“The offering will now be received.” When I was young, that meant my mother gave me a dime to put in the collection plate, while she offered her weekly pledge payment, in an envelope.
The practice of religious giving is a little bit different today. Some congregations have cards people can put in the plate that say the person already gave, online or with a credit card. Others have repurposed the offering, giving all or part of the collection to organizations that do good in the community or in the world while balancing its own books on the planned stewardship of its members.
And there are places where the plate doesn't get passed; instead, the congregation parades to the front, maybe with donations for multiple collections. Others have a more discreet station so you give as you enter or leave, and it's not part of the ceremony.
I used to usher at a church where, during the collection, I kept a hold on the box lest some New Yorker decide to walk away with the alms; in Toledo, I've seen people making change from the plate.
For religious giving, the question of tithing comes up—do you give a full 10 percent of your gross income, or is that tenth divided among all sacred and secular nonprofits you support, making a neat 10 percent for IRS charitable giving across the board? You might hear some holy words that “giving unto Caesar” doesn't mean you base your contribution on taxes, but you might not hear objections about giving your tax refund that Caesar was holding onto.
I give and receive, and I encourage people to support their faith financially.
What I object to are the pleas that you must give more than you can justify in order to earn prosperity, that televangelists seem to trick you into ongoing sacrificial support which in itself is often tied to the prosperity gospel, and I especially criticize the “freewill” or "love" offering that's manipulative and so much more generous to the recipient than the local organization. Your will doesn't seem so free there. As for televangelists, you won't see Joel Osteen asking for money on TV, but his Lakewood Church in Houston was robbed of its March 8 and 9 collection: $200,000 in cash and $400,000 in checks, from a weekend attendance of about 45,000 people. That reasonable average of $13.33 per person added up. No arrests have been made, and a $25,000 reward is offered.
The “special events” collection is extra, beyond the local tithe. Whether it's a revival service or a musical performance, it seems there's a need to pay the visiting leaders and provide for the power and structure to bring those people in and to pay high expenses.
I get the feeling that most of that money won't stay in the community. When a minister lines up 20 people to to pay $100 each to start off the collection, that's $2,000 up front. Those money changers often call that the “seed,” so when you hear that term, be careful what you might sow. Then there might be a $50 line, with the urging to make it stretch all the way down the aisle. And then a request that whatever you give ends in zero—so there's a $10 minimum. One time I saw a gospel singer holding her hands out so people could just pour their bills into her arms until the cash cascaded to the floor. That reminds me of “making it rain” similar to what happens in what some religious people would call a den of iniquity.
Collections like these make me think of a song from 2011 called “PTYHOMP,” on the CD Medicine, Live at the Black Academy of Arts and Letters. The initials stand for “Please Take Your Hand Out My Pocket.” A few lines from the song: “If I come on Sunday morning should I bring a personal check / ATMs up in the lobby are we losing God's respect” and the chorus “Please take your hand out my pocket / I must say it again won't you stop it / That's not the way that it started / Please take your hand out my pocket.”
Please, make generous but responsible pledges to the places that enrich your soul and psyche, both religious and secular, and pay your pledge in full plus a bit more for good measure. But realize when you're being taken advantage of, don't get carried away by emotion and atmosphere, and keep guard of your pocket when things don't feel right. Try to pay a sacred event a fair share, at least what you would give for seated time in a secular public place, be it theater or restaurant. Give to support the establishment, pay your pledge, but remember that it's not a sin to care for your family first.