The issue of sermon stealing has been in the news lately. I’ve wanted to write about something since Scot McKnight began discussing it a couple of years ago…I’ve been putting some thought together. I hope to post it in the next week or so.

But the topic of church and stealing has reminded me of something Liz and me experienced back in the early 90s.

We were living in Albany and leading a campus ministry at the University of Albany. Occasionally we would travel to churches within our denomination in the Capital District, share what we were doing and try to raise financial support.

One Sunday evening, I was speaking at a church near Schenectady, NY. After I talked about the campus ministry, the church pastor announced that they were going to take an offering for us. Again it was a while ago, but there were around 100 people there.

Liz was sitting in the front row, and when the offering plate went by, she saw a $50 bill among other notes. As we were living on a very tight budget, nights like this meant a lot to us.

The way things like this usually work is that someone from the church gives you an envelope at the end of the service. You say thank you and casually stick it in your bible or jacket pocket (this was a denomination where you wore a suit). Then as soon as you were in your car and out of the parking lot, you open it up.

I handed it to Liz to open, and she tells me the amount that night….drumroll please….fifty dollars.

At that point, all Liz and I had were assumptions. Maybe Liz noticed things incorrectly. Perhaps someone took something out because they really needed it, or maybe the church leadership…

Yeah, that was an ugly thought.

Now, there were a few ways churches would often handle these types of events. They would have a speaker in and pay them a set amount. They would still have an offering, but it was clear that it was the church’s regular weekly offering.

But some churches would clearly state, this second offering is going to our guest speaker. That is what this church did.

A few months later, the pastor of that church was fired. At an event in Albany, he told us that their church’s leadership would commonly take offerings for missionaries, give $50 and divert the rest.

A couple thoughts.

  • if that was standard practice, it makes you wonder what else was going on.
  • They probably stole a couple hundred dollars from us…and others who came through…and while that adds up, imagine the damage they did to people who were part of that congregations.
  • While this qualifies as the worst experience we had while speaking at other churches, most of our experiences were very positive experiences. And some were just kinda crazy.

Bonus story…same church:
The new pastor this church hired was about my age, and we were in the same ordination class. I actually liked him, but I would not have used the word humility to describe him. As we were waiting for our ordination interviews, we had the following conversation.

Him: How did you do on your ordination exam?

Me: Pretty good. How about you?

Him: I got a 98.

Me: Oh, that’s great. Congratulations.

Him: What did you get?

Me: 99

Him. Oh.

Liz and I both remained straight-faced until we got in the car:)

[Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash]