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Friday, January 11th, 2008

Passing the online collection basket

By Shelley Grieshop

The mode of collecting church donations is changing as many congregations now ha. . .

Local churches of various denominations now are offering congregation members a way to make donations online.
Instead of placing tithe envelopes in the collection basket each week during services or Mass, people are logging on to the Internet to donate to their parish or other religious organizations.
"Welcome to the Archdiocese of Cincinnati's donation portal!" is the greeting on the E-Giving Web site at www.catholicappeal.net where numerous Catholic parishes from all over the diocese now can make their digital donation. The Web site is operated through PledgeConnect, a Web-based payment tool used by the archdiocese since Oct. 1.
It's not catching on too quickly, mostly because older parishioners aren't computer novices and/or don't have access to the Internet, says Michael Vanderburgh, the archdiocese's director of the office of stewardship.
"It'll take time for some to get used to," he admits.
To date, 20 parishes out of 222 in the archdiocese have opted not to participate, he says.
To donate online with PledgeConnect, donors can go to the Web site and find their church's listing or search it by name, zip code or city. On the site, they have the option of donating to their parish, a Catholic organization, the Catholic Ministries Appeal or pay tuition if their child attends a Catholic school.
The parish council of Holy Rosary Catholic Church in St. Marys voted recently to use an online system for collections, as a second option to the weekly envelope method. But the parish chose their own online company, ParishPay, instead of PledgeConnect.
The Rev. Anthony Cutcher, senior pastor at the Auglaize County church, has mixed emotions about the idea. He says regular online donations help stabilize finances, but also take away the tradition many people are accustomed to.
"It's not a bill to pay," and shouldn't have that feel, he says.
He believes it's important to keep the tradition of the blessing of offerings at the altar, which he considers an important part of the Mass. All Holy Rosary parishioners, including those who give online, still receive their mailed tithe envelopes, he adds.
Tithe envelopes are often purchased individually by each church's as a matter of preference. They can be found with a few frills added in like Bible quotes printed on the outside for $20 per 500 - not a huge expense for most.
Many churches - particularly those that have dealt with internal theft issues - feel that collecting, counting and recording cash and checks is a job that could and should be eliminated.
"It's busy work that takes people away from other duties they could be performing," Vanderburgh says.
Nearing 50, Cutcher says he believes, sooner or later, all parishes will travel the high-tech road and accept donations online. It's the way of the future and, admittedly, his own personal choice, he says.
"I began my career in the computer business," he says. "I only get my checkbook out about twice a year now. I pay nearly all my bills online."

Pew rent:
The act of donating funds to churches is one that dates back prior to the early 1900s when congregants paid "pew rent" for their weekly seat in church.
Pew rents were the principal source of financial support for many churches during all of the 19th century, according to religious historians. Many such churches kept rental account books that showed payments from each family, often made quarterly for a pew in the sanctuary.
Archived documents kept by the Presbyterian church show that sittings in the rear or gallery of the church were from $4 to $13 (quarterly) in 1901. Main floor seating cost between $15 to $150.
Families who sat closer to the front typically paid more, so everyone knew they were the most prominent givers.
Members of the church were asked to arrive at church by a set time so visitors and strangers to the service could be seated in pews that were not rented by regulars.
The pew rental system eventually was abolished in favor of a plate offering during the service.
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