In our update post earlier this week, we discussed a little about the offering style in Tanzanian Lutheran churches. Churches here have a different way of completing the offering in a church service. As discussed earlier, there is an agricultural piece of the offering which is designed to include more people in the offering. This week for our “Inspirational Tidbit,” we want to look deeper into the offering tradition in the Tanzanian Lutheran Church.
Like most churches in the United States, the offering begins with a prayer, the choir sings a song, and people donate money to the church. Those are the only similarities. For the offering here, the collection plate is not passed around. The collection plates (usually woven baskets) are at the front of the church. Row by row, the congregation comes up and puts their monetary donation in the offering basket. Every person, man, woman, and child, puts their hands in the basket, as if they all are donating money; however, not everyone is donating money. A short video shows the collection in progress.
The concept here is more “give what you can,” not the typical 10 percent that is standard in many churches. This tradition comes from the general understanding that not everyone has money to donate. If someone is making less than a dollar a day and barely able to afford food, how can anyone ask them to starve a little more so that they can donate 10 percent to the church? The truth of the matter is that very few individuals made monetary donations, but everyone still put their hands in the basket.
We asked our interpreter, Deacon Fredrick, why everyone was putting their hand in the basket. Our assumption was that everyone put their hand in the basket so those who could not donate would not be ashamed of not being able to donate. Deacon Fredrick said, “Those who have money give what they can. Those who do not have money give their hearts. Whether we have money or not, we can still give God our hearts.”
People who have not yet sold their crop bring donations of sugar cane, grain, bananas and whatever else they may be able to donate from their crops. This also includes live animals and animal products such as chickens, ducks, goats, eggs, and milk. At some church services, people also give crafts or clothing that they have created throughout the week. These items are blessed and after the service is over, there is an auction. All of the money made from the items donated is given to the church.
When these two methods of donating are combined, the offering becomes an inclusive community activity that involves those who can give money giving money, those who can give items giving items, and those who cannot give anything of monetary value giving their hearts. The concept of inclusive giving is not something we are familiar with. More importantly, the concept of giving your heart is often forgotten in the offering.