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Churches go high-tech with automatic funds transfer

(Re-printed from the Reno Gazette Journal with permission)


You pay your heat, phone and gym membership electronically. Now you can settle your debt to God with an automatic funds transfer, too.

In an effort to enhance donations to the offering plate, hundreds of churches are taking Sunday morning donations automatically out of congregants' bank accounts. "We call it divine accounting,' says Leslee Nestingen, manager of fraternal communications for the Lutheran Brotherhood. that has signed up more than 600 Lutheran churches for automatic funds transfer services. Catholic, Presbyterian and non denominational churches are experimenting as well.

Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Sparks is considering using the system, said Scott Minky, pastor. The biggest factor in favor of the service is cash flow. "When people go on vacation, they don't think about giving their donations before they leave," he said.

The convenience, however, creates both social and theological dilemmas.

This offering is "at the heart of every Christian worship service," said Terry Parsons, stewardship officer for the Episcopal Church. In a cash less church, "what vehicle do you use to represent peoples gifts?"

Well, stickers, tokens, and index cards. The Lutheran Brotherhood uses turquoise stickers, which church members affix to envelopes to indicate they already have given. The Rev. Bill Bixby of trinity Lutheran Church in Lansdale, Pa., calls these "placebo envelopes."

Other churches use metal tokens or colored cards, decorated with preying hands or mourning doves, that say, "We gave electronically."

Dennis and Susan Packard, members of Bixby's church, like the funds transfer program. But they are grateful for the envelopes. If you don't put something in the plate, "you ma be frowned on, " says Dennis Packard. "We avoid that embarrassment."

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