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It’s all in the thumb


 When I was a child, the ability to pay your weekly offering electronically didn’t exist, and even offering bags were not widely used in The Salvation Army. We placed our offering in a collection bowl that was passed along the rows of seats.


The bowls were made of wood and often contained a thin layer of felt on the inside base (so the sound of coins dropping in wasn’t too loud) and a thin layer of felt on the bottom so they could be placed on the holiness table quietly.


As a young boy, I recall an older boy teaching me the skill of pretending to put a coin in the collection bowl when, in fact, you weren’t. As the person next to you passed the bowl to you, you would place your closed hand in the top of the bowl, and as you opened it (theoretically releasing the coin that wasn’t there), you would flick the thumb of your other hand hard against the bottom of the bowl. With practice and good timing, this sounded like you were dropping a 50-cent piece in the bowl. You then took the bowl and passed it to the next person.


I recall one Sunday when there were seven or eight of us boys sitting across the front row of our church. Generally, the same two people would take up the offering each week. This Sunday, one of them presented the bowl to the first boy and it was passed along the row with every boy seemingly dropping a coin in. When it got to the other end of the row, the other offering helper looked in the bowl, and her eyes went as big as dinner plates – there wasn’t a cent in there! Every single boy had flicked his thumb on the bottom of the bowl.


Perhaps worse was one boy – let’s call him Graham because ... well, just because – who was even more skilled, or deceitful, depending on your take on things. I watched him once clearly raise his 20-cent piece and place it in the bowl, and, when the bowl had passed by, he looked at me, smiled slyly, opened his hand and he had a 50-cent piece! He’d done swapsies and made a 30-cent profit!


Back in the day, 50 cents could buy you a big bag of mixed lollies! Graham was on to something – or so I thought. It seems his older brother had seen what he did and told their mum, and she gave Graham a lesson about honesty after the meeting; a lesson that meant he couldn’t comfortably sit down for a few hours.


I’ve been thinking recently, as the cost of living has climbed, maybe it’s easier to contribute something rather than cash. Imagine if your offering bags came back this week and there was lots of cash in them ... and a bag of homecooked biscuits. Or some bottles of homemade jam. Or some macrame potholders. Or a goat.


Now, I know we need cash in the bank to pay the corps bills, but perhaps we could start an economic revolution here. “Yes, Telstra accounts person, I know we owe you $180, but how about I give you $60, three fruitcakes, a free pass for babysitting one night and a wooden pen made by Bob?”


Sure, we’d need substantially bigger offering bags or maybe people could just place their ‘offering’ in a big box in the foyer each Sunday. You’d just have to watch that the goat didn’t eat the biscuits before the meeting was finished.


Try it next Sunday – see what your officer says when you put your famous baked cheesecake in the offering bag.


– Major Mal Davies and his wife Major Tracey are the Corps Officers at Adelaide City Salvos


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