Giving Children The Chance To Give

By Fr. Paul Kucynda

To   share in the financial support of the Church is an exhilarating experience,   open to all Orthodox Christians, young and old.  Certainly the bulk of financial support in any parish comes   from the adult members, but children should not be excluded from this experience.   Exhilarating, wonderful, satisfying, positive, and spiritual are all words that   should be used to describe the act of giving financial support.


 

Too   often in Orthodox circles, financial giving is considered “material,”   while the sacramental life, and especially the partaking of Holy Communion,   is  considered “spiritual.”    This  is extremely far from   the truth! 

The   act of bringing a variety of gifts, among    them financial gifts, to the Divine Liturgy is a practice as old as the   Church herself. For each and every person present to give a financial gift is   integral to the dynamics  and movement   of each Liturgy.  The bulk of financial   offerings received by a parish in any year are given at the Liturgy. We need   to explore just what we are doing when we give our offering at the Divine Liturgy.    And if it is important for adults to understand this, certainly it is   no less important that we begin leading our children to the same understanding   through personal experience. 

All   members of the Church, according to the New Testament Scriptures, are called   to give back to God a portion of what He has blessed them with.    Since money is the common means of exchange for goods and services among   people, it has become the means that best expresses our grateful response to   God for the abundance of spiritual and material blessings he has showered upon   us. 

How   and at what levels can we involve our children in this experience as they grow?  

Level   One

Once   children are about two years old, they realize that an offering is taken at   the Divine Liturgy.  As the   offering basket or plate passes their way, as they take notice of it and see   Mommy, Daddy, and others putting money in, they are ready to participate as   well. 

Their   first experience of offering will simply be to place, in the offering basket   or plate; money supplied by a parent.    This personal act is a good and sufficient beginning for very young children.  

Level   Two

As   children get a little older they start to receive monetary gifts on birthdays   and holidays.  As soon as   they are old enough to realize what a gift of money is (to realize, in other   words, that money is used to buy things) they are old enough for another level   of giving money to their church.  In   addition to their “level one” giving, they should be taught to take   part of any “special gift” they receive on a “special occasion”   to church.  This part will be given   as a “special gift” at the Liturgy, along with the money supplied   by their parents. 

Level   Three

When   the child begins to receive an allowance, another level is attained.    The allowance will probably cover expenses for school lunches, include   some recompense for sharing in household chores, and include a little extra   for “spending money.”  This   level is more serious than the first two   since it includes “money management” by the child for the first time,   in a more adult manner.  How this   level is introduced in a positive way is critical and will have long-term, far-reaching   implications. 

Being   responsible for making a weekly offering from “their own money” is   a tremendous change from children’s past experience.  They no longer rely on their parent as the source of   their offering. They are “financially independent” to some extent   for the first time, having received an allowance which they must manage, and   they must be carefully guided as they assume this responsibility.    Their decision to give from “their money” and continue to offer   “special gifts” from time to time from their “special money”   brings them very close to an adult understanding of what is truly the most Christian   approach to sharing in the act of financially supporting the work of the Church.    

As   you may have noticed, each of these three levels of development was built on   what preceded.  Nothing had to be   undone or radically changed.  For   me, this is of fundamental  importance.  

Level   Four

Two   steps remain in this proposed process.    Both can successfully be taken in the early teen years.    Both can help our young people develop a mature concept of sharing and   supporting the work of the Church. 

The   first step is to develop the idea of “first-portion giving.”    Whatever money our child has (whether earned, received as a gift from   someone, or whatever)  must clearly be seen as an entrustment from God—something   that originated with Him, and a portion of which should be returned to Him in   thanksgiving.  I stress “first-portion   giving” since it is important to place the Church and its work as the number   one priority in a Christian’s life.  The   act of financial support is most meaningful if the gift for the Church is thoughtfully   prepared first when monies are received, and then the person carefully manages   the rest in whatever way seems most appropriate.    When the first portion of what they receive is put aside as their gift   to be taken to the Divine Liturgy, young people will see the remainder also   as an entrustment from God. Their use of what remains will have greater spiritual   value, for the first-portion   gift that has been put aside will serve as a faithful reminder that all material   as well as spiritual blessings come from God and not from any other source.  

Level   Five

Finally,   we must think about the amount of the first-portion gift.    How much is enough?  How   can our child arrive at a decision that will reflect an understanding of giving?    

The   first-portion gift should result from conscious reflection on the part of the   young giver, with parental assistance.    Due emphasis should be placed upon the gift as the giver’s expression   of thanks to God for all that He does. 

In   my opinion, “percentage giving”    is the most reasonable and understandable solution to “how much”   to give.  The teenager who receives   an allowance of $10 each week will quickly understand that an offering of $2.00   is 20% of what he receives, that $1.50 is 15%, that $1.00 is 10%, and that $.50   is 5%. 

If    I  were to have to decide   which  is more    important  in the development   of a “first-portion giver” ” the acceptance of “percentage   giving” or the actual percentage decided upon—I would place more importance   on the acceptance of percentage giving.    It will be much easier for a first-portion giver to learn to increase   the percentage of giving later than to learn the principle of percentage giving   later for the first time. 

A   first-portion offering which reflects the giver’s own thoughtful determination   to give as he can  is a wonderful   thing.  It can be that satisfying,   exhilarating, positive experience    - mentioned earlier. With many such gifts from caring members, the Church’s   ability to grow and to continue her sacred work    greatly increases. 

A   Reflection on Gifts of Money

When   I close my eyes, I see nothing.  That   is exactly the amount of money I had when I entered this world, and it is the   exact amount of money I will take out of this world.  What is entrusted to me, to you, and to our children during   our lifetimes are gifts from God to be used wisely in this world.    Money, which has been called the root of all evil, can be redeemed and   transfigured when it is first offered to God’s service, with what remains used   to meet our family and personal needs. 

A   “good defense at the dread judgment seat of Christ” requires us during   this lifetime to give back to God a substantial portion of what He has entrusted   to our care.  This we can do through   our gifts to the Church. Such gifts will insure that His Holy Name will be glorified    and that His Good News of salvation and eternal life will be announced   continually to the entire world until He returns again in glory.   

The    growth of God’s work in this world requires us to be sacrificial givers   who consider it our highest priority to guide our children to become givers   as well.  It is up to us to give   them the chance to give. 

Fr.   Paul Kucynda is the pastor of the Holy    Resurrection Orthodox Church in Wayne, New Jersey, and is Chairman of   the Section on Stewardship, Department of Stewardship and Lay Ministries.   

Taken   from the OCA Resource   Handbook for Lay Ministries