Churches and money

Contactless payment card plan for givers in churches?

St Mungo’s in Alexandria and Riverside Parish Church in Dumbarton.


Were you at church today? Did you put money in the plate or the purse, and what did that mean to you?

It used to be when you were setting out for church on a Sunday that you asked your grandmother for a penny for the plate.

Later, when you were older, that became sixpence. A half crown was considered an astronomical amount to give and raised eyebrows in astonishment (and envy perhaps?) as the plate was passed along the pews.

Then we had the Rev Ian Paisley collections, which the late, loud pastor preacher cum politician introduced.

These were called “silent” collections, which mean that they were paper money only affairs when no clink of coinage was permitted – never, never, never.

In Mr Paisley’s day, it was nothing but notes on the banks of the Bann.

Catholics had Peter’s Pence, which was a Papal Collection held on a Sunday in July, and each and every Sunday they had a collection as you entered the church; another one after the Offertory and sometimes a Second Collection and then a Retiring Collection.

St Patrick's bell towerThere were also members of the St Vincent De Paul Society on hand at the church door soliciting donations for the poor and elderly of the parish. Then there were the little shrines, dedicated to saints and scholars, where you paid to light a candle and pray for a special intention.

In Edinburgh churches, they no longer send round a plate but a leather or velvet purse which is passed along the pews. As a result of this, your offering is concealed from the prying (praying?) eyes of others.

I have never paid at the door of a Scottish Episcopalian church apart from when I’ve been going into one for a concert, but I imagine Father Kenny Macauley, of St Augustine’s in Dumbarton, or the Rev Liz O’Ryan, of St Mungo’s in the Vale, would be quite prepared to enlighten us as to who are the most generous in their giving – jeely eaters or Sons and Daughters of the Rock.

As I have said above, the age of the penny in the plate has long since gone the way of ration books and Store Quarters.

It’s fivers and tenners nowadays though – and the Covenant Scheme.

Covenant Schemes are run in partnership with HM Revenue and Customs. They allow churches to claim tax relief on the heating, lighting, cleaning and garden upkeep costs of their official property.

Now, to the chagrin, of James Eglinton, the Meldrum Lecturer in Reformed Theology at the University of Edinburgh, churches are going to be able to use contactless payment car devices.

These are the ones you tap with your bank card at the checkout in your local supermarket – provided your purchase is under £30.

Otherwise you have to go through a process of putting your card in a machine and waiting for your transaction to be approved and processed by the checkout person.

Dr Eglinton says the normal cast of things passed around the congregation during Scottish church services – communion cups, loaves of bread, and pre-sermon peppermints – might soon be joined by a new addition: the contactless card payment device.

Following an earlier pilot of the same in the Church of England, the Church of Scotland has announced its intention to replace collection plates with contactless card readers, with the Catholic Church in Scotland also signalling its openness to the practice.

He wrote: “Initially at least, such a move seems sensible: ours is an increasingly cash-free culture where only a small amount of the money we possess is ever experienced tangibly as physical notes and coins.

MOney in notes“For the most part, we spend via small plastic cards – themselves worthless – and relate to our money in an abstract, distant manner. Forecasts suggest that by 2025, only one-quarter of our spending will involve physical cash. Facing such a future, is it inevitable that wooden collection plates and velvet offering bags will be replaced in a culture where most other things – from bus fares to mortgage payments – are paid for electronically.”

Dr Eglinton writes: “Perhaps the most important difference in this shift is the way a contactless payment – consisting of a brief card swipe, an identical ritual regardless of the sum involved – minimises your awareness of the money in question.  Paying by card makes it more difficult for a cash-free generation to learn the value of money.

“It is important for our society to guard contexts where spending is socially meaningful, rather than sterile. In that regard, a social institution like the church plays a significant role in the financial wellbeing of society: in a cash-free culture, church services provide a rare opportunity to consider your money, and the act of parting with it, in a visible, tangible way.

“If anything, society needs more institutions that challenge people to experience their money – widow’s mite and fortune alike – in meaningful ways. For all its velveteen kitsch, the church collection bag has a social power that the contactless card reader will always struggle to match.”


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