I have a confession to make. There was a time when I wasn’t quite sure what to do when the collection plate came around. I knew what it was for – the ministry of the church and upkeep of the parish – but I didn’t know if I should put anything in it. The idea of giving wasn’t foreign to me, as I did my share of fundraising throughout high school and university. And I was already quite familiar with the myriad biblical stories about giving, generosity and helping others.
It’s just that I didn’t really have much to give. As a graduate student at Western University, I didn’t have much in the way of disposable income. After tuition, rent, food, gas and beer, there wasn’t much left over to save, let alone give. When the plate came by on Sunday morning, I tossed in the few coins that were in my pocket. Truth be told, I was pretty sure my giving wasn’t going to make much of a difference to anyone.
Apart from not having much to give, I thought that meaningful generosity was the responsibility of the well-to-do – people who had good jobs or were at least grown up.
Still, I always had my father’s example of generosity lingering in the back of my mind: the son of immigrant parents just getting by, but always having enough to give to others. The memory of my father putting a $20 bill on a plate in the kitchen to take to church on Sunday is etched in my memory forever – and that was in the ’70s. I’m still astounded that an autoworker from GM could give that much every Sunday, and a bit extra at Christmas time. His faith meant that much to him. I believe there was both a sense of duty and an acknowledgement that everyone should do their part in a meaningful way.
I think the turning point for me was when I started my first real job, with the Canadian Cancer Society. I was determined to emulate my father’s example. On one Sunday, I took the plunge and put $20 on the collection plate. Honestly, my first feelings were not ones of warmth and glad tidings. I was not overcome with a sense that I had done much good. I felt poor. I had just put $20 on the collection plate in return for… what? In that moment, I felt a bit guilty. Here I was having second thoughts about giving $20 in the ’90s when my dad did the same in the ’70s and had to support a family.
I also felt vulnerable. It’s easy to toss a few coins in the collection plate. For most of us, a toonie is rather inconsequential – almost meaningless. It’s what we give to a panhandler or slip in a collection box at the check-out counter. But the act of giving isn’t meaningless; it’s the amount that has true impact.
We can all give. Each one of us has the capacity to share and be generous. However, the true impact of giving for the giver is not in the tangible benefits we receive; rather, it’s what cannot be easily described or measured. We must give an amount that takes us out of our comfort zone and allows us to be vulnerable. I don’t know what that amount is for you, but for me it must be a bit uncomfortable. I need to know that I’ve given something up. It’s that feeling of giving a part of me, of my labour and toil, that is truly meaningful.
The word sacrifice comes from the Latin sacrificium. It means to make holy. In our giving up, we are participating in a ritual of making ourselves holy. It is one way that we participate in the discipleship of Christ. It is one way that we choose to walk in solidarity with the Creator.