It was a normal Sunday, by all accounts. Sometime in 2011. The 6pm service at church.
'During the last hymn the offering will be taken. If you are a visitor at this church, please do not feel under any obligation to give. This is very much for our church family. Anything given will be used to further the work of the church here in the parish and further afield'
The same words every week.
As a member of the PCC, it was my job - along with the verger - to count the collection at the end of the service. As usual, we tipped the offering bag upside down and let the coins, notes and envelopes fall onto the desk. A quick shake of the bag, and we began counting.
Except this week there was something different.
In amongst all the shiny coins and slightly scrumpled notes, there lay a solitary boiled sweet. A reddish colour, wrapped in crispy, crinkly cellophane.
I'll be honest, I laughed it off. I brushed it aside as a joke, an accident, a moment of madness by one of our more 'interesting' parishioners. Chuckling to myself, I left it to one side and finished counting the money. I can't even remember what the total came to. In jest, we noted the addition of the boiled sweet at the bottom of the collection sheet.
Later that evening, sat at home having post-church dinner with my mum, I mentioned the boiled sweet. I recounted it as a funny story, a 'look how wacky our church is!' tale to wheel out at dinner parties.
But then my mum stopped me.
'Yes', she said quietly, 'I know about that. One of the ladies came up to me at the end of the service this evening. She said she hoped I wouldn't mind, but she put a boiled sweet in the offering. Her benefits ran out on Friday and she hasn't been able to afford food for the weekend, so she's been living off boiled sweets. When she heard that the offering would be used to help the work of the parish, she knew she didn't have any money, so she decided that she would give up her final boiled sweet instead.'
In that moment, I nearly cried. Suddenly, the Widow's Mite (Mark 12:41-44, Luke 21:1-4) was a reality. 'These people have given out of their wealth', Jesus said, 'but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on'. Suddenly, the direct debit of however much per month I give to the church felt like a pittance compared to the generosity of this woman. The humble giving of one without enough to eat, who gives to the church what, realistically, cannot make a difference to its work, is 1000x more than I have ever considered giving.
There are so many things I could write about in relation to this story. I could write about my pathetic attitude towards giving. I could write about how the church could learn so much from those who have so little. I could write about how I would never learn these little things about people if I wasn't in a church which welcomes the rich and the poor with open arms, which doesn't have a 'set demographic' of people, and doesn't leave anyone out in the cold.
But what I want to take away from this story is a sense of outrage at the fact that there are people in our country, in our very communities who cannot afford to feed themselves. Whose benefit money does not last them longer than 5 days. Who are going without heating in order to eat. Who are going without food themselves in order to feed their children. Who are living off boiled sweets however many days a week because they cannot afford anything else.
Something has to change.
As a church, we have to do something. We have to put our money where our mouth is. We have to start campaigning, petitioning our MPs, volunteering at Foodbanks and donating what we can, where we can. We have to check that those in our communities have enough to eat, and are not just 'surviving'.
Based on the current forecast, it's only going to get worse. There are promises of £12 billion of welfare cuts coming in under the new Conservative Government. People will continue not being able to afford to feed themselves. Foodbank usage will rise. People too ill to work will be forced back into employment.
This is not a crazy left-wing political post. This is an appeal by a Christian to other Christians, to encourage them to step up and step out. Follow Christ's call to 'speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy' (Proverbs 31:8-9). Live out in your life the Gospel that you proclaim with your lips. Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.
Because I don't know about you, but I don't want any more boiled sweets in the collection bag.
Hi, I’m Alianore. I used to be known as 'Nell Goddard', but then I got married and changed my name. I’m an author, blogger, and speaker. A theologian, on a good day. A Christian, a storyteller, and a friend. I tweet as @alianoree and you can find more of my writings in my first book, 'Musings of a Clergy Child'.