We worship at a small church on Maui for a few weeks each winter, and have for over twenty years. I’ve written before about it: its near demise, its resuscitation, the vital ministry it offers to tourists and seasonal visitors, its participation in important work providing needed help to the homeless population that hovers about, almost invisible to most of us.
On most Sundays the small nave is comfortably full. I would guess a little over a hundred. But the core congregation, the members who live here full time, who pledge and serve in all the ways a congregation requires, that core congregation is very small, a few dozen. That means that funds to support ongoing ministry must come from tourists and seasonal visitors. And therein lies the problem. The congregation struggles from month to month to cover the bills. Somehow they do it, but always with a certain degree of trepidation.
You would think that a full church almost every Sunday would not have a problem like that, but the simple fact is that the visitors who fill it are stingy. Stingy may be a bit harsh. How about cheap? They would be offended to hear it put that way. After all, they are on vacation and have given up an entire Sunday morning to worship. They didn’t have to. They wanted to. These are the faithful back home, and they are the faithful here too. Most of them are older rather than younger, and I have no doubt that they are mainstays of their home congregations. And yet the offering plate is filled with small bills when, in my not so humble opinion, it should be filled with fifties and hundreds.
Fifty, that’s about the cost of lunch for two. One hundred, a not too expensive dinner. How much is it worth to have a well managed place for worship, a worship experience that is well planned and conducted with welcoming grace? How much is it worth to know that the gift one offers to God will go beyond an hour on Sunday to continue Christ’s healing work for others in the community?
I don’t think these faithful people give it much thought. They don’t mean to take this place for granted, and they would take umbrage if someone accused them of taking God for granted. They’re not mean spirited, they just don’t give it much thought at all. Add to that the fact that Episcopalians break out in hives at the mention of money and church, and you get offering plates filled with small bills.
Well, like I said, we’ve been here a few weeks each winter for over twenty years. The place is still here. One way or another God’s Spirit keeps rejuvenating it, but it would be nice to have visitors give with joyful generosity one of these days.