Earlier this month I had the honor of celebrating the formal marriage of two people who had successfully blended a family of middle schoolers over the past several years, while remaining in love with each other. The children were as fine as the parents, and I expected great things when meeting the bride’s parents. So how would I feel about the fact that her parents had recently joined the Latter Day Saints?
Anyone who loves successful religious polity has got to admire the Mormons, and I’ve known good people of that faith. These parents turned out to be two more such good people. The father delivered a lovely blessing after the vows and also took me aside to explain a little about his new religion. What he said confirmed a rumor that long had intrigued me.
The LDS do not have ministers on the payroll and the young folks on their mission years are required to pay their own ways. Worship every week has testimony from each age group and then small group time. Their money goes for buildings, worship supplies, and support for LDSers dealing with hard times. What we call “the ministers’ purse” the Mormons have as a general relief fund. Lay leaders receive petitions for assistance and write the checks. The whole matter is handled discreetly, preserving the applicants’ dignity. But everyone knows about it, and apparently, no one assumes they will never be the person who has the need. (That’s the thing about Christianity: it teaches that adversity and death can arise at any moment.)
I thought about this as we passed the baskets yesterday in the Unitarian Universalist congregation where we worship. It has a strong tradition of lay leadership and our lay worship services, and by these means has become a large congregation. Every week half the money in the basket goes to a local service agency. Yesterday I asked myself, “Suppose we split this money three ways, with forty per cent going to the operating budget of the Society, and thirty each to this outside agency and to the Pastoral Care Network? How would that affect the loyalty and giving of our parishioners? How would that affect our self-image as people of an undeservedly solid privileged social stature? How would serving on the Inreach Fund Committee affect our leadership’s view of our religious community?”
What do you think?