another, people would bring part of their homefarm–an egg, a sack of cornmeal, a bag of mangoes, or a chicken–to be bartered at the end of the service. What was important was that everyone could be included, even if they did not use money. Where churches have added online giving options, some provide tokens or special cards to symbolize their contribution so that they can still share the practice with the rest of the congregation.
In other organizations, membership invoices or a fundraising drive are the means for sharing financial support, yet these do not share the same opportunity for mutual participation.
The significance of this part of our liturgy is that we have a regular reminder that our faith is meant to be lived together. It is not an individual act, which is how we are accustomed to think of financial matters, but a communal practice of providing for and receiving from the diverse resources our community possesses.
Though this often fixates on financial contribution, it is also a time to reflect on how we can share our time and abilities for the benefit of others, as our offering is not just what we give to the church, but what we give for each other in the generous spirit of God.
Experiment: As the collection plates are passed, take a moment to hold it firmly. Close your eyes to imagine how many hands have held this plate and how many gifts have been shared. Consider what you can give to support and what you receive by being part of our community.