As a little kid, I remember watching the big baskets being passed back and forth down the pews in church. Each Sunday, my mom let one of us five kids put her envelope in the basket. It made me feel powerful and generous. One week, on the way home in the minivan, I asked my mom from the back seat, “Mom, how do they get all that money up to God?” She laughed, “It doesn’t go to God, honey. God doesn’t need our money. The church does.” I remember being a little disappointed. It was not as exciting or romantic to give money to the priest to do oh so very human things with it like keep up the grounds or pay his salary. I had imagined God using the money for much more grand things, and us getting diving credit for our generosity. I grew up a little that day, understanding more about how the world and the human church work. I believe in tithing and being generous with the money I earn. Yet, reading Zach Czaia’s Open Letter to the New Archbishop reminded me how easy it can be to give blindly without asking where our money is going. In his letter, he says he also believes in tithing. However, he is not giving blindly. His letter challenges the direction the church is going financially and proposes that some of the community’s money go toward supporting victims of sexual assault:
I have lost confidence that this money is doing much good for the community. Nevertheless, I give because I was taught it was right to tithe, to give back to the church, to support it. But I have never once heard a second collection taken up for the victims of sexual abuse, many of whom were victimized in the very spaces where we sit. I have never once heard a financial appeal for support of victims, whose lives have been uprooted at the hands of abusive priests. Good therapy is not cheap, but I have never once seen the collection basket passed around for good therapy so a victim of sexual abuse could heal. Never once, not in 33 years sitting in the pews.
He goes on to speak of parishes and schools that are struggling financially, even declaring bankruptcy, while the archdiocese claims themselves as a separately incorporated. Invoking Paul’s image of the body of Christ, Czaia calls for unity, an embracing and support of the hurting members of the body. It is a complicated time for the church. It is difficult to navigate where money fits into our faith. It is the same disconnect I felt as a child. I’m grateful for Czaia’s letter, which challenges me to engage and really think about the role of money in our church.