I have stumbled upon some amazing posts explaining the reasons for paying tithing (such as Mark’s post here, or Stephanie’s post here). While I could not agree more that giving back is something each and everyone of us shall be doing, I also believe that there are many ways to give back, including financially, if one chooses not to pay tithing.
As I may have mentioned, I grew up on a small farm in a middle of nowhere in the south east of Poland. The Church had been (and still is to a big extent) a center of everything. When I was in grade school, my friend B. and I would bike to church almost every evening (as a form of entertainment as there was nothing else to do). In my teenage years most of my friends and I would hang out at a church cafe or volunteer at a church after school program. In summers I would go away for a church camp and in my late teens I would participate in a several day long pilgrimages to Czestochowa (most famous pilgrimage destination in Poland). All of our lives were centered around Church and yet I never heard about paying tithing until I came to the U.S.
Instead of asking to pay monthly tithing, our priest would occasionally ask for help with specific projects, such as getting a new roof for the church, renovating a chapel or replacing sewer pipes, which is when everyone would pitch in financially and the local men would do the physical work. Then of course, there was a weekly ‘give whatever you can’ while you attend a Sunday mass. Other than that, the local farmers would make sure that the church’s kitchen always had enough fruits and vegetables, local ladies would share their canned goods and eggs on ongoing basis. The richest farmer in the village would raise a couple of piglets and a cow each year just for the local church’s needs. Our priest could reach out anytime if he needed anything and there would always be several people volunteering at once to deliver all that was needed.
Now that I live in New York City, belonging to a church is just so different. There are a few churches I like (including 3 Polish ones all within an easy commute), all for different reasons. I like the flexibility of choosing a location depending on how I feel. Sometimes I would go to a Polish one, sometimes to an all-American one and sometimes I would take a train and travel to Cold Spring in the Hudson Valley and attend a mass there. There are just so many options and I don’t feel tied up to a given location, I enjoy my freedom in choosing. Since paying tithing was never engrained in me, but helping others has, I have chosen not to pay tithing but continue helping and giving back in other ways.
How to Give Back When You Don’t Pay Tithing
1. Help a struggling family member
I am always happy to help my sister out in every way I can. She has 3 little girls under the age of 5 and her family lives on just one small income. I am sure that I have helped her more than I would have ever paid in tithing. I am giving with humbleness and take joy and pride that I am in this lucky position to be her anchor.
2. ‘Adopt’ a homeless person
In New York City, if you ever feel like you don’t have enough and feel bad for yourself, it is easy to feel otherwise once you enter a subway station where thousands of homeless people try to find warmth in winter and shelter for the night. In summer, you will see someone in need on almost every corner. While sometimes it is not clear if someone is really in need or just looking for easy money, I am quite good at spotting the difference.
This is how I met Doug. Doug, a Vietnam War veteran, who is in his 60’s should be home, enjoying a warm meal, playing with his grandchildren, instead of sitting on a corner hoping to raise $7.5 for a soup and a 1 way metro ride. Doug, a skinny little man, melts with the SoHo scenery. Doug has a sad face. But then you start talking to him and he melts your heart, he is witty and smart and so optimistic. In a year and a half Doug will be eligible for social security and health care but till then he owns nothing. I make it a point to stop by at least every other day and give him 10 minutes of my full attention. We chat for a bit, share a laugh, complain about the weather, chat about whatever you would chat about with a friend. I help out with a cup of hot tea, a few dollars for a soup, bring a pair of shoes, a 6 pack of socks or a few t-shirts that T. does not wear anymore.
3. Set up a 529 for a child in need
How about that? A child that is not your child. Someone you know is a good kid, but her parents cannot afford to start the fund. Imagine what a blessing it is to find out that someone, a family friend, an aunt, or a neighbor set this up for you?
4. Pay for someone’s grocery shopping
I love doing this one occasionally 🙂 You see someone at a store, an older person, who looks into his basket and counts the coins in his hand, putting some things back onto the shelves. And then you look into your basket and it is overflowing. Try to smile at that person then and ask them to put the items back into the basket. Today you will pay for them. I never heard ‘no’. Be ready to see some happy tears. You may shed a few as well..
5. Give time
Priceless. Start with your community. Soup kitchens, after school programs, shelters, all are understaffed and need help.
What at are YOUR thoughts on tithing? If you don’t pay it, how do you give back?