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Out of the question: Collection-taking

20 October 2009

Your answers

When did the custom of taking a collection during a church service begin?

Many would reasonably claim, but could not prove, that the custom originated in the apostolic age, with St Paul’s instructions to the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 16.2). Members were required to set aside a monetary offering “on the first day of every week”.

It is not unlikely that this charit­able exercise in almsgiving would have been included in the Sunday assembly for “the breaking of bread”. At the very least, a precedent was set to link almsgiving with the Lord’s Day when Christians worship.

A century later (c.155), in the earliest surviving outline descrip­tion of the eucharist, supplied by Justin Martyr in his First Apology, we are specifically informed that every Sunday a collection was taken — not precisely during the service, but apparently at its conclusion, before the congregation dispersed.

We are told: “and the wealthy who so desire give what they wish, as each chooses; and what is collected is deposited with the president. He helps the orphans and widows and those who through sickness or any other cause are in need. . .” (First Apology 67, 6-7).

In Anglican tradition, in reaction to the “offertory” of bread and wine in the medieval mass — ceremonial and prayers — Cranmer was re­spon­sible for giving the col­lec­tion a distinct liturgical place in the English Prayer Book — and this it has retained in every subsequent revision.

In 1549, so-called “offertory” sen­tences were provided, during which communicants moved into the chancel and placed monetary offer­ings in “the poor men’s box”, and remained for the communion.   

Under the 1552 rubric, the money was collected by the churchwardens, who put it into the box.

The 1662 Order directed the priest to receive the collection from the churchwardens in “a decent bason”. The money given “shall be disposed of to such pious and charitable uses as the minister and churchwardens shall see fit”. This direction echoes our earliest evidence.

(Canon) Terry Palmer
Magor, Monmouthshire

Is belief in the resurrection still part of Christian doctrine? An apparently official publication states: “After his death, Jesus’ friends had experiences of the presence of Jesus, so unexpected and vivid, that they declared that God had raised him from the dead.” Is this all that we are expected to believe now?

The short quotation could be read either as a fresh but incomplete expression of the biblical story, or as a denigration of the faith implying that the resurrection was merely a group illusion.

While we still expect the odd one-event conversion, even the Alpha course is based on the assumption that people will take ten weeks to grow to faith. For many, the journey from unbelief to belief occupies much of a lifetime. For those who come desiring fellowship, loving music and liturgy, but with only a partial faith in detailed doctrines, such a fresh statement might help them to grow to a fuller belief in the resurrection. We are beginning to stand back from dogmatic assertions to be ticked off before we can count ourselves as Christian.

We all repeat the credal words “on the third day he rose again” at every eucharist. Is not this what we are expected to grow into and eventually to believe?

Christopher Haffner (Reader)
East Molesey, Surrey

Your questions

Why do other faiths (and maybe other denominations) seem so much better at passing on their beliefs and traditions to the next generation than the Church of England is? Have we given up on church teaching in the home? M. A.

Address for answers and more questions: Out of the Question, Church Times, 13-17 Long Lane, London EC1A 9PN.



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