The occasion was a vestry meeting to write a stewardship statement. The group was completing a discussion of early memories of money in which the final portion, that devoted to early memories of money as an offering, had been particularly lively and I couldn’t help commenting. “You seem to have really enjoyed talking about these memories of giving offerings as children. Tell me, what do the children in this congregation now do about offering?” There was a sudden silence which became filled with embarrassment as it continued. Finally, one quiet voice responded with a mixture of realization and regret, “Nothing, I guess. I really hadn’t thought about it until now.”
As we talked, members of that vestry realized that in their congregation there was no Sunday School offering collected. Children left the worship service as soon as the gospel had been read and returned in time to follow the presentation of the offering, the bread and the wine down the aisle. There was literally no opportunity for them to participate in any offering at all!
The good news is that that situation changed for those children on the very next Sunday. The vestry member who also served as the primary children’s Sunday School teacher invited her students to talk about offering and create their own offering box in which to begin placing their gifts. Now, that box is placed on top of the worship offering and presented at the altar each Sunday by one of the children. The priest leaves the offering on the altar until the conclusion of the Eucharist and the children see their box sitting there when they come to the altar rail. The children have also selected outreach projects funded by “the children’s offering.”
“What are we teaching our children about stewardship?” is becoming a critical question for our church. The fact is that we are teaching them very little. The baby boomers whose parents passed out nickels, dimes, and quarters for childish hands to place in offering places are not passing that instruction along. Why does it matter? Listen to a few stewardship witness talks. “My parents taught me to tithe” is a common beginning. How many of our children could say that? If we are not careful, we will soon have a generation of gospel consumers who have not been formed to contribute something of their own substance to the proclamation of that gospel to the world.
In June, 1997, I led a workshop entitled “You’re Never Too Young (to be a steward)” for the Chaos to Creativity Christian Education Conference presented by Christ Church Cathedral in Indianapolis. During that workshop we identified some of the specific lessons we want our children to learn about stewardship. Though this list is still a work in progress, here is how it stands to date:
Stewardship is using the gifts God has given us to do the work God has given us to do. Our giving is a thankful response to all that God has given us. Our lives and the manner in which we use our resources should reflect our belief that “All things come of Thee, oh God.”
Part of the work God is calling each of us to do is to support the life and work of our congregation. Many of our congregations involve children in giving projects which neglect or even subvert this important lesson. Bringing soap and toothbrushes for children in Afghanistan, collecting money to buy animals for third world families through the Heifer Project and similar projects are excellent learning opportunities but they somehow leave the feeling that the day to day support of the congregation is boring and can be left to someone else.
God calls us to give of our substance, not a portion of the leftovers. Our gifts to God come first, before we spend on ourselves.
You will note that the lessons for children are identical to the lessons we try to teach adults. The technology is similar. Here are a few practical suggestions for making sure the younger members of the congregation are incorporated into the stewardship program.
Including Our Children
- Make sure there is an opportunity for children to give an offering each week. It sounds obvious but an astonishing number of congregations, like the one mentioned in this article, have never thought about this. The children’s offering can come during Sunday School, children’s church, or the morning worship but it should be an event, part of the liturgy.
- Give offering envelopes to every child who wants them. There are wonderful, colorful, inexpensive offering envelopes available from several denominational bookstores and publishers. Do not be dismayed by the uses children will find for these envelopes. I will never forget the morning we had to find an extra envelope for a child who had found it a convenient place to put the tooth which had come out during Sunday School. Yes, it is a good idea to tell parents what you are doing and give them veto power, though I have never known a parent to refuse or complain.
- Honor every gift. Record children’s offerings and give them regular statements along with adults regardless of the amount they contribute. If the cost of keeping the records and generating the statements exceeds the amount of the contribution, so what? This is an investment in formation and is well worth the cost.
- Teach parents how to teach their children. An adult forum on early memories of money will be valuable to the adults. End it with the question “What memories do you want your children to have?” and it will be valuable to their children. Anyone interested in a “parents as stewards” training session, please call for a copy of the outline we have developed in the Office of Stewardship.
- Incorporate a discussion of stewardship into confirmation class. One priest I know includes it in preparation for baptism which is an even better idea.
- Include Christian Education volunteers in planning for your annual stewardship program. They are a valuable ally and may bring some fresh ideas along with them. Encourage them to look for stewardship teaching opportunities in whatever curriculum your church is using. There are a number of resources available but I think you will find that you do not need special “stuff” to teach this.
- Last, but most important, cherish the children. They are one of the best gifts God has given us.
Written by: Terry Parsons, Stewardship Officer, Episcopal Church Center, 815 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10017 1-800-334-7626, firstname.lastname@example.org