Have you ever visited a church and been baffled by their quite-similar-but-different-enough-to-fox-you customs? You think you’re in a familiar setting, then BAM, something completely unexpected befuddles you.
On the surface, Anglican churches seem much of a muchness, don’t they, with pretty much the same customs going on each week? But dig a little deeper, and you reveal a fascinating gem: the weird and wonderful C of E. We know this. We love our eccentricities and anomalies, our irregularities and inconsistencies. It’s what makes us British.
I spent nearly a decade of my Army career as a cultural specialist studying people from other cultures, so church culture intrigues me. I learned that to study a people, it’s best to try and fit in. My capacity to fit in was rather limited in Afghanistan as I can’t grow much of a beard and I don’t suit a turban, but I had more luck in Bosnia, where I could easily blend in among market stall holders, in bars and in cafes. Plus, when speaking Bosnian, my accent, I’m told, is very similar to that of a Slovenian. The first time I heard this I was delighted.
But going ‘undercover’ in church isn’t simple at all. I’ve been worshipping long enough now to know my way around, but almost every time I go to a new church (most weeks in this job) there’s inevitably something strange that crops up that outs me as the outsider that I am.
I say the wrong version of the Lord’s Prayer, or accidentally and loudly continuing with the liturgy, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest,” only to find I’m in a church that stops at the previous Hosanna (we’ve all been there, right?).
I sing the wrong tune to the Gloria, or I expect the full Nicene Creed, but it’s an alternative Affirmation of Faith that I don’t know the words to.
I don’t exit the pew properly for Communion (the backwards shuffle into a reverse queue, or just joining the line like at Tesco?), or I’m in an Evangelical church and get completely confused when extra choruses and verses of the worship song are thrown in unexpectedly, and contrary to the words on the screen. Or worse, the worship band improvises their own words.
There’s always something that catches me. It makes me feel really awkward.
But what confounds me the most is being caught out by the offertory/ offering/ collection (delete as appropriate, because these terms are another thing we differ on).
When I’m visiting a different church and I’ve remembered to bring money, I want to contribute this money to the work of the church. So when the plate doesn’t even come round, and instead zooms up to the front, minus my contribution, I feel quite upset. The regulars know to put their contribution on the plate on the way in, but those not in-the-know don’t know. It makes me feel awkward, stingy and like an outsider.
Equally, some visitors don’t even know an offering will take place so don’t bring anything to give. Other visitors have no idea what this practice is all about, and just see the church as “money grabbing” which puts them off, even if they have brought money.
It’s a real can of worms.
Being newish to church means I still maintain the perspective of the outsider, and so I’ve used this viewpoint to develop a really helpful resource for your church. With one A6 information card, your church can combat awkwardness and visitor distress by answering the what, when, why and how of the offertory.
Made available on every seat, or in every pew space, or handed out to everyone who comes through the door (new and old), this information card about the offertory uses plain and friendly English and a few images to explain what this bit of the service is about, what happens, when it occurs, why generosity is part of Christian faith and how someone can contribute if they wish/are able.
But the really important thing about this information card, is that it clearly states that guest/visitor is not expected to give money today. Contributions to the ongoing mission of the church are regularly made by church members.
This relieves the visitor from the awkwardness of not being able to give, or not knowing what it’s about, whilst serving to remind the body of the church (the regulars) that its mission is made possible by their contributions. Perhaps it will be a helpful and timely reminder to those who don’t feel that their contributions matter. Here in black and white, it states that they do matter.
These simple information cards include other helpful hints and tips and can be completely adapted and tweaked by your church to reflect your own quirks and oddities. This resource has been a popular idea at PCC meetings because of its simplicity and effectiveness as a communication tool. It isn’t meant to replace verbal messages about the offertory, it’s meant to supplement them!
This, like the other Generous Giving Project resources, is aimed at improving communication and getting the message across that God is generous and we as individuals and as a church are invited to be generous too. So taking the awkwardness out of this topic and making it plain and simple means that no-one is left wondering, or left out.
You can download four similar-but-different ready-made templates to get you started by clicking here.
And there you have it.
Here’s a sneak peak of the four double-sided templates.