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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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