This morning while I was scanning the church bulletin for typos, the pastor came into my office to ask whether I would make a big thermometer.

What?

A big thermometer.

Like one that works?  I have no idea how to do that.

Oh no.  A fund raising thermometer.  Like the United Way uses or something.

I can’t get to it til Monday, but yeah,  I think I could do that.

Maybe not a thermometer.

Okay…

Just get creative.

Creative.  Okay.  I can be creative.  What’s the fund raising for?

The new projector.

Right.  Maybe I’ll do a movie marquee then.  With lights.

Do you think you could maybe wire so the lights light up?

No.  Absolutely not.  I’d probably burn the place down by mistake.

Then, please, don’t do that.

Gotcha.

The church where I work is raising money for a new projections system.  A lot of money.  The church is struggling financially.  and has been for the past several months.  The head of the finance committee juggles money from account to account to pay the light bills and things.  I think the new projection system is a pretty terrible idea, given the economic situation of both the church and most of its constituents, but they are paying me the $7.25 an hour the federal government requires, so I started scheming how best to make a non-electrified, non-giant thermometer poster.

I was listening to NPR as I started to fold the bulletins and heard the good news that child mortality rates continue to decline around the world.  Fewer children died this year than last from things like bad drinking water, preventable or treatable disease, and malnourishment.   The good news is that children dead before their fifth birthdays will number only 8.8 million.

That’s the population of New York City plus the population of  of Albuquerque.  That is nearly 3,000 times the number of people killed on September 11th eight years ago.

A few church members argue–and rightly so–that the existing projection system is fairly terrible and terribly outdated.  Who would want to go to a church where everything is all blurry?

American churches strive to be relevant or, barring that, to believe themselves relevant.  In the US relevancy generally seems to involve buying things: bass guitars and tambourines and  and graphics software and matching polo shirts for the greeters.  Sometimes these tokens may make church seem more accessible to the so-called unchurched among us.  They may make Sunday mornings a little more lively for those of us under seventy five.

I kept started shuffling visitor cards into my stack of folded bulletins and thought about how we could spend $1,200.  How many hungry people in right here in our town could we feed?  How many light bills could we pay for struggling families?  Whose doctor bills could we help out with or whose gas tank could we fill?

How many of the 8.8 million children destined to die this year could we keep alive with simple medications or mosquito netting or a well?

I know as well as anyone that church budgets are contentious, that they seldom contain quite enough money.  I know churches, like individuals, must make difficult decisions about how and where to spend our money.  I believe that people here genuinely and sincerely imagine that av equipment has the power to get butts in seats and, by extension, win souls for Christ.  Perhaps they’re right.  Perhaps a few people will come for the Powerpoint and stay for the altar call.  I hope so.

But when I sort through visitor cards on Monday morning, though, I’ll be certain I couldn’t look any of those newcomers in the eye and tell them that we made the right call, that we’re relevant.  But I will be able to tell them that I do not know how to make a giant, working thermometer and will not try.  So at least there’s that.

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