Blessed are the meek

County View

County View
John Healy

The past few post-pandemic Sundays have seen the reappearance of a species that many thought had become extinct. The church gate collection, that uniquely Irish add-on to the Sunday liturgy, is back; perhaps not as prevalent as before, but certainly pushing its first shoots above the ground.
In truth, the church gate collection had been on something of a decline, no longer the staple source of annual revenue for every club and society and political party in the parish. The fall off in church attendance, the difficulty in finding volunteers to man (or woman) the table, the discovery of more productive methods of fundraising, have speeded the decline to where some clubs no longer even bother to avail of the once precious permit given them for a specific Sunday of the year.
Or maybe it has something to do with the calibre of the personnel called on to do duty behind the collection table, for being a collector is not something to which all are suited. A seasoned campaigner of a bygone era, a man we knew as Frank, would remind a neophyte collector, by way of pep-talk, “You have to look them in the eye. Don’t make it easy for them to pass the table. You have to be brazen and call them by name as they approach.”
‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth’, the Good Book tells us; which is all well and good, except that the meek are the last people you would want to have behind the collection table. And while inheriting the earth might be a worthy long-term aspiration, of more immediate urgency is what the proceeds will add up to when the takings are counted later in the day.
Frank’s own premise was that every donor, at heart, was a reluctant donor, and so it was up to the collector to use every stratagem to counter the tactics of the potential defaulter. All too often, that would mean a battle of wits as the collector sought to shame the target into a contribution, while the putative victim would resort to a range of ruses to sidestep the obligation to make a contribution.
And the ruses were many. Some churchgoers would develop the habit of swivelling the neck and fixing the gaze on some object in the far distance. ‘Running unsighted’, a greyhound racing term, was the description usually applied by collectors to this ploy.
There were some who would arrive for church an hour early; others would risk life and limb to make their approach down the middle of a busy road out of the line of sight of the table; others who had developed the skill of holding some coinage in a closed fist before dropping it, uncheckable, into the box.
There were others who would make a mini-drama of searching of pockets, turning out combs and cinema tickets and keyrings before feigning regret that they left their cash in the other jacket.
Effective church gate collectors need to be made of stern stuff; they must exude a no-nonsense aura, ready to show that they mean business and that none shall pass without good reason. Not for them the politeness of the meek and mild, turning away lest they might discomfit the intended target, or seeking shelter under huge umbrellas to avoid the stern eye-contact which the duties require.
Church gate collecting is not for the fainthearted, and maybe the decline in popularity of the practice owes as much to the unsuitability of those pressed into reluctant service as it does to falling church attendances.