Old Otterbein church pays some of its bills with peanuts. It’s true. This United Methodist church is the oldest church building still standing in the city of Baltimore. Its sanctuary was built in 1785-1786 with ballast bricks discarded by ships in the harbor nearby. Every nail used on construction was handmade. Congregations have worshiped in this old building continuously ever since.
For the past 25 years, Old Otterbein has earned a tidy income selling peanuts to baseball fans walking by the church on Conway Street on their way to Oriole Park at Camden Yards, two blocks away. Edythe Parthree, a church member, had brought peanuts to Old Otterbein’s strawberry festival in 1992. When the festival ended, those peanuts not sold were taken out to the street to see if any passing baseball fans might buy them. At $1 a small bag, they sold out in a hurry.
Ever since, Old Otterbein volunteers have packed peanuts in small bags and sold hundreds of them and bottles of water to fans on their way to the ball park. Income from these sidewalk peanut sales has restored an organ, helped replace roofs, and repaired brick walls and electrical, plumbing, heating and air conditioning systems.
About a mile from our house in Chapel Hill, Amity church, another United Methodist congregation, sells Christmas trees every year, raising thousands toward its annual operating budget. Many churches do this.
I think of Old Otterbein’s peanut sales and Amity’s Christmas trees when I see the offering plate pass along my pew at church. Houses of worship, from the largest cathedral to the humblest one-room cabin, depend on voluntary donations to keep going. Next time you attend a worship service, think about this and look around the building. Faith communities, call them congregations, all share responsibility for building maintenance, mortgages, salaries, utility bills, folding chairs, choir robes, paved parking lots, coffee, and many, many more expenses, every week. Did I mention coffee?
As the plate passes along my pew, I notice the folded $1 bill tossed in, there’s a five, occasionally even a 20. Many congregations count on annual pledges to meet the budget. Faithful parishioners annually pledge a specific amount that they mail in, or these days, authorize automatic deductions from their credit cards. Just now, my church is in the midst of its annual stewardship campaign, urging members and regular visitors to turn in their annual pledges and possibly increase the amounts if they can manage to.
It mystifies me that some folks regularly attend worship and freely take part in a congregation’s multiple activities yet seem not to feel obliged to help pay for the experience. Some of us are financially better off than others, it’s true, but many of us don’t hesitate to part with serious money for other activities in our lives.
In our area, going to a movie will set us back about $12 to $15. Attending a play by a professional theater company runs about $20 up to $50 or more. A rock concert? A single ticket will set you back $46 on average. A seat at a Carolina Panthers football game gets into serious money, from a low of $64 up to more than $200. The N.C. Symphony asks $18 up to $73 for a single ticket to one of its classical concerts.
We don’t seem to mind paying these prices to entertain ourselves. Why are we reluctant to kick in some serious money to help our church or temple pay its bills? Running a place of worship and community takes a big budget, and that’s not peanuts.