I know of a church where a stranger stole some of the money collected during the service. The stranger had been welcomed into the church. At some point the stranger stepped out of the service and took some of the offerings.
Years after hearing this story told, I heard a similar story from a different church.
What should be done in situations like these?
Buy a safe?
Post a guard?
I have no doubt that some churches abuse their position of power and privilege to enhance their own wealth. But many small churches rely on these offerings to pay for heat and water and electricity.
So what to do?
Close the door to strangers?
Assign a monitor to all guests?
I chose a different path.
I chose to look up strangers such as these with mercy.
If these strangers stole out of hunger, I pray that they found something to eat.
If these strangers stole to feed an alcohol or drug addiction, I pray that they find the means to end the suffering that such addictions inevitably bring.
If these strangers stole to pay bills for themselves or their families, I pray that they find access to the resources they need to provide shelter and safety.
If these strangers seek forgiveness I pray that they come back to the church, or any church, and find mercy and forgiveness.
Some might say, “Stealing is a sin! Why should we welcome them?! Why should we risk their presence again, knowing they might take from us and abuse our trust!?!”
In response I look to the Desert Fathers and Mothers
One of the brethren sinned, and the priest told him to leave the community. So then Abbot Bessarion got up and walked out with him saying: ‘I too am a sinner.’
Not only am I not given authority to judge
Not only am I called to welcome the stranger
I am called to take risks for the sake of Jesus. For the sake of the kingdom he asks us to build in this world.
If you are not willing to risk for Jesus, then perhaps you would would prefer the road to a different kingdom