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You might notice something’s different about our service. We’ve made some changes to how we do the offertory and there are plenty of reasons why. If you want to know how and why it’s changed, read on.
“A few years ago I was worshipping in a rural church in East Anglia with my husband, and when it came to the offertory, we appeared to be two of the only people in the church who gave anything. I was a new Christian and unfamiliar with the ways of the church, so it made us feel a bit uncomfortable and confused.
Years later I’d realise that the rest of that congregation probably contributed via Standing Order, and so when the plate came round, it went straight past them. Ah so that explains it! But even once I understood this, something still bothered me. It seemed a shame that so many of the congregation didn’t take part. It didn’t seem to fit with the spirit of the thing.
I’ve also been to plenty of churches where the offertory plate isn’t passed at all. I’ve wanted to give, but being a visitor I’ve not expected it to stay at the back, and before I know it, the plate has zipped straight past me to the altar. I haven’t been able to contribute and have felt left out.
It seems no matter how a church does it, what goes on during this bit of the service reveals a lot about how we feel about publicly giving. Rachael Phillips, Generous Giving Project Officer
At our church, we’re going to use a resource developed by Durham Diocese’s Generous Giving Project, which we think will address a much broader set of issues we may have with the offertory. Because let’s face it, some of us wish we could get this awkward money bit out of the way as quickly and as discreetly as possible. Churches have devised plenty of ways of drawing our attention away from the money bit, whether it’s avoiding looking at the plate by reading the words in our hymn books, avoiding hearing the clatter of coins by singing those words loudly, or not passing the plate at all. Does any of this sound familiar?
But what if things were different? What if we properly celebrated this bit of the service that conjured up a sense of joyful giving, and prayerful gratitude? And could we use this time to better prepare ourselves for the next part of the service; Holy Communion?
So we’ve started using prayer tokens which act as symbols of generosity, no matter how you give, how often you give, how much you give or who you are. When you arrive in church, you’ll be asked to pick a prayer out of a basket, and when it gets to the offertory, as a whole church we’ll use these prayers.
On the front it says:
“This is a symbol of the different ways I give generously to serve others, and recognition of the many ways God gives generously to me.”
These words reflect that generosity comes in many forms such as hospitality, time, resources, skills and money. And central to the offertory, which happens just before the Eucharist when we give thanks for Jesus, is God’s generosity. That’s what this token also represents: what we’ve been freely given by God.
These tokens help us with…
- Our Prayer. On the reverse side is a prayer. This helps us to see God in our giving. Some are prayers of thanks, while some ask God for help when we find giving hard.
- Our Mission. Many prayers highlight the mission of the church. This might especially help those of us who don’t know what impact our generosity actually has, helping us to see how our generosity funds and enables things like clergy and lay training, stipends, mission activities, youth events, Messy Church resources, etc.
- Our Inclusivity. They include everybody. We all choose a prayer card from a basket to put on the plate, regardless of how or what we give. Our prayer (our generosity) is blessed at the altar along with everyone else’s prayers and gifts. This helps us to understand that we all give something at some point and we’re all included in God’s generosity. Those who can’t give (because they forgot, they weren’t aware or they’re too poor) can take part in a church-wide blessing of generosity.
- Our Participation. When the plate is blessed, instead of using the usual words, the vicar will pick a prayer from the plate at random each week and read it out. This means whoever chose that prayer gets to be part of the worship (and we get to hear something different each week).
- And… Pause. We’re using the offertory as an opportunity to pause and think about all the ways God’s generosity and all the ways we have given generously of ourselves, including the gifts given today on the plate. As the plate comes around, and we’re holding our prayer card, we can think about all the ways we’re blessed and bless others. We’ll listen to a piece of music which will help us get into the right frame of mind. When the music ends, we’ll all be able to hear the prayer the vicar has chosen.
This new way of doing the offertory helps us to achieve a lot. From creating a clear and obvious link between the gifts we contribute and the mission of God’s church, to everyone getting to join in, to the pressure it could take off visitors or others who can’t give much or who can only give in other ways. We think celebrating the offertory like this would certainly help an outsider to see we’re a generous church worshipping a generous God.
So, just to remind you… when you walk into church, you’ll be asked to choose a prayer token from a basket, held out by the welcome team. When it comes to the offertory, we’ll listen to a piece of music, use our prayer to focus on what we’ve been given and what we’ve given of ourselves, and when the plate comes round, we’ll place it on the plate along with our usual method of giving. It’s as easy as that.
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