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Terry Parsons, stewardship officer for Congregational Development at the Episcopal Church Center, responds:
 
How do we teach our children to be stewards?
The occasion was a vestry meeting to write a stewardship statement.  The group was completing a discussion of early memories of money as an offering that had been so lively, I couldn’t help commenting.

“You seem to have really enjoyed talking about these memories of giving offerings as children.  Tell me, what do the children in this congregation do about offering?”

There was a sudden, embarrassed silence.  Finally, one quiet voice responded with a mixture of realization and regret, “Nothing, I guess.  I really hadn’t thought about it until now.”

As we talked, members of that vestry realized that in their congregation there was no Sunday school offering.  Children left the worship service as soon as the gospel had been read and returned in time to follow the offering, towards the altar.  There literally was no opportunity for them to participate in any offering at all!

The good news is that that situation changed for those children on the very next Sunday.  The vestry member, also the children’s Sunday school teacher, invited her students to talk about offering and create their own offering box.

Now, that box is placed on top of the worship offering and presented at the altar each Sunday by one of the children.  The priest leaves the offering on the altar until the conclusion of the Eucharist, and the children see their box sitting there when they come to the altar rail.  The children also have selected outreach projects funded by “the children’s offering.”

“What are we teaching our children about stewardship?” is a critical question for our church, especially as we are teaching them very little.  We are teaching them to shop but not to share! We can and must change this. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Make sure there is an opportunity for children to give an offering each week   The children’s offering can come during Sunday school, children’s church or the morning worship, but it should be an event, part of the liturgy.
  • Give offering envelopes to every child who wants them.  Do not be dismayed by the uses children will find for these envelopes.  I will never forget the morning we had to find an extra envelope for a child who had used his for the tooth that had come out during Sunday school.  Yes, tell parents what you are doing and give them veto power, though I have never known a parent to refuse or complain.
  • Honor every gift.  Record children’s offerings and give them regular statements along with adults, regardless of the amount they contribute.  If the cost of keeping the records and generating the statements exceeds the amount of the contribution, so what?  This is an investment in formation and is well worth the cost.
  • Teach parents how to teach their children.  An adult forum on early memories of money will be valuable to the adults.  End it with the question: “What memories do you want your children to have?” and it will be valuable to their children.  Anyone interested in a “parents as stewards” training session, please call for a copy of the outline we have developed in the Office of Stewardship.
  • Invest in Growing a Grateful Generous Heart, a four-week stewardship curriculum for children from preschool through grade six. It includes an excellent guide for parents.
  • Incorporate a discussion of stewardship into confirmation class.  One priest I know includes it in preparation for baptism, which is an even better idea.
  • Include Christian Education volunteers in planning for your annual stewardship program.  They are a valuable ally and may bring some fresh ideas along with them.  Encourage them to look for stewardship teaching opportunities in whatever curriculum your church is using.

Plan to attend “Will Our Children Be Stewards,” July 14-17 in Minneapolis,  sponsored by the Office of Stewardship.

Details are available by calling 800-334-7626 or online at www.episcopalchurch.org/stewardship.