From the Back Pew: Collection plate, zero to $100

Each Sunday, Christians around the world are confronted with an important question: How much do I put into the collection plate?

And will it be too much or too little? What if I am down on my luck and not able to afford my weekly tithe? What then?

Churches have been collecting tithes since ancient times. The Vatican, during medieval times, collected taxes on the land people owned and had immense wealth, not to mention power. Taxes were due at certain times throughout the year. It's safe to say that it was mandatory that money be given to the church, with punishment severe if the deadline was not met.

In a time before state governments, funds were usually distributed to the poor and used for the upkeep of temples, feeding of priests and as community resources, according to the Rev. Amy Pringle, rector of St. George's Episcopal Church in La Cañada Flintridge

Today, giving money to the church is completely voluntary. You can give zero dollars, or you can give $100. The standard is usually 10% of income, said Pringle. For Skip Lindeman, pastor of La Cañada Congregational Church, this figure represents a percentage of gross income. I've seen people give their usual dollar; others may give a little more. And I've seen some church-goers with the audacity to ask for change out of the collection basket ("Can you break a 20?"). I usually make it a point to give something whenever I attend services while travelling and visiting other churches.

So where does the money you put into the collection plate go each Sunday?

Churches can have numerous ministries that help the less fortunate. They may hold second collections for the benefit of city-, nation- or even worldwide charitable organizations. In a time of state and local governments, however, community resources are usually paid for using your tax dollars, and churches, regardless of denomination, are left on their own to come up with the funds to keep them afloat, Pringle said.

"The majority of the moneys collected provide for the administration, maintenance and all of the programs offered by the church," said the Rev. Richard Albarano, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Church in Burbank. "Ten to 15% goes directly to the poor and to what we call our Family Rescue Fund."

Maintaining the fabric of the church is typically where the money goes, said Lindeman. That includes paying employees' salaries.

"In our time, giving to the church is more a matter of good will, or membership dues, really," says Pringle. "We're voluntary organizations where people just decide that faith is important enough to fund a center for it."

People in Lindeman's church, he said, will plan out their weekly donation, setting some money aside each week for the plate.

"If you've got some coin, you are called to share it," said Lindeman. "It's up to you how much."

But higher taxes have made it even more difficult to tithe, with the current state of the economy not helping matters. Churches have closed their doors because they weren't able to make ends meet.

Which leads to the question, "What if I cannot give my weekly tithe?" (Tithe, which means meaning "tenth," according to Lindeman, is based on Hebrews 7:2 which says, "This Melchizedek was king of Salem…and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything.")

Give of yourself, Lindeman said. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Volunteer for Habitat for Humanity.

"They can provide you with a hammer," he said.

MICHAEL J. ARVIZU is a reporter for the La Cañada Valley Sun. Reach him at (818) 637-3263 or e-mail

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