Wherein I Decline to Support Cancer

So, after i wrote a lovely blog post about neighborhood evangelism (See post http://irreverin.wordpress.com/2011/06/17/do-i-have-something-in-my-teeth/) i went to the grocery store across the street to pick up lunch. The same store where i go for intentional people-watching, neighbor-meeting and stranger greeting. I walked in all open to the spirit–then i promplty left, annoyed at the one person who tried to speak to me.

Here’s why. When i walked in the door, she was set up at a folding table with a box and some info sheets. She said, and i quote “Would you like to donate a dollar to support prostate cancer?” [tell me how many things are wrong with that sentence...]

But that wasn’t the worst part! (What could be worse than supporting cancer? you ask… Read on)  When i (kindly) told her no, not today, she–who was about 18–went “awww-uH.” As if she were a small child who’d been denied a puppy. As if I had then kicked the puppy to make it go away from her. As if i, because i did not want to support cancer, was the worstest person in the world.

Now, there are a few things wrong with this picture, even aside from her unfortunate use of syntax. First of all, that she is camped out at the grocery store–the store that asks me to “support prostate cancer” each and every time i check out, anyway–soliciting donations from customers. Add that to the fact that, when i politely declined, she tried to shame me. In a cutesy, passive agressive sort of way, granted, but it was a shaming nonetheless.

For all she knew, i might be very poor. I might have been there with a few food stamps to buy food for my children, hoping that what i had would get us enough to last out the month. Or i might have been a very rich person who already gives copious amounts of money to various good causes. I could have been (probably am) somebody in a middle income range who does try to be generous with what i have; who makes giving a priority; but who carefully chooses to support organizations that can do the most good with what i am able to share.

This is what the Church is up against, folks. The people who come through our doors are asked, at every turn out there in the world, to give to this and that thing, person, or cause. Often they are asked by people who don’t know how to ask for it. Usually by people who don’t know the first thing about the potential giver or his/her situation. Often by people who don’t know the difference in, say, supporting cancer, vs supporting cancer research (which, i’m sure, is what she meant).

Which makes for a pretty complex pile of baggage that our folks are carrying into worship with them each week. How are we to overcome the ask-on-every-corner culture of the day and invite folks to a life of generosity, in a way that challenges without instilling guilt? In a way that gives confidence in the mission of the Church, while also creating a sense of urgency around the present need?

I’m thinking about all of these things today as i wrap up the last week of a “Sustainable Summer” series. We’ve talked about  sabbath, money, the environment… this last week is the day to wrap them all up and talk about how to build a mission/ministry sustainable for the future in light of/in spite of the changing world around us.

Good stewardship practices have to do with more than just the asking and the giving… They have to do with all the education and equipping that comes in between time, in the other 11 or so months of the year. The leaders of our faith are called, first and foremost, to clearly articualte that mission before we ever ask anyone to give to it. Sharing our faith is the groundwork for giving. OTherwise, we might find that we are asking people to support cancer, and well… i don’t want to be the one passing the plate after that sermon.*

When have you been asked for money in a way that really turned you off of the mission at hand? What are your faithful giving practices? How has your faith community given you the confidence to invest in its future?

*about 3 years ago, Foothills tried a little experiment with our collection plate–as in, we quit passing it in worship. Instead, we placed an offering box in the narthex. it was a scary thing to try, but we found that our loose offering incresed that summer. Three years later, we still refrain from plate-passing, but we do share a stewardship moment in worship each week–a reflection on a story of faith, a thriving ministry, or some other way that our collective gifts work to move the gospel into the world. We have made some other big changes in the life of the church since then, but I trace the beginnings of our (dramatically!) improved financial situation back to the retiring of the offering plate. Many good things started when we changed the way we asked…

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About Erin Wathen

Rev. Erin Wathen is the Senior Pastor of Saint Andrew Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Olathe, KS (www.sacchome.org). She's a Kentucky native, a long-time desert dweller, and she writes about the sacred thread that runs through pretty much everything. For more info, click the 'about' tab above...

  • http://www.facebook.com/james.m.sr Jim Gawne

    I would love to elaborate, comment on or expand upon this blog, but there is nothing else to be said except “Amen!”

  • http://johnjdavidson.wordpress.com johnjdavidson

    Erin, thanks for sharing your experience, because it is one that many people have everyday. I totally believe that generously sharing is a good thing, but no one should ever be tricked into giving by guilt, shame, or social force.