The Caring and Sharing scheme, started in 1982 by the Bishop of Lewes, Peter Ball CGA, is based on two ideas: 1) by making a small sacrifice members can turn away from the material values of the western world; 2) they can share their comparative wealth by sending the savings from this small sacrifice to projects in poorer countries to provide the basic needs of life. The sacrifice is not expected to be a major one. It is in its regularity that it grows in value. A digestive biscuit costs only a few pence, but 5p per day amounts to more that £18 per year. Such sums given regularly by many Carers enable about £100,000 a year to be sent to our chosen projects.
Here is an adaptation of the plan focused on children and Christmas. You may wish to incorporate a small, regular sacrifice, such as suggested above, for an ongoing, rather than seasonal, plan. It is important for parents and other adults, to participate along with chidren as parental modeling is the most effective teacher.
Children need to learn there are only three things that can be done with money: Save, Spend, Share. Knowing this prepares for a lifetime of responsible stewardship. Three-part banks make it easy: moneybox, sectioned pig * or make your own from boxes or short Pringle cans.
Churches have been going on for some time about the materialism of Christmas. Yet the message usually seems to be "Keep buying the presents but come to church, as well."
We wreck our planet through factory pollution. Then again, we ought to share our great too-much with the needy. And our materialism brings with it a sense of isolation from one another. Why not do something creative about this, to honour the Feast of the Nativity?
For instance, make 6 December, St Nicholas Day, a time to focus on real Christian present-giving. Ask the children to give perhaps five per cent of the value of their hoped-for presents to a favourite charity (or pledged from money to be given to them at Christmas). However, there must be a real reduction in the value of the presents they end up receiving. Grace flows from this act—in the long run, actually more important than the amount of money raised. The children begin to understand real sacrifice and the pleasure it brings to them, as well as the people they are helping. It also encourages a shift of carbon emissions away from our luxuries and towards others' necessities. 'Nikolaos' (the saint's original Greek name) can be our term for this sacrificial gift, just as he gave.
This exercise will need a lot of time in advance to organise, of course. Parents will have to discuss the scheme with their children and agree a sum to give. And you will have to consider what to do if you already have a toy service on or near Advent Sunday (perhaps the money to pay for the toys could derive from the pattern of sacrifice outlined above). Remember, too, that many aid agencies now 'sell' goats and seeds and other life-giving things as presents for the have-nots. This could be the means of effecting your giving to the needy.
Whatever your version of Nikolaos, you will be entering more deeply into the spirit of Christmas: giving things to people who need them, rather than to those who have more than enough already. This is evangelism, as well, giving an actual taste of the heavenly banquet. But watch out! Children have a habit of taking these things more seriously than adults.
NB If you have doubts about this scheme, visit Caring & Sharing East Sussex to find out how something similar has been operating since 1982, raising millions of pounds for the developing world through tiny sacrifices in lifestyle.
Anonymous by request, Eastbourne, East Sussex, England. Used by permission.