Literary Lorenzo Snow #12: The Christmas Tithing

June 9, 2013 | 7 comments
By

Augusta B. Joyce CrocheronIt is nice to see our duties described in a way that makes clear their role in our communities. Take tithing, for example. Lorenzo Snow’s teachings in the current Priesthood/Relief Society manual (lesson 12) clearly cover our obligation, outlining how much we must provide and how tithing is a commandment of the Lord. But the lesson doesn’t put obedience to this commandment in context. It doesn’t show how it works in our everyday lives and what its effects are on our community.

I think this poem does put the commandment in context.

Augusta Joyce Crocheron, the author of this poem, traveled perhaps more than any other 19th century Mormon poet. Born in 1844, she traveled with her parents on the ship Brooklyn in 1846 from New York City to what is now San Francisco, California by way of Tierra del Fuego, Juan Fernandes Island and Hawaii, a journey of about 20,000 miles. In 1867 her family settled in Utah and three years later she became a plural wife of George W. Crocheron. But Crocheron is better known for her poetry, published in LDS and Utah periodicals and in a book, Wild Flowers of Deseret (1881). She later compiled the book of biographies, Representative Women of Deseret (1884), and a book of children’s stories, The Children’s Book (1890).

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The Christmas Tithing

by Augusta Joyce Crocheron

‘Twas near the happy Christmas time,
And all the country roads,
Were strung along with teams that drew
Full, high and plenteous loads;
The “Mormon” farmers bringing in
Their tithing for the year;
O, ’twas a sight to cheer the eyes,
A pleasant sound to hear.

 

With willing hands they brought to Him
The tenth of what was given,
And knew His blessing would again
Unloose the stores of heaven.
The sacks of wheat and flour by which
The “temple hands” were fed,
The sweet dried fruits and honey comb
And apples, gold and red,
The barrels filled with syrups pure,
Butter and creamy cheese,
Fluttering poultry—what poor men
Were ever served like these?

 

Yet not alone for “temple hands,”
These tithings all were brought,
In ev’ry Ward (ignoring creeds)
The poor and sad are sought,
Their names are learned and ev’ry one
On Bishop’s list enrolled,
For each are gen’rous baskets filled
And, measured wood and coal;
And busy men step in and out,
As the tithing wagons go
Out through the gate to every Ward
Their portion to bestow.

 

O, once I went to many homes,
And happy scenes were they,
There busy worked the wives to get
All done for Christmas day;
For romping boys, were newly made
Full suits of Provo goods,
For little girls, light wollen plaids,
And pretty home-made hoods.

 

I saw the laborer’s sickly child
With dainty food was fed,
As fresh and pure as e’er before
The epicure was spread.
No happier driver takes a load,
Wher’er the things may go,
Than he who carries to the poor
On Christmas eve—through snow.
For well he knows, how eyes that closed
Expecting naught, shall wake,
And find a joyous Christmas gift,
And bless him for its sake.

 

The many blessings tithing brings,
Not you or I can count,
The little tenth from each one swells
To rich and large amount.
O, blessings on the heart that gives
The duty that it owes,
And praise His love who made the law,
That like a river flows.
Through all our mountains and our vales,
Relieving first, the poor;
And writes the giver’s name in lines
Forever shall endure.

Juvenile Instructor v20 n24,
December 15, 1885, p. 384

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In many ways the context Crocheron describes is very different from ours today. In her pastoral environment apparently farmers only pay tithing once a year. And tithing had specific purposes—supporting the “temple hands” (those working on the construction of the temple) and supporting the poor.

But despite the difference in context, much of the way of seeing tithing and donations is the same as how we think today. I like Crocheron’s characterization:

With willing hands they brought to Him
The tenth of what was given,
And knew His blessing would again
Unloose the stores of heaven.

And her description of the universal nature of donations to the poor is great:

In ev’ry Ward (ignoring creeds)
The poor and sad are sought,
Their names are learned and ev’ry one
On Bishop’s list enrolled…

But best of all is Crocheron’s connection of all this with the Christmas season, and its joy in giving:

No happier driver takes a load,
Wher’er the things may go,
Than he who carries to the poor
On Christmas eve—through snow.

And Crocheron’s final lines sum up things nicely:

And praise His love who made the law,
That like a river flows.
Through all our mountains and our vales,
Relieving first, the poor;
And writes the giver’s name in lines
Forever shall endure.

7 Responses to Literary Lorenzo Snow #12: The Christmas Tithing

  1. Amy T on June 9, 2013 at 10:32 am

    What a wonderful poetic portrait of the practice of tithing in that era. Thanks, Kent.

  2. stephen hardy on June 10, 2013 at 7:30 am

    This is a great poem; one to be read for personal reflection as well as used when teaching about tithing.

    It raises a number of questions for me:

    1. The Christmas association. I wonder if, like today, there was an annual settlement of tithing in December. Maybe that is why everyone is paying up. It is time to do so. It makes sense in a rural economy because the harvset is just in.

    2. It made me wonder about tithing paying “in kind”. Did they pay just once per year? Did they measure their stores, on say December 10th, and then pay 10% of that? Or did they keep track during the year of their income and crops and then pay 10% of their total increase? I would be curious to know how tithing was counted in a rural society, when payment was made mainly “in kind.”

    3. Finally, much of what is spoken of here would be covered today with fast offerings. I am not sure today just how much support for the poor comes out of tithing funds. The paying of those working on the temple is somewhat similar to today paying for our chapels to be built and maintained by tithing. But humanitarian aid? Is that from tithing? Or from fast offerings?

  3. Kent Larsen on June 10, 2013 at 10:10 am

    Amy, thanks!

    Stephen, I agree with your confusion about how things were done. I can only clarify one thing about your #3–This poem was written in 1885, 40 or 50 years before the welfare program. I assume that the fast offering was instituted when the welfare program was introduced. Before that I’m fairly sure that tithing was used to assist the poor.

    But someone more familiar with that history should probably weigh in and correct my impressions or clarify.

  4. stephen hardy on June 10, 2013 at 10:24 am

    Kent:

    I seem to remember stories of pioneer deacons collecting fast offerings in my days both as a youth and as an advisor of quorums as a leader. I went to that final and definitive source, Wikipedia, which happily has a page on Fast Offerings. It offers this:

    “When the Mormon pioneers first settled in the western United States in 1847, LDS Church leaders encouraged members to perform their fast on the first Thursday of each month, and to donate the food thus saved to their bishop. These foodstuffs were collected in small buildings called “Bishop’s Storehouses”, and were held until needed by other members. Over time, this practice was changed: the members, who were primarily farmers and laborers, had difficulty fasting on a day of regular labor, so the day of observance was changed to Sunday; and when money, in the form of specie instead of barter, became more available in the Utah Territory, members were encouraged to make their donations in cash, which could better be held until needed to purchase food.”

    So, I think that fast offerings long predate the church’s welfare program.

    I couldn’t find a D&C scripture that mandates or suggests fast offerings per se.

  5. Kent Larsen on June 10, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    Well, I must admit, Stephen, that I don’t know. It is disappointing that Wikipedia doesn’t include a reference for where this claim comes from, but I have no idea about the history, so I can’t contradict it.

  6. stephen hardy on June 10, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    Below is something from the Enclopedia of Mormonism. My intention is not to see who is right or wrong, but more to the point: It seems that, at the time that the poem was written, tithing was seen as a way of giving to the needy, while today the focus is more on supporting the church as an institution, with other offerings (fast offerings and special donations) going to church efforts of helping those in need. Because the church is not transparent with the funds that we donate, we can’t know how the money is spent.

    Again, its a great poem, and I will use it in my classes.

    “The Prophet Joseph Smith, instituted the practice of collecting fast offerings for the poor in Kirtland, Ohio (JD 12:115), where Church members had begun gathering in the early 1830s. Later, on May 17, 1845, in Nauvoo, Illinois, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles sent a general letter to the Church defining “the principles of fasts,” stating: Let this be an example to all saints, and there will never be any lack for bread: When the poor are starving, let those who have, fast one day and give what they otherwise would have eaten to the bishops for the poor, and everyone will abound for a long time; and this is one great and important principle of fasts approved of the Lord. And so long as the saints will all live to this principle with glad hearts and cheerful countenances they will always have an abundance [HC 7:413]”

  7. Amy T on June 10, 2013 at 4:18 pm

    I don’t know what was done church-wide, but in St. George during this era, the Tithing Office was responsible for collecting the goods donated by the members of the stake.

    A poor member of the stake, such as widow Mary Lockwood Kemp, would be helped with a small amount of cash and a certain amount of food from the Tithing Office each month. Here’s a quote from a book Mary’s daughter wrote:

    The Bishop’s storehouse, the Tithing Office, was shortened by the children into “the T.O.” The T.O. was a small one-story building a block east of Mary’s home. One small room, a low porch and a cellar from which vinegarish smells arose from rows of barrels of molasses, bales of hay, sacks of dried fruit and bins of grain could all be seen by the children sent there with their little empty lard pails to be filled with something to spread their bread with.

    Mary would say nearly every morning after breakfast, “Come here, [Kate], and let’s see if you have your hair combed nice enough to go to the T.O.” And after inspection, “Tell Monri [Mahonri Snow] to give you a little butter if he has any in this morning. Now, you hurry before someone else gets it. Aunt Sophronia [Turnbow] Carter told me last night she was going to pay her tithing butter this morning…”