I was listening to a news report earlier this week which was covering the expectation that ATMs will soon become a thing of the past - or at least, the free use of them will; we will have to pay to withdraw money from the bank, ran the report, since it costs the bank money to provide this service.
And the reason it is coming to the fore now is that more and more people are not using cash; contactless cards and the various apps on phones which also allow payment are becoming the way forward. Apparently, only 40% of transactions now involve actual cash.
Of course, what that statistic does not reveal is who is making these transactions; my guess if that although only 40% transactions overall involve cash, for some people, 100% of their transactions are cash. Or possibly cheques.
The commentator did make the point that though contactless of various kinds is useful it can, unless individuals are careful, make it easy to forget just how much is being paid over. One of the useful things about cash is that it has a physical reality in the world which makes us think of the actual reality of the money, and so notice when we are running out.... a facility I know I miss when using my contactless card. It's not that I'm not paying attention, it is simply that I forget.
Of course, many of us now do much of our banking in ways that are so much easier and straightforward and don't involve actual cash; bank transfers, standing order, direct debits, and all the rest of it. Contactless is simply the next step and it would be luddite to try to stop it.
We have an ongoing discussion when we are considering our services about how we handle the offering. The vast majority of the giving to the church comes through bank transfer, and that's great. It's regular, it's easy for the treasury team to handle, it's neat and tidy.
So, should we still receive the offering during the service - especially as the plates look weirdly (and embarrassingly!) empty as they pass round the congregation? This is not the way most people give. Shouldn't we stop this practice which interrupts the service and intrudes a note of commerce into worship. After all, it is slightly awkward to stand up there in front of the congregation an say "we want you to give us money" - and as one who is paid from the income from these gifts, let me tell you, it is awkward!
But I believe it has a place - even if all that people put in the plate is something small and symbolic and the main offering is done through the magic of the banking system. This is not the intrusion of commerce into worship. It is part - a regular and important part - of our response to the call o the gospel; it is the reminder to ourselves and each other that following Jesus has implications for how we spend money, and that being part of the church is to be involved in the regular sharing of gifts, monetary and otherwise.
Just as when we share bread and wine - not enough for a full meal, but a representative of all our eating and drinking, and so bring our whole lives into the presence of God, and receive from God the assurance that in all of our lives, love and salvation are present, so bringing even a small coin to represent all that we give in other ways matters; it symbolises and makes real the giving that happens through other systems. And it gives us the chance to pray together for the gifts we bring together, for the use of those gifts and for the work to which they will be put.
I'm all for finding smoother and easier ways to manage the life together. But I am also all for finding ways to make real, to give weight to, our actiosn of commigtement through symbol and action - so that these sommitments will then take their proper place in shaping our lvies in all their parts.