I grew up attending a small, rural A.M.E. church in the middle of the woods. Most of the congregants were family members and love abounded in this great place.
Every Sunday, we took up a special collection called a Benevolent Offering. Some people gave as little as one cent, while others gave ten-percent of their income to this offering. This offering was taken up at the beginning of the service, before the preacher delivered the sermon.
As a child, I didn’t understand the significance of this offering. (As a matter of fact, I had no idea about anything related to the church finances.) This offering was reserved especially for people in the church or the community who needed an extra boost. If a church member was going off to college or if a member needed a little assistance covering bills for the month, this offering was used. If someone in the community suffered a loss such as a house burning down or extreme illness, this offering was used to assist those people. When I went away to college, the church used a portion of the benevolent offering to assist me on that journey. This offering was used to meet the needs of the people.
This special offering was my first exposure to community philanthropy. This was my first glimpse into the power of a group of people pooling their financial resources to help somebody else. As I grew older, I discovered fancy terms (community philanthropy) and other ways people pool resource to help others and strengthen communities, but for me, people coming together to improve the lives of others started in the church. This coming together was a way of life in the small, rural church where I grew up.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve witnessed the true power of people coming together, outside of the church, and working together to strengthen their communities. Giving Circles are becoming a growing phenomena in communities. More and more businesses are pooling their technical and financial resources to strengthen communities. Universities are creating critical masses of civically engaged college students to improve the lives of others. Counties are teaming up with other counties, pooling resources and strengthening communities. More and more benevolent efforts are taking root in communities throughout the US.
My experience growing up in the little A.M.E. church in the middle of the woods really helped shape my worldview on philanthropy. When people come together inside or outside of a religious institution, and share their resources, it can bring people together, inspire people and strengthen communities. “Pass the plate, please!”
Article Submitted by Andrea Price