A Story of Doing Good Work on a Small Scale – and Finding Bigger Results to Follow
by Bill Clontz
Our congregation, the Mt Vernon Unitarian Church in Alexandria VA, hosted a workshop some time ago at which UUA Congregational Stewardship Consultant Larry Wheeler shared a story that was so simple, yet so powerful, it became a part of our approach to generosity.
Larry was working with another church sometime ago, and a friend of the church mentioned that when he first began coming to the church, he was struck that when the collection plate came around on Sundays, it was almost always empty. He could not help but wonder if this was an indicator that the congregation did not support the church. When he mentioned this to members of the church, they assured him that there was no lack of support, but that most people contributed by automatic deposit or by check through the mail.
Still, his question got them to thinking about appearances and symbolism; from their reflection, came the idea of “Greening the Plate.”
Now, congregants who have contributed by other means simply put a dollar or whatever they wish in the plate when it comes around on Sunday; no one lets it go by untouched. It’s a symbolic act, and perhaps only a dollar, but what an effect. At the end of the passing around, the plate is full, the new visitor, and the members, have a visual cue that people here care enough to put something in the plate, and even though its only small amounts, you would be surprised how that adds up over a year. The money goes directly into programs and other church needs.
So we remind each other from time to time to Green the Plate, and why we do so. It’s helped create a subtle but important mindset about giving. If, as the collection plate is approaching, our first thought is not “Should I put something in?” but instead defaults to “It’s my turn and I like doing this. How much can I add to the plate today?” Over time, that dollar or two tends to become a bit more for most of us. If a couple of dollars felt good, now much better the occasional five or ten feels!
Funny thing – what applies to the collection plate also applies to calls for volunteers and for other contributions of time and talents. Once you have the Greening the Plate mentality, the question “Should I?” rarely comes up. In its place is “How can I help?” This is “greening” in the larger sense; by this simple symbolic act, we plant another seed of generosity and connection in ourselves. We’re in a better place when our first thought is not “Why me?” but rather “How can I help?”