Cleaning out closets in old family houses can be rewarding. What might be trash to some people are beloved treasures to others. Recently, while cleaning out closets in the old home place of my wife’s parents, Clarence and Leta Howell, in Hemphill, Clara’s sister found a treasure and rescued it for future generations. Clara, with a tear in her eye, proudly showed me her father’s tithe bucket.
Clarence Howell married his college sweetheart, Leta, in 1932. Shortly thereafter, he found a half-gallon syrup bucket, cut a slit in the lid and placed it on the top shelf of his closet. Being a firm believer in the biblical teaching of tithing—giving 10 percent of your income to the church—he initiated his unusual procedure using that now-darkened and worn syrup bucket.
He began his preaching career early. During his college and university days, he always put back his tithe money into the small bucket. He normally paid all his bills in cash after he had been paid in cash by the church he was pastoring.
The Howell family moved to Hemphill in January 1947 as he began his new job as pastor of First Baptist Church. The tithe bucket made the move as well, and it was placed on its usual shelf in his closet, ready to receive its contents of pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. Paper money was scarce in those days.
Always paid with cash
Even after he was being paid by a check, he would cash the check, place the tenth portion in the bucket, then go around town paying all his bills by cash. It seems he had a desire to pay his bills before he received a statement. He never bought anything on credit. Even the few times he bought a new car—which took him to visit his flock—he paid cash.
The Howells had an agreement—he would keep any funeral money he received but always gave her the money from weddings. This practice continued during their 52-year marriage.
Clara recalls as a child and even a preteen, on Sunday mornings her dad would get money from the tithe bucket and distribute it evenly between her and her older sister, Jane, and younger sister, Mary, to place in the offering plate at church. He continued this practice until two of the girls married and moved away.
The tithe bucket might have been considered holy, set apart for special service, by the family. That’s particularly true for the money it contained. In fact, only one time in 75 years did a person or persons unknown raid the tithe bucket. After his death, the family forgot the tithe bucket, still nestled in its special place on the top shelf of his bedroom closet.
Tithe bucket rediscovered
But then Clara’s sister found and rescued the tithe bucket. It didn’t hold any money, but it contained several letters from members of the flock who donated money for the new church library in 1959.
The old bucket occupies a prominent place in our den, and undoubtedly will be passed down to the younger generation as a reminder of a godly man who made uncommon use of a common tin syrup bucket.
We can only guess at the total amount of tithe money that passed through the bucket back into the churches he pastored, but it would be in the many thousands of dollar. God’s money has a way of finding its way back to God.
Neal Murphy is a life-long Southern Baptist deacon who has directed church choirs and taught Sunday school classes many years. He is an independent writer with columns appearing in several newspapers and online magazines, and he has written four books. Clarence Howell, a Southern Baptist pastor more than 75 years, died in 2006.