Saving a nickel's important these days

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

One single nickel.

Would it make a difference how you chose to check out at the grocery if you had to pay a nickel surcharge for each plastic bag?

These thoughts are prompted by the reaction of the residents of Washington, D.C., to a recent city law that assesses shoppers an extra nickel for each plastic bag used at the grocery. Ordinances such as this have been successfully passed in other communities, and they're a good thing. It's getting so one can't drive through town or country without seeing plastic bags fluttering in treetops, stuck in muddy ditches and blowing across the street. In most European cities shoppers have brought their own bags for years.

Merchants, predictably, fought the passage of this new ordinance, fearing it would be both inconvenient and harmful to business. What is surprising is that very quickly most shoppers have embraced the new law with little or no grousing and that even those who opposed it are now saluting its passage.

What is also surprising, at least to me, is the extent to which shoppers will go to avoid spending that one extra nickel. A recent article reported that one shopper made two trips to the car, using his personal shopping bag, rather than spend an extra nickel for a bag that he had previously received for free.

Is it the economy? Are we so nervous about joblessness and recession that we are even holding tightly onto the humble nickel? Or is it simply that we are unpredictable when it comes to spending our money?

Perhaps this news item wouldn't have come to my attention at all, except that it is that time of season when many churches are trying to raise the funds for next year's budget. And it is also that time of the season, after a long summer, when most churches are hoping and praying that they will dig their way out of the last three months of reduced contributions while the faithful have been on vacation or even snoozing late.

If there is a "best of times and a worst of times" to be asking for contributions, most church leaders are clear which side we are currently on. Even so, congregations must continue to seek contributions to support salaries, teach children and adults, pay the utilities and fund mission around the corner and the world.

What is a congregation to do? The keys are for a congregation to do careful, prayerful planning, acknowledging that increases to the budget may be inevitable without being extravagant or out of touch with the ordinary church member. Church leaders who are apologetic or defensive will doom their cause from the start.

But it is also a time for church leaders to recognize that these are unpredictable times, and even those who are financially secure may be feeling otherwise. Hence, much ado over the savings made over a plastic bag costing a mere nickel.

Contact the Rev. Creede Hinshaw at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah at creede@wesleymonumental.org.