Methodist History: Mite Boxes for Missions

Mite boxes are cardboard coin boxes that are distributed to the members of a church or Sunday school for the collection of a special offering. Archivist Mark Shenise shows some of the vintage boxes in the collection of the United Methodist General Commission on Archives and History.

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(Locator: Madison, NJ)

Mark Shenise, General Commission on Archives and History: "Hi, Mark Shenise from the United Methodist Archives. You’ve heard stories, perhaps, from someone who is older, a member of your church or even a grandparent or even a parent for that matter, who used to talk about mite boxes. So what is a mite box? Well, a mite box is basically a way to raise money for a specific missionary endeavors, usually through the women’s missionary work, whether it be the Evangelical Church, whether it be the Methodist Episcopal Church South, whether it would be the United Brethren Church or a question of the Methodist Episcopal Church, all used these kind of… [I don’t want to say gimmick.)… use all of these boxes with different themes and what have you to raise money for mission projects.

The women decided that the best way to raise money was going for the pennies, the nickels and the dimes. And they were very successful at it. And as we know from the current United Methodist Women that they did raise a lot of money and did a lot of great work on the mission field over the years, groundbreaking work. For example were instrumental in ending foot binding in China through some of the money that you would raise through the gifts of these boxes.

Now these are targeted for the most part for children, and they’re age appropriate, like this one—the little heralds—it’s for kindergartners. And you can see that it looks like a cradle and it has lovely floral work and stuff on it. It could be very appealing to small children. Little kids and even older kids, at this point, love to fill these boxes. It was a sense of accomplishment and being able to give back to the church to help other children around the world who were in great need. And this is how they fund it. So they targeted by age group as well. And you can see that here.

The other theme that you find in all these boxes that is true no matter what the denomination is, they are illustrating in a small way the mission work overseas. They illustrate the kinds of persons that they were trying to help on the mission field in order to give more money to the work. For example, this nice red box here, this is from the mission bin of the Women’s Missionary Society of the Evangelical Church, chapter 22, 1922. Look here. You’ve got the Chinese word for happiness. You’ve got a picture of a smiling little Japanese girl here. You have less than smiling, but still cute in her own way, Chinese woman here, child in chorus. Again, this one saying happiness. And it goes on again for Korean and Filipino. So this would have covered all of the East Asian missions that the Evangelical Church were involved with. And by putting money in these banks—your pocket change or whatever, and even children with tithes perhaps in these boxes, you know, they have a few pennies or whatever.

Sometimes they were at home. Other times they had ‘em for Sunday school classes. And this is an exciting thing. This is a way for children to participate in mission work and understanding stewardship for the betterment and the growth of the church per se.

Now, let’s look at some of these themes. We saw the children here. This one, which is again from the Evangelical Church. It’s reflective of children from around the world. If you look here, they’re running with the boy. They’re different ethnic groups that are on here, characters. Again, we’re doing the same thing here. And they’re all holding hands, or going around the world, in funding mission work for children.

Now these children, they would also take these boxes out into the community and ask for donations. And it worked quite effectively. They raised all sorts of money. Here’s a lovely one again from the Evangelical Church. Look. They’re in the Mid-East. They’re in Mexico, with their work. This one is Korea. This one’s in India. This one is an Eskimo. This one’s China and this one is Africa. We have some more on top. But also some were made for adults like this one. And this is called ‘a thank offering.’ Not necessarily…. Oh, I’m sorry. Yeah, necessarily for mission work as well. But again, thank offerings were more on the Methodist side and they were to raise money for missions. And what they did was, they even wrote little skits and plays and we have some over here… (I’ll show you in a minute.) …on what does a mite box do. They anthropomorphically changed these boxes into something more that could be relatable in the play. For example, people would dress up in the mite boxes. And you’ve have one big box. And then you’d have…we talked about the happiness and these things, sadness and stuff, in the one play. And you put these on, and maybe just do the skit and raise more money.

What would happen is usually, it was the beginning of the campaign. It would not be at the end of the campaign. But at the end of the campaign, oftentimes you would have these boxes would be emptied in the front of the church, usually in a larger box that had mission representation as well. People would line up and they would take their turn in what was like, sing ‘Marching to Zion,’ and coming up front, opening up your box, throwing it in. And you can hear all the coins hitting each other. And the more coins you got, the more muted the echo came out of the box. And they probably did this on a quarterly basis. And it was done usually in Sunday school openings, which we no longer do in the church. Back in the day everyone got together in the sanctuary, had a little worship with the Sunday school superintendent. And of course they would go into their Sunday school rooms for their lessons and stuff.

Other boxes here that are most interesting. But the one I want to show here is this mission box. This is actually a mite box. And this one is wood. [Ringing)] This was probably given to a woman or someone who gave more than just pennies, nickels and dimes, and probably was a charter member or a life member, or what they called director member of the Women’s Missionary Society.

And this one you can see a relief. In this case this is Africa in the front. And it says, ‘Suffer the little children come unto me.’ Education was very much funded by these offerings for mission schools, primary and secondary. And later even colleges, teach all nations. And we have here, in this case, 4 African children with the missionary woman and a globe. Globe always signifies world missions. This one is probably my favorite one right here. Preach the Gospel. And this one is from India. And you can see here that they are adults. Unlike here we have children because mission work wasn’t just for children. It was also to provide relief and opportunity for indigenous women on the field. That’s why hospitals were started. That is why schools are started. And some of these schools became major universities later on in various countries, such as EY University in Korea.

And of course money was also raised for ‘heal the sick.’ Now if you were a deaconess in the church, especially in the Methodist Episcopals Church, the North and South, your deaconess had one of two specialties. They were either trained in sociology in order to go into communities and simply help and lift up poor communities. Or, you were trained as a nurse, for medical purposes, in these mission hospitals, both here was deaconess hospitals and of course overseas in other women’s hospitals as well.

So, they came in different shapes. This one happens to be for young people—pre-teens, early teens. So you don’t have the very nice children because they’re not targeting that for this. But, ‘Forget not all his benefits.’ And again here we go. The mission bin, and ‘May joyful thank offerings/ I now glad bring/ to the world children/ may know Jesus my King.’ And this was meant also to fund evangelism.

This box, however, is not a mite box. It was not used for mission work. This is a Joash Chest. Have you ever heard of Joash Chest? Methodist churches still have Joash Chests. I just read about some churches in Alabama, in Georgia, having Joash offerings. In 2nd Kings, chapter 12 Joash was King of Israel and he went by the temple one day and saw how dilapidated the temple had become. And he said to the priest, we need to fix this temple up. He didn’t get a very good response. And Joash said, Fine, let’s take it to the people. And they set out a box or a chest in front of the temple to raise enough money to restore the temple in restoration. So what was a Joash Chest for? And by the way, this is from Simpson Grace in Philadelphia. It was to raise money to help repair the church originally. It now has the meaning for a financial commitment. If you have a Joash box…. You know how we pledge every year in a local Methodist Church how much you’re going to give. And you call that a Joash Chest when you come forward and you put your pledge up on the altar, usually, in a box there. Or they will have it going out the sanctuary.

So missions…. And this is for building repairs, but even more so now in present day to raise money for the church for all purposes.”

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Learn more at UMC.org/History.

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This video was produced by United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tennessee.
Media contact is Joe Iovino.
This video was first posted on May 27, 2020.