Information is lacking about offerings for church needs among the 16th-century Anabaptists in Switzerland and South Germany. Most likely the only funds needed, those for the poor and needy, were secured privately by the deacon as need arose. Money for church buildings and janitor service was not needed until the late 18th century or early 19th in the Palatinate and Alsace, and not until the late 19th century in Switzerland. Both there and in North America the first method of "collecting" for church purposes was by placing the contributions in offering boxes placed at the exits of the meetinghouse. In a few congregations in the Franconia Conference (Mennonite Church) in Eastern Pennsylvania this practice was continued until the mid-20th century, and is still practiced among the Old Order Mennonites of Pennsylvania who broke off from the main body in 1893, also among the Old Order Mennonites in other areas, such as Ontario.
In some North American Mennonite churches funds are raised for regular expenses by assessments on an annual basis, sometimes per capita, sometimes on a property or income basis.
The taking of offerings during the church service by having the deacons, or most commonly ushers, send collection plates through the pews probably came in connection with offerings for special purposes such as missions, although the custom of taking offerings in Sunday school for expenses of that work was established at the very beginning of Sunday-school effort. In the Mennonite Church (MC) the mission offerings were first established on a monthly basis; only recently have weekly Sunday morning offerings become a regular practice.
In the Netherlands, the Mennonites from the start contributed to their congregations, in particular for the support of the poor. This was done by two methods: (a) By collections at the religious services. In the early days the members gave their gifts to the deacons (armendienaren) before the beginning of the service; but after 1600 boxes (bossen) were placed at the exit to receive the offering. This method remained in use in conservative groups like the Groningen Old Flemish, in some of the churches until the mid-20th century. Among the more progressive Lamists the Reformed way of taking collections was adopted about 1675; i.e., during the service, usually while the congregation was singing, a collection-bag attached to a long stick was passed. The method is still used in certain Dutch Mennonite congregations. In Leiden the latter method was introduced in 1674, because the "bossen" raised so little. In 1950 the gift of charity was usually received by two deacons at the door after the benediction. Open offering plates are little used. (b) The second method is to receive the gifts at the homes of the members. In former centuries the deacons of a congregation visited the members, especially those in better financial circumstances, and encouraged them to make large donations, usually in the fall, and sometimes before Christmas. In the mid-20th century annual contributions were requested of the members and were sent in a modern businesslike way. Although these contributions are entirely voluntary, it is a common practice in many congregations that the members give one or one and a half per cent of their income.
As the expenses of the congregation increased, especially since c1820 when a salaried ministry became general, larger offerings have been asked of the members.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, p. 22-23. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Bender, Harold S. and Nanne van der Zijpp. "Offerings." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1955. Web. 21 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/O486.html.
APA style: Bender, Harold S. and Nanne van der Zijpp. (1955). Offerings. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 21 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/O486.html.