Posted by: sailingmartha | March 23, 2011

My first post

Hi, and welcome to my blog. I hope to be chatting about whatever’s on my mind. Some of my thoughts may be deep, but I’ll warn you that most will probably not be.

Here’s an issue that has come up recently and I’m struggling with it: tithing. A little background…I am Orthodox Christian, a convert from the Catholic church. Tithing was never a topic when I was growing up. It wasn’t even in my vocabulary. Catholics threw a dollar (or maybe a handful of change) in the collection basket when it passed by. I heard a few sermons over the years on stewardship – giving of our time, talents, and treasure (money). But no one really specified an amount to our giving or asked us to commit to anything financially.

As an adult in the Catholic church, we occasionally were asked to pledge a certain amount of money towards a specific goal, such as remodeling the Cathedral. But weekly church giving still consisted of tossing in a few dollars or writing a check when I happened to think of it. Later, with the advent of new technology, the idea of setting up an automatic payment plan using a bank withdrawal was touted, probably in a feeble attempt to get people to give more consistently. And that’s pretty much where it remains today.

On to the Orthodox parish that I now attend. First of all there are the collection baskets passed around each Sunday. So far, so familiar. But I was surprised by the pledge forms in the vestibule, asking us to pledge a certain amount for the year and specify how we would be paying it. Whoa. They want me to commit a certain amount?! They even gave us a minimum dollar amount we were supposed to pledge. Here’s where my issues start.

Not with asking for money for the church. I’m happy to support the church. I know it has financial needs, the same as everyone, and we all need to pitch in and provide for it. My first issue is a more personal one, coming from my own “insecurity”, maybe. I’m a frugal person. Our family’s financial status has been precarious at times. We work really hard, or at least my husband does, in order for me to be able to stay home and homeschool our kids. We live a very minimal lifestyle: thrift store shopping, driving old cars, no cable, rarely eating out. It’s been very difficult at times to stay afloat, especially when my husband was furloughed several days a month from his job.

I have issues with making financial commitments that I’m afraid I may not be able to follow through with. I also have an issue when I hear people say that tithing should just be an automatic part of your lifestyle. “Just make adjustments to your budget, you’ll be able to live on 90% of what you make.” ” God will provide.” I’ve heard these words many times, but they don’t reflect my reality. Maybe it’s because I don’t trust God enough. I hope that’s not it, but I don’t know.

I recently took on the positions of vice president and recording secretary on our parish’s council. Last Saturday, several of us on the council traveled to a workshop where the topic of financial giving, specifically tithing, was discussed. The leader of the workshop believes that all Orthodox parishes should rely on tithing and proportional giving for all their financial needs. Not dues, not pledges, not fundraising, not large donations from wealthy parishioners. A number of parishes in the deanery are already at that point. We were told that our parish should move towards the model of complete tithing by all the parishioners. It seemed from my observations, that most or all those present agreed.

I don’t know where I stand. On one hand, I agree that definitely the parishioners at our church should be more involved and more committed to financially supporting the church. Our church has been severely under-funded for a number of years. It has improved greatly in the last couple of years, but still has a long way to go.

But, I believe that strict tithing is not necessarily the way to get there. The concerns I have:

1) Parishioners may feel that they have to “pay” in order to be church members, and in order to receive the mysteries (sacraments). Even though this may not be true in a strict sense, it can come across that way. And, in fact, non-pledging members are not considered members in good standing at our parish.

2) Tithing is inherently unfair to people on the lower end of the financial spectrum. People making $1000 a month will have a much harder time living on 90% of their income, than someone making $10,000 a month.

3) Tithing is unfair to larger families. A family making $50,000 a year is going to have a harder time living on 90% of their income, than an individual living on $50,000 a year.

4) What about someone who is in dire financial straits, and is possibly receiving (or eligible for) financial assistance, such as welfare, food stamps, child care subsidies, etc? Are they expected to tithe as well, and on what? Should people tithe when they are relying on others to meet their financial needs?

5) What about someone is already making great financial sacrifices, such as supporting family members in need, or giving to another charitable cause? Are they still required to tithe to the church?

6) People may feel that their time and talents don’t count. It’s hard if you’re someone who donates hours and hours of your time and expertise, only to be told that it’s financial contributions that matter.

7) Conversely, people who tithe may think they’ve “done their bit” and nothing else is required. As long as they’ve paid, it doesn’t matter if they show up or participate in the church.

So, I’m not clear where I stand. I believe in sacrifice, I believe in supporting the church, I believe in giving generously. I know I’m coming at the idea of tithing from a “foreign” perspective. I hope I have the courage to bring up some of these issues when our parish council meets next. I’d love to hear your perspective.

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