Nina Smith

The Cost of Finding God

Filed By Nina Smith | December 28, 2007 7:05 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: religion and money

“God thinks within geniuses, dreams within poets, and sleeps within the rest of us.” – Peter Antenberg

Although my partner and I are still childless, we continue to have the “how will we raise our child” conversation when it comes to religion. Needless to say, we’re still on a quest to add a spiritual element to our lives. I think we’ve found the place: the Unitarian church, billed as the Uncommon Denomination. It’s a denomination with no formal creed and typically keeps a low profile.

We have attended a few times and dubbed it the Church of PBS. Our local congregation is super intellectual and the service feels more like an 18th century French salon than church. Recently we learned about the Immortal Chaplains, sang a song in Sanskrit, heard someone quote poetry and an atheist guest speak. The choir and flutist should be paid… they’re quite good.

All this brings me to the topic of money. Church costs money to run. The first Sunday that we attended, I put $20 in the offering plate. My partner thought this was way too much. Afterwards, we talked about it and I said that it would cost us twenty bucks to go sit at a movie so it only seemed reasonable to somewhat pay our way while we’re guests and checking things out.

This progressed to a bigger conversation about what membership would eventually cost us. So one Sunday during coffee hour, I met one of the trustees and quizzed her about the topic. Of course, there’s no mandatory amount but on average each family gives approximately $1,200 a year.

When we got in the car, my partner said that she thought $100 a month was outrageous. She grew up Catholic and her mother just dropped her off at catechism… I don’t think they ever really attended church or belonged anywhere as family. I grew up tithing. Ten percent of our income went to church. I was expected and “encouraged” to give ten percent of any money I earned as a teenager. And I was all about earning money. At 15, I had my first “real” job and from then on I tithed until I left the church at the age of 24.

We have yet to agree on tithing 10 percent of our income. But $100 a month seems reasonable to pay if we want to become members. Everything else in life costs money, why should we expect church to be free. I told her if we go and get something out of it, then we should be willing to pay for this experience. Personally, I like it so much that I would pay more.

What about you? What’s your view on tithing or giving money to church? I would love to hear your comments below. Also be sure and catch the God and Mammon series still running at Queercents.

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Nina blogs about money over at Queercents.


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As a pagan I dont go to a organised church except when I go with my christian family members and then out of respect I donate something when I go with them.

I believe tithing is very important. The church does need money to run on. Lights, gas, paying the minister if they get paid, having money for roofing, painting, general up keep. Most people don't realize how much their tith is needed and where it goes. I attend the largest GLBT church in Indy and the congregation has a lot of stepping up to do. Here is a little info. 20% of the people give 80% of the money that is given in a years time. But the 80% have the loudest voice when it comes to how they think the money should be spent. We have a wonderful board that keeps the spending in ballance.
You can also look at it as the price of your ticket to get in. You see a show and have some entertainment.
10% of your income is the typical ammount most people that have been churched are use to hearing about. It is more important to me that you give what you can. That $1.00 is just as needed to pay bills as the $100.00 is.
If you also go with the christian attituded in giving, God will return it to you many times over in other areas of your life not just money.

Rev. Laurie C. | December 29, 2007 8:22 AM

I am an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ (UCC) and find that most average church going people underestimate the costs of maintaining (let alone) growing an organization especially a church. It takes much more than financial support to keep it healthy, it takes regular participation, volunteers, financial supporters and people willing to get others involved in attending or becoming more involved. Most of this is done by less than 20% of the church or worse yet they think that is what they pay the staff to do for them. Many others have the attitude of the writer's partner unfortunately. Even my own partner is surprised about the amount of charity I give to (for us) including to church each year, at tax time it comes out.
Even if you don't go to a faith community everyone should support organizations that reflect their values and concerns. As I learned in a community organizing training. Power = organized people and organized money. If we want to create lasting change in our world we need to put our energy AND our money into those organizations that feed our soul and work for our convictions. A religious institution is one such organization which tends to group those convictions into a number of areas - children, poverty, social justice, enviromentalism, peace, health care, elder care, education, housing, etc. And yes there are glbt affirming congregations out there, you just need to seek them out.

Welcome to Unitarian Universalism! I'm with you on the importance of giving generously to one's congregation.

The Unitarian Universalist Association has a fair share giving guide that suggests how much members of a congregation should give, based on our income and the role of the church in our lives. Here's the link: http://archive.uua.org/cde/fundraising/suggestedgivingguide.html

I don't think people should feel compelled to tithe, but I do have this observation. I recall that many years ago, people would put $1 in the collection basket. We're talking 50+ years ago. Today, I still see folks putting $1 in the collection basket despite the costs involved with maintenance of churches and the expenses of the priests, rabbi's, ministers, ets. I think just by putting $5 instead of $1 would help.
Part of the problem with church finances are some televangelists is their having their private jets, Rolls Royces, and mansions while there are so many homeless folks in our cities.

I have to admit, I've never understood the Unitarians.

It’s a denomination with no formal creed and typically keeps a low profile.

We have attended a few times and dubbed it the Church of PBS. Our local congregation is super intellectual and the service feels more like an 18th century French salon than church. Recently we learned about the Immortal Chaplains, sang a song in Sanskrit, heard someone quote poetry and an atheist guest speak.

I just don't get how that's church. Maybe I was raised too Protestant "doctrined." :) (You like how I just make up my own words as I go along?) I'm used to litany, sermon, Apostle's Creed, hymns, etc. An atheist speaking just seems rather blasphemous somehow.

As for tithing, 10% is the goal. I liked the chart Shelby suggested. I always throw $5 in the plate.

Way to go, Unitarians! I never belonged to the Unitarian Church, but frequently am invited to speak to Unitarian groups. The Unitarians were among the first churches to get on board with LGBT rights in the 1970s.

They are among the most American and historic of churches, and were here in Revolutionary times, having been persecuted in England because they don't teach that Jesus is God. Some notable founders had ties to Unitarianism, including John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson never formally belonged, because he wasn't a joiner...but he attended a Unitarian church and was very influenced by Unitarian thought. (Jefferson's Unitarian streak is something that religious righters who try to claim him don't like to mention.)

Yes, the Unitarians have always appeared to be a cerebral church, because of their stated mission to pick apart and question conventional Christian belief. I am touched by Bil Browning's comment because I think that all of us have a deeply ingrained idea of what "real church" feels like. Today I wouldn't touch the Catholic Church with a 10 foot pole, but I WAS a Catholic as a kid, and the rubrics with their pagan elements, including the candles and incense and statues of Mary, still feel more "churchy" to me than Protestant churches with their long-winded sermons.

Tithing? Today EVERY spiritual and religious group look to member support -- even the non-Christian ones. My native American relatives who are Medicine people have to hope for a little help when they run a ceremony. It just comes with the territory. Members should never be pressured to give a specific amount beyond their means, because that pressuring is the trademark of a cult. It's best for members to give what they're comfortable with.

I think the quote up top is from Peter Altenberg, not Peter Antenberg.