Money, the Church, and those Dang Brass Plaques

A few weeks ago I was a guest in a church. A church of kind-hearted, hospitable people, I’m sure. At some point, as is to be expected, my tiny bladder and I needed to use the bathroom. I did not use the main bathroom with stalls and fake flowers and smelly lotion. I used the little bathroom off of the kitchen. The toilet in a closet.

And right there, gleaming in gold against the shining white top of the porcelain toilet tank, was a brass sign. You’ve seen these little plaques in churches before: “In memory of Mary Jane Schilermacher.”*

I couldn’t help but wonder how old Mary Jane feels about all of her Christian brothers and sisters (and let’s be honest here, especially the brothers who will be facing the toilet as they pee) thinking of her each time they look at this toilet.

A few months ago I was a guest at another church. A church of Jesus-loving, justice-living people. And I noticed a nice sign in front of the building. The kind of sign that sits heavily on the ground. The kind with a clear cover that you can unlock and change the big black letters inside: “Honk if you love Jesus.”** Below the panel with the big black letters was a little brass plaque: “In memory of Vernon P. Buttlebitter.”***

I couldn’t help but wonder what passers by thought of this plaque. Maybe Mr. Buttlebitter was an exemplary human being and his name on the sign encouraged people to attend this church. But I never met the deceased Mr. Buttlebitter, and my thoughts were more along the lines of, “Why can’t people just give money for a sign and leave off the distracting plaque?”.

Our small and growing congregation is in the midst of discernment about how to access more space for Christian formation and worship. These discussions are reminding me how emotional we can get about money. How much fear it can cause. How much anxiety. How much pride and shame and guilt.

Some people have money, and they don’t want to give it. Other people don’t have money, and they want to give it. Which means that basically everyone is uncomfortable talking about it.

But money is just money. We need a certain amount of it to live in our culture. We need it to feed people and clothe people and provide medical care. We need it to buy or rent spaces for education and worship. We need it to pay the water bill and the electricity bill and the babysitter.

Yes. We need money. But if we are going to go around slapping plaques on everything in and around the church building that represents the contributions of faithful and generous people, we’ll need to substantially increase our plaque budget.

We’ll need plaques on the rosebushes in honor of all the gardeners who plant, water, and weed. Plaques on the clean floors, for the volunteer who cleans them every week. Plaques on the pulpit for everyone who reads scripture and preaches the word. Plaques on my children’s foreheads in honor of every Sunday School teacher they’ve ever had, everyone in the church who has taken them out for ice cream or sat down for a heart to heart.

We could litter our church buildings with plaques. Or we could just go faithfully about our business of being the body of Christ. Each contributing what we can, knowing that, by God’s grace, it is enough.


*This is not the real name on the toilet plaque.
**This is not really what the sign said.
***This is not the real name on the sign plaque, either. It’s not that I’m trying to protect anonymity, I just can’t remember this stuff.

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