Candles, Thank You.


Each Sunday morning we swing the big wooden doors of Saint George Church open as a welcome, and in doing so, allow the sounds of New York City to serve as a backdrop to our worship.  My favorite sound as I face the altar during worship is to hear the clip-clop of the horses pulling the hansom cabs toward Central Park, though they are often drowned out by the sirens from Midtown North Precinct across the street.

Change comes slowly to an old city parish where, during the difficult years of mass exodus from the city, churches struggled to survive.  Though once a hub of community activity, many small New York City parishes were forced into survival mode just to keep their doors open. 

Concern with the collection of “dues” had erased the smiles from the faces of those whose responsibility it was to make ends meet, and any expenditure that was not a necessity (and some that were) was delayed if not dismissed.

As an experiment one week, we came in on Saturday with power tools, cut a hole in the top of the candle stand, placed a lock on the drawer and a slotted brass plaque over the hole with a simple message, “Candles, Thank You.”  The price tags for each size & type of candle were put away.  A small sign was placed near the candles informing people that no change is available and asking them to give an offering as they have been blessed.

On Sunday, none of the volunteers said a word, but waited to see the response of parishioners and visitors as they entered.  Many people took it in stride and placed their usual contribution in the slot.  Some who were accustomed to receiving change were flustered and asked others to change a large bill for them.

The most common and also the most encouraging response came from individuals who asked, “how much?”  When the greeters replied with “give whatever you want,” they would ask again, “but how much?”  When the greeters again reassured them to give whatever they want as they have been blessed, you could almost see the wheels turning in their heads as a smile came over their faces.  Then they reached into their pockets, wallets and purses and gave as they wished from their hearts.

The result?  People entered into Sunday worship feeling that they had made their own decision on what they would return to God for the blessings in their lives.  They no longer got the first impression upon walking into church that “it’s all about money.”  Spirits were up, offerings increased, and even stewardship contributions gradually increased.

So, you might ask, did cutting a hole in the candle stand cause a paradigm shift?  No.  But it was one big step in a process of helping people to understand that the church is interested in more than money.  A friendly greeting, sincere smile and a handshake are a better way to greet people than a transaction for candles.

In the end, everybody wins – members and visitors are engaged in the life of the church, the commotion at the candle stand is reduced, and the message is clear that the Church is interested in you as a person on your journey toward salvation in Jesus Christ.

By Fr. Jim Kordaris, Director of Stewardship, Outreach & Evangelism, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. Reposted with permission from the Orthodox Observer, April 2014.

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