THE HORSELEECH HATH TWO DAUGHTERS

You will not often find me quoting Southern Baptist sermons; they are not to my taste at all. The following little section, however, I love..... "Before this church can do great things for God, shouts the preacher, "It's gotta learn to crawl!" "Let it crawl Reverend! Let it crawl!" shouts back the congregation. "And when it's learned to crawl, the preacher continues, "It's gotta learn to walk!" "Let it walk Reverend!" responds the congregation, "Let it walk!" Then fixing them with his eye, the preacher shouts: "And when it's learned to walk, it's gotta run, and we all knows a church can't run without MONEY!" There is a momentary silence, and then the congregation shouts back as one man: "Let it crawl Reverend! Let it crawl."

 

A Shocking Dean

When an assistant priest at Harare's great cathedral in Zimbabwe I witnessed one of the most amazing and shocking scenes I have ever seen in church. I went with my dean to assist at a very early eucharist in the local police chapel. During the offertory hymn the sidesman brought up the collection to be blessed by the Dean. He looked at the plate, looked at the congregation, looked back at the plate and shouted, "What is this? What is this? This isn't giving. You are not giving to God you are tipping him, just tipping him!" He grabbed a handful of the coins and threw them at the congregation. The service then proceeded as if nothing had happened.

 

A friend of mine became a mission priest in dangerous times and places during the Zimbabwean civil war. His African worshippers, if they had nothing for the collection, simply gave a little curtsy and passed the plate on. He found himself blessing more curtsies than cash each Sunday, and so, although sympathetic to the poverty of his congregation, he devised a more satisfactory way of taking the collection. He stood at the front of the church as row by row the congregation came forward to put their offering on the plate under his interested eye. The giving trebled immediately.

 

The Fanatic Giver

I have identified four types of giver in the Anglicanism that I know and love. The first is very rare. He is the enthusiast. He is often, but not always, a Glory‑Alleluia type, a bible bashing, God‑besotted, fanatic and bore. He is the stuff that martyrs are made of. He's drunk on God, not Mammon. In today's world he is a freak then. So thoroughly converted is he, that he tends to get bored with Anglicanism and disappear into the excitement and madness of Pentecostalism. He tithes, that is, he gives a tenth of his gross salary to the Church, because he's been convinced that the Bible tells him to, and he does it with a whole‑heartedness and joy that brings him many blessings, he says. Half a dozen folk like him and a church's financial troubles are over. My parish doesn't have a single one such.

 

The Best Giver

The second type of giver is not quite so easy to define, for he is indeed a genuine Anglican type, and the very best. He too tithes, though normally and more sensibly his net income, not his gross. He recognises that what he pays in tax to the Government is, in an authentic sense, a part of the biblical tithe. Like the previous type he loves God, has been thoroughly converted, has shaken off Mammon, but he's no fanatic. Far, far better, he is the genuine article, the salt of the earth; loving, tolerant, reliable, always there. His lovely generosity is an expression of gratitude to, and regard for a God he knows, and loves, and tries to pray to regularly. To convert people into this sort of person, is our task and delight, the true evangelical endeavour, but like all conversions it is difficult. There are half a dozen such in Ararat. Not all of them tithe exactly, but all, by usual Anglican standards, are very, very generous. Without them we would collapse financially, and worse, we would lose our authenticity as a Christian community.

 

The Usual Giver

The third type of giver is the usual church‑going Anglican. He loves his parish church, but is rather more doubtful about God, and so is far more concerned to subsidise his material future than a more dubious spiritual one. He hates being urged to give money to the Church. It makes him cringe. He can usually be persuaded, though with great difficulty, to increase what he gives by a dollar or two, if he thinks the Rector a nice fellow, if the pressure is relentless, if his rector is in despair, if the parish church is in danger of closing, and if he's just had a salary increase or a good year's crop. Every time he hears the word "tithe" he starts retching and vomiting. He is far more ready to give his time and labour to the Church than money. On impulse he can be very generous, but rarely. He considers himself to be more than generous. There are lots of such folk in Ararat, I love them because they are a parson's staple pew‑fodder, the folk I have grown up with, and been formed by. My task as a parson is to turn them into the carefully tithing, loving, wholeheartedly believing sort of giver that I identified previously as category two. A task I am singularly unsuccessful at.

 

The Vile Giver

The fourth type of giver is made up of the hopeless cases. Those who, like the vast majority of western mankind, have sold out to the miserable god Mammon. Their Christianity is vestigial, their house, their garden, their retirement, their children's education, their overseas holiday, their golf, bowling, leisure are their great concerns, their obsessions, what they live for. The Church exists for baptisms, weddings and funerals, and for a bit of pie‑in‑the‑sky and cheap comfort in times of distress. Their support of the Church is negligible. I visited one such recently. We had a cup of coffee and an affable chat in his comfortable home. So great was his pharisaic self‑satisfaction and self‑righteousness, so complete his meanness, so ingenious and well‑worked out his arguments in support of his meanness and perceived generosity, that I left feeling almost ill. I had visited someone who had sold his soul to the devil, to the no‑good, no‑God, Mammon. Money and self were his raison d'etre. He was vile.

 

So there you have four broad categories of givers in the Church. Although harsh on the last I can abide any category of giver so long as one criterion is present: dissatisfaction with what is given. If we are dissatisfied with what we give we are not quite lost to the god Mammon, there is hope of improvement and of therefore a chance to squeeze through the needle's eye into the Kingdom of Heaven. Let the great C S Lewis have the final word:

All things (e.g. a camel's journey through

A needle's eye) are possible, it's true.

But picture how the camel feels, squeezed out

In one long bloody thread from tail to snout.