(Warning: religion discussed - if that offends you, please just click onward)
I haven't been good at going to church in my life. I was lucky if I were one of the C & E'rs (Christmas and Easter goers). Many years, it was just Christmas Eve (and let's be candid - sometimes, I even missed that service). Notwithstanding, I did send sporadic contributions to the church over the years. My brother, who attended church only once after confirmation (for his wedding), and who never contributed, was eventually removed from the rolls after multiple contacts, because helloooo - that's really not belonging, is it? (He can come back any time he wants - he just looks sad and/or snarky when it comes up but doesn't make any effort to, you know, actually go to church.)
My current church has a long history for me. My parents and grandparents belonged to a church (let's call it M), and it merged with another church into P. My parents were married at P. I was baptized there. I would have been married there, but my impeccable timing put my wedding date after P's building was sold but before yet another congregational merger occurred. We ended up getting married at another church that was very pretty and part of my larger church organization, but the staff made it fairly clear that we were an inconvenience to them (even though we paid them for everything), because you know, that's certainly what Jesus would do!
So, moving forward, P's congregation eventually combined with another church to become H. And that is how things were when DD was born. I wanted to have her baptized, and so did DH, even though he's not really into the church thing. He's one of those "non-practicing" people. The minister then, who is still the minister now, did everything he possibly could to convince me to go to another church, simply because we live quite a distance from the church (about a 45 minute drive, actually). He didn't think it was fair to DD if she wanted to get involved in church activities as she grew older, and he didn't think it was fair to the congregation, who had to commit to support us while we raised her and would likely never see her. I remember being upset about this and telling DH that I felt that he was trying to kick me out of the only church I'd known, though that was probably the post-partum hormones thinking for me. Anyway, in the end, he agreed to baptize DD. And I've felt guilty in my absence for the last six flipping years, because you know, he was right. It's hard to be part of the body of the church from a distance.
From time to time, I've mentioned going to church again. DH was silent about that, undoubtedly hoping that this too will pass, because hellloooo, Sunday is the only day we have to sleep in. But, I finally worked out the logistics in my head, to include the every other Sunday visit to my dad in the calculation (why yes, we still are going through my mother's stuff - why do you ask?). And off we went. (Much to DH's chagrin, I'm sure, but he's there to set a good example, and I commend him for that.)
DD has really enjoyed going to Sunday school, and frankly, she is having more fun than I remember having. But, recently, DH asked me if I knew that they were trying to convince DD to give to church by giving her a "Bible Buck" if she made a contribution. WTF? The Sunday after he told me, I ran into the church secretary and asked about it (since she is one of the Sunday school organizers). She said that yes, indeed, DD would get a Bible Buck if she contributed, but she would also get one for doing any number of things - attending church, wearing a name tag, answering questions about what they've learned that day, bringing a friend, etc. Mmmkay. I suppose that kind of makes sense - they are rewarding stewardship. I used to give DD Skittles to help her potty train, and she doesn't need them now. Perhaps this works the same way, I thought. But giving someone a reward for a contribution just seemed like the wrong thing to do.
Now, it just so happened that DD had brought one of her own dollars in to church the day we asked the church secretary about the Bible Bucks program. And, it was "family Sunday" that day, where the children stay with their parents for the service. I'd heard that it was family Sunday, but since I wasn't familiar with the current practices, I wasn't certain exactly what that meant and didn't ask because, hey, anything to do with "family" must be good, right? The secretary said that if we filled out a pew envelope with DD's name on it and the letters "SS" (for Sunday school) she would get "credit" for her contribution. Mmmkay.
DD was really disappointed about not having Sunday school that day, and I felt bad because we hadn't warned her what to expect. But she did well and didn't fuss too much, even though it wasn't all that interesting to her. Just before the offering, DD and I completed the pew envelope as instructed. When the plate arrived, I told DD to put it in. She turned her head toward me and said "you do it." Thinking that actually meant that I should, you know, put it in the plate (silly me!), I put the envelope in the plate.
And then DD started to cry. And cry. And cry. Silent, big tears. And she wouldn't tell me why. Later on, she finally told me that she was upset because she didn't think she would get a Bible Buck because she hadn't put her dollar in the Sunday school collection.
Bingo. This is exactly what was bothering me about the whole Bible Buck thing. So we discussed the framework for giving - that everything belongs to God, but He would like us to contribute to our church, or community, or our fellow man, but only if it is freely and from the heart. Not because someone will give us something, but because it is the right thing to do - for example, her tummy is usually full of good food, but not everyone is so blessed, and it is our job to help those who don't have enough food. Or a place to stay. Or clothes to wear. And I gave her back her dollar and made her promise never to give again unless it came from her heart. I also sent an email to the church secretary explaining what had happened and asking them to talk about why we give in Sunday school (without saying how antithetical to the bible that I thought the whole Bible Bucks in exchange for contributions was).
I don't know if I handled this the right way or not, but I really do think rewarding kids for contributing to the church really sends the wrong message. Yes, I know that adults get a benefit on their income tax returns for charitable contributions, but it's not the same. To perhaps get a small portion back of what you gave months ago - but only if you itemize - isn't much of a motivator, I don't think.
I guess I'll find out after she grows up if I've had an impact on her to become a cheerful giver, or if she is uncharitable because her heart moves her more to buy that new pair of shoes than it does to help others. I hope it's the latter, I really do.