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IN THEORY:Handy banking on site

October 14, 2006

A church in Augusta, Ga., has reportedly begun using ATMs as a way for its parishioners to tithe. The effort, says Pastor Marty Baker of Stevens Creek Community Church, is simply a way to adapt to a credit-card-happy society in which plastic is overtaking paper as a form of payment. Proponents of the "Giving Kiosks" say such a use of technology is a way to boost donations using modern tools while adjusting to an age when churchgoers are more likely to have credit and debit cards in their pockets than cash.

Those who aren't thrilled about the idea worry that it promotes debt, even as faiths urge against spending beyond means. And the idea of using such technology at a place of worship strikes some as insensitive and out of context.

What do you think? Think you'd ever purchase one for your congregation?

As the much-beloved hymn says, "the times they are a-changin.'" OK, I'm kidding. Those words are not a hymn, but a song by Bob Dylan. But the point is on target: the times are always changing. Some of us of a certain age have trouble with computers; we are "cyber-challenged," the phrase goes.

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After we learned to type and use typewriters, we were forced to learn computers if we wanted to have a weekly column in a newspaper. Biblically, the Hebrews in Exile wondered how they would worship God in a foreign land, away from the Temple. The synagogue came into being. Jesus said one time that one does not put new wine into old wineskins.

The point, I think, is to adapt. At one time people gave alms at their house of worship by bringing gold or whatever they could. Now churches regularly accept personal checks — but that has not always been the case. As we move toward a cashless society or paperless society, I see nothing wrong with an ATM on church property — although I wouldn't have it right next to the altar or the baptismal font. Some churches already have the ability to accept credit cards, so I don't understand the hullabaloo about the possibility of having a kiosk of cash on the premises.

Is there a downside? Yes, because too much debt is a problem in our society, and a credit card ability or an ATM on church grounds could cause problems for those believers who are "fiscally challenged." But the convenience and ease that those money-transfer systems provide outweigh the downside, in my opinion. Besides, the Lord loveth a cheerful giver, regardless of where he gets his geldt.

THE REV. C.L. "SKIP" LINDEMAN

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