by Amos Disasa
My earliest memories of church include an annual pilgrimage from our pew to the communion table to drop off an envelope. Officially it was called something banal like Commitment Sunday. The envelope, one per household, was part of an elaborate ritual that could have been confused for a sacrament (Presbyterians recognize two - baptism and communion).
The ritual was orderly, stiff-backed ushers slowly walked in reverse up the center aisle indicating when it was your turn. We sat on the fourth row from the back, so our wait was long. This did allow me to witness couples hurriedly whispering to each other, before scrambling for a pen, and an extra envelope like the one mailed to them weeks before on which they were expected to assign a number formatted as currency.
The frantic families forgot it was Commitment Sunday. Their magic envelope was at home. Now their annual commitment to the church they called home, a commitment that the preacher not-so-subtly said was a measure of their faithfulness, would be the result of a last minute decision.
It was an inconsequential conversation with as much vitality as the one you have about where to eat dinner while you are in the car.
"Where do you want to eat?"
"I don't know."
"How about the Thai place on North Main?"
"I'm not in the mood for Thai."
"What about Bonefish?"
"It's crowded and I swell up from the salt."
"What about the place we ate last week?"
"That's fine, I don't care. Let's just go somewhere, I'm starving"
And then they write down the same number from last year because it's convenient. The scenario recounted above could be a result of my imagination, but it's probably not. I never once heard someone say, "I can't wait till Commitment Sunday." And I know for sure that some people dropped empty envelopes on the table. Avoiding the shame of not participating in the ritual was more urgent than maintaining a measure of integrity.
Commitment Sunday, and the season of campaigning preceding it, was a way to mitigate risk. Once the pledges were counted the budget could be finalized. From there, the budget became the boundaries imposed on the Holy Spirit for the next twelve months. No new ideas until next year, if the pledges come in. The annual budget was used to bludgeon brilliant solutions that popped up in June and cost a little money.
If you've read this far, you can guess that we don't do annual stewardship campaigns commencing with a Commitment Sunday. In my estimation they require a bunch of time, and typically yield a result you could estimate by looking at historical trends.
Most importantly, when I was in the pew and not in the pulpit, I didn't like the annual hustle for money. To date, nobody at DOWNTOWN CHURCH has called me asking to institute the tradition, so I guess I'm not alone.