The ancient practice of tithing is rooted in the Hebrew scriptures where various tenths of one’s harvests were dedicated to God as signs of thanksgiving. The cost was not too high, but high enough to make it important, not a thing to be shrugged off. It demonstrated one’s intentionality to be a part of the greater community of God’s people. Harvest continues to be the time of year when we pause to celebrate Thanksgiving, often around the dining room table. For observant Christians it’s usually a time renew their commitments as people of God doing the work God has given them to do.
In most churches it’s also the dreaded season of stewardship, the annual fund raising effort needed to support the work of the church in the year ahead. It’s dreaded because pastors dislike coming up with some new way to ask for money that does’t sound like it’s asking for money. Parish councils, and their kin by many other names, dislike having to struggle with known costs and unknown revenues as they prepare budgets. Some in the pews grumble that all the church ever wants is their money. There will be talk of tithing, but not many will. Most will pledge what they can without causing too much pain. It never seems to work very well. What happened to thanksgiving?
Maybe it would help to start at the other end. The people of God, gathered in their places of worship, are called to be stewards of the treasures that have been given into their keeping. They are to protect, enhance, and invest in them as accountable to God . Some treasures are intimately personal: one’s own body, mind, and spirit for instance. Families, careers, and friendships are treasures too. Treating them as stewards responsible to them, but not for them, is guaranteed to bring greater joy to the adventure of life. In grateful thanksgiving for all God’s goodness and loving kindness, for our creation, preservation and all the blessings of this life, Christians are called to invest their treasures so that they may continue to be holy treasures in the lives of others for generations yet to come.
Start with that. Then we can go back to the community of worship that is the church. Providing the resources to support the work God has given it to do is a holy obligation. Whether in a house or cathedral, church is a gathering place not for worship only. It’s a safe place, perhaps the only safe place, for folks to meet who need help with substance abuse, emotional health, a nourishing meal, spiritual direction, and so much more. From youth to old age, it’s where God’s love is made present in the lives of those who need it most. Keeping it all going costs money – that’s the practical side of stewardship most congregations face each fall.
It should be a time of joyfully thankful and holy giving. The dedication of a significant portion of one’s resources to support the work of the church is an act of faith that brings rewards in strange measure. Those who do so with a generous heart will tell you it’s fun, it brings a sense of gladness, and a peculiar desire to want to give more. Rich or poor, it doesn’t seem to matter. So have some fun this fall. Tithe at your place of worship.