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The following article was written in response to a week of learning on work and worship, hosted by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. We are indebted to them for fostering spaces for these kinds of conversations. 

The COVID-19 pandemic undoubtedly changed the way Christians gather in worship. During the height of the pandemic, many worshiped virtually from their homes. Once in-person worship resumed, many worshiped with masks still covering their faces. Greetings were done in the form of waves. Individually packaged communion elements were distributed as congregants entered to avoid passing plates and passing germs. Offering baskets were placed at the back of the sanctuary and many churches incorporated online giving. For a long and difficult season, worship ministry made substantial changes. And not all changes made have been reversed. 

Every aspect of our worship should be seen as formational. We are gathered into a community and into the presence of God. We sing praises and are reminded of God’s goodness and faithfulness. We confess our sins and are assured of our forgiveness, reminding us that we are both broken and deeply loved. We hear God’s Word as a call to live in ways that glorify God and work to bring about God’s kingdom. Our offering is also formational. Many churches have yet to return to passing offering baskets, leaving them without a physical representation of giving within the Sunday worship service. Decisions made quickly out of necessity were given little theological thought, and what we are left with is a more convenient, but less Biblical understanding of offering. 

In their book Work and Worship: Reconnecting our Labor and Liturgy, Matthew Kaemingk and Cory B. Willson dedicate a full chapter to discussing offering in the early church and how offering our work becomes an act of worship. According to Kaemingk and Wilson, “Through offering, workers are reminded that they work on God’s land, with God’s gifts, through God’s power, by God’s grace” (p. 174). Yet our giving has become detached and perhaps seen as one of the least important parts of the worship service. Someone even suggested to me that “Perhaps the reason why people have a tainted view of Christian offering is because of these online practices that reduce the history and meaning of offering into mere venmo-ing our spare change to God.”

How then can churches incorporate this act of worship and remembrance without the physicality of passing the offering plates? How can we encourage congregants to see offering as more than paying bills? Perhaps we can begin this discussion with two questions. First, what are we giving as part of the offering? Second, how does our liturgy reflect God’s blessing of our work and our offering?

Early Christians would often bring forward physical representations of their work. Bakers would bring their finest loaf of bread, farmers would bring their finest crops, and fishermen would bring their finest catch of the day. Our modern offerings are often done monetarily and, for those with direct withdrawal, without much contemplation. One of the things that has been lost with the removal of a physical act of offering is the time of contemplation over what we are bringing. Are we truly giving God the best of our work? What might the “first fruits” moments have been that week? Perhaps an important step in recapturing the posture of offering is making room for this time of contemplation.

Prayer for offering our “first fruits”

Most gracious and giving heavenly Father,

You have given us tools and talents to care for your world and to glorify you, and now we give them back to you as the fruits of our labor. We bring you the balanced spreadsheet, the well-received lesson planned, and the satisfied customer. We ask that these gifts that we offer may be pleasing to you and that they are indeed the “first fruits” of our labor.

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In addressing the formative aspect of offering in ancient Israel and early Christianity, Kaemingk and Wilson suggest that “Through the offering, the worker was invited to practice a twofold posture and practice. The worker learned to both offer and receive, to act and to wait, to contribute and to partake, to work and to rest” (p. 180). If we simply move past the offering time with only a brief mention, we are not only missing out on a time of giving but also on a time of blessing and receiving. Perhaps including a blessing on our offering, even without physically receiving the offering, would help us to experience God’s blessing on our work and what our offering represents.

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Prayer for the transformation of our work

Most merciful God and Father,
We lay before you the work of our hands and our hearts and we ask that it may be blessed and transformed.
We ask for transformation of the broken work this week, that it may be redeemed and made new. We do not always bring you our best or our “first fruits,” but we pray that you might use it anyway. We also ask for blessing for the work that lies ahead, the work that is already yours but that we will still give back to you.
May it be holy and fruitful and pleasing to you.

Navigating worship in a post-pandemic world is not easy. There still seem to be more questions than there are answers. However, as we continue to plan, lead, and participate in worship, it is important to make space for reflection, especially around those elements that have changed. Offering is still an important part of how we worship, even if how it is received or collected has changed. Therefore, it should still be part of our liturgy even if it is simply pausing to reflect on our offering. May we slow down and remember what it is that we give in our offering and the formative power of bringing God the fruit of our labor.

Has your church had conversations about online giving? Have you talked about how to reintegrate or more fully integrate offering back into worship post Covid? We would love to hear more! Email us kathrynroelofs@fuller.edu

Jennifer Kramer is a Worship Director and Elementary Music Teacher in the Southwest suburbs of Chicago. She received her MA in Musicology from the University of Amsterdam and is currently pursuing her MDiv as a Distance Learning student through Western Theological Seminary in Holland, MI. Jennifer is passionate about worship and how it shapes us as Christians and hopes to pursue ordination in the RCA.

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