Each Sunday we, as good Greek Orthodox Christians, go to Church. We sit, we pray, we sing the hymns, and sometimes we even try to chant along with the psalti (cantor). Well, I just actually hum along with the psalti – those Byzantine musical scales are, well, Byzantine. As the liturgy nears the end, the priest will motion the board members to proceed with passing the trays for the weekly monetary donations. In our church its usually two trays passed.

After the trays are passed, they take them to the office and are dumped on the table where a group of board members, and guys like me not on the board but who help out, start counting the money. Of course, everyone is counting and the conversations start. A few comments on current events are made and a few jokes here and there. I always find it ironic that the only people that count $1.00 bills on Sunday mornings are bartenders, strippers, Greek musicians, and church board members! Maybe not in that order.

The first thing you notice when you are counting the donations is the denominations of the cash. The majority of the money is the customary $1.00 bill. These are usually given by the elderly, children, those parishioners who are in church every Sunday, and those that may attend church services once or twice a year and don’t understand what money it takes to run a church community, but throw in a buck or two because they have to – “people are watching.”

Sometimes you find a few $5.00, $10.00, and even an occasional $20.00 bill, then you see it… wow, a $100 bill! You know the person who threw in that amount is looking for some redemption. Maybe they are praying for forgiveness about something they are starting to feel guilty about or merely giving thanks for something. We’ll never know. But then you see a couple of $100 bills stuck together. One time there were five $100 bills together. Hallelujah, that person was definitely trying to find religion or hit the lottery and needed to share the wealth. God Bless him or her!

Then there are the bored souls. You can spot them a mile away. They’re either staring into space not really paying attention to the liturgy or the sermon, looking this way and that way, but you can see their fingers working. They usually take a $1.00 bill and start folding it up into little folds until they can’t fold it any more. Do they unravel it when it comes time to throw it in the tray? Of course not. They just throw it in like a used piece of paper and we end up spending time trying to unravel it. What is worse than that are the really bored, but creative ones who make Origami figures out of the bills…really? I’m starting to hate Origami cranes.

Some parishioners write things on their bills such as, “God Bless You,” “Sorry, that’s all I have,” or, “Thank you, Lord, for thinkin’ ‘bout me, I’m alive and doin’ fine.” Okay, I’ve never read that one but it’s from the Five Man Electrical Band’s 1970 song “Signs,” and I thought it would fit right in with the story.

People also write checks for $5.00. I’m starting to see more of them now. We use to look funny at checks because most of our parishioners had businesses that dealt with cash. Not anymore. Even those businesses that were traditionally cash businesses have gone over to the credit cards and if I were a betting man, I would bet that the church could make a ton of money if the board members had a portable credit card swipe for their cell phones. Could you imagine walking down the aisles between the pews? “$5.00, sir? Swipe here and press enter. Thank you and God Bless you.”

People in Greece don’t understand the concept of donations to the church. Here, in America and Canada, it is the foundation for the survival of our churches. The Greek Orthodox churches are incorporated by the people, built by the sweat and money of the people, and financially sustained by the people. Do you know what it cost to run a church? I have heard people say, “I hate that the church has become a business,” or, “what do they do with all that money.” You should take the time to find out. You would be surprised and shocked what it takes to run a church.

Our churches don’t run on prayers. Our churches don’t exist because of good thoughts. When we walk in to our church, the moment we open the door and step in, we are using items that need to be paid for, just like your house or business. Electricity so that we can see. Gas so we have heat in the winter. Water so we can cook, clean, and do other things. Telephone and internet so we can stay in touch with the modern world. Insurance in case someone falls or there is hail storm and the building is damaged. Maintenance fees to keep the buildings in shape. Employees who take care of the day to day operation, including our priests, psalti, secretaries, Greek school teachers, and all the taxes that go along with paying those employees. Mortgages to the bank because the people wanted to build but didn’t have the money. And candles so we can pray.

I know of some churches with budgets of almost $1,000,000 and other of less than $150,000. I was shocked to learn, when I was a solicitor for a small Borough in Pennsylvania, that our church budget was larger than the Borough’s budget!! But it is us, the parishioners, who help sustain the churches with our donations, whether monetary or other.

So next time the tray is passed your way, help in any way you can and know that your donations are being used so you have a place to pray. An, please…stop making those Origami cranes!!!

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