Online tithing kept in check (and cash)

Plus: South Carolina to allow dine-in restaurants to open Monday; Hispanics make up 1/4 of Mecklenburg's Covid-19 cases; Retailers reopen; SouthEnd hair salon combats gray with DIY color kits

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Even with sanctuaries closed, most churchgoers prefer to give in check and cash; ‘ingrained’ tradition

Members of St. Stephen United Methodist Church in South Charlotte have continued to give mostly through cash or check while their church building is closed to worshippers.

By Ken Garfield

Not even a pandemic can shut down a cherished church tradition.

In this online world, where we order pizza and pay our bills on our devices, an eye-opening number of churchgoers have stuck to the practice of writing a check to their church and dropping it in the offering plate on Sunday morning.

With churches shuttered by Covid-19, you’d think the faithful would have no choice but to click the GIVE button on their church website. Think again, for many are doing what they believe is the closest thing — mailing a check to their church or getting in their vehicle and dropping it off at the front door. Mayfield Memorial Missionary Baptist Church on West Sugar Creek Road in Charlotte even created a drop-off box slot for drive-through donors.

It’s all a fascinating slice of church life. Or as check-writer Sandy Carson of St. Stephen United Methodist Church in Charlotte proudly confesses, “Yes, I’m old school.”

A 2019 national study found that 46% of U.S. churches offer some form of online giving — but that 78% of revenue still comes during Sunday worship. Among African American churches, it’s 88%.

Charlotte, for all its growth, is still a more traditional church town than most cities our size, so we mirror that national reality. Consider St. Matthew Catholic Church in Ballantyne: With 37,838 members, it is considered the nation’s largest Roman Catholic parish. In 2020, it expects to bring in $8.4M — 43% in checks and cash put in the offering plate at Masses and 22% in checks sent in the mail. That’s 65% in checks and cash, compared to 35% online and through bank draft.

Now let’s use St. Stephen United Methodist Church for our case study.

The 52-year-old church on Sardis Road in south Charlotte has 1,183 members. Its 2020 budget is $1,080,500. Before the shutdown, 82% of its giving came by check, either in the plate, mail or dropped off at the church office. Only 17% came via a bank draft or online. And 1% came by cash, most of that in the plate.

Now get this: Since the shutdown, when churches nationwide are launching and  promoting bank drafts, texting and online giving platforms, 78% of St. Stephen’s revenue has still come by check and only 22% by draft or online.

Sandy Carson, the aforementioned graduate of the Old School, says she embraces the physical act of putting her check in the offering plate. “That was part of my growing up,” she said.

When that became impossible, she mailed a check to St. Stephen, her church of 25-plus years. She also mailed 10% of her Covid-19 stimulus check to Loaves & Fishes food pantry. Carson is a rarity. It’s Biblical tradition that 10% of what you have is what you’re supposed to give back. But only 17% of Americans actually tithe the full 10%, one survey found.

Like Sandy, Scott Dodrill grew up putting something in the plate of his small-town West Virginia church. Often it was the dollar his grandfather gave him. A member of St. Stephen for 16 years, he sees no reason to change now.

“Sitting there on Sunday morning when the plate passes,” he says, “it doesn’t feel right not putting something in. It’s one of those old habits that will never die.” During the shutdown, Scott and his wife, Tessie, mailed in their offering.

Faith and tradition. It’s a powerful blend, difficult perhaps for the uninitiated to fathom but cherished by those who have been where Walter Hutto has sat. In a pew.

A member of St. Stephen for 30 years, Hutto pays most of his bills by bank draft. He acknowledges that it’s easier than writing a check. He’ll take advantage of online giving during the shutdown. But when those church doors open, Walter will be there, checkbook in hand, writing his check during worship because that’s how he has always expressed his love of God and the church.

“It’s something that’s been ingrained in me,” Hutto says. “I’m still called to do so.”

If we were back in church, this is where the choir director would invite us to stand and join him in the chorus of that great old hymn…

Give me that old time religion

Give me that old time religion

Give me that old time religion

It’s good enough for me

Ledger contributor Ken Garfield is a freelance writer focusing on charitable causes. Reach him at

New data: 1/4 of all local Covid patients are Hispanic

Hispanics testing positive for coronavirus now account for nearly one in every four cases in Mecklenburg County, according to new figures released by the health department on Friday.

The county’s data shows that 24.5% of the county’s 1,870 cases as of Wednesday involved Hispanic patients, even though Hispanics account for just 14% of the county’s population. When the county first started released detailed data on the coronavirus in Charlotte in late March, Hispanics accounted for just 3.8% of cases.

The numbers suggest that the coronavirus is playing an outsized role in Charlotte’s Hispanic community, much as it is in the city’s African American community. Whites and Asians, on the other hand, account for a smaller share of confirmed cases than their share of the overall population.

Health director Gibbie Harris noted the increase in cases in the county’s Hispanic community in comments to the news media on Thursday. In a statement Friday, the health department said:

Some factors influencing this trend include: targeted testing occurring in neighborhoods with lower access to care, some of which have larger Hispanic populations; higher proportions of Hispanics working in essential jobs that make social distancing difficult; and pre-existing disparities in other social and economic determinants of health, like poverty.

Still, the number of Hispanic coronavirus deaths remains low. Of the 58 people who died with Covid-19 in the county through Wednesday, just one was Hispanic, according to county figures. That’s probably because those most likely to suffer serious complications and death from Covid-19 are over the age of 60, and there are fewer Hispanics in that age group compared with other races and ethnicities.

The data released Friday also show:

  • 53% of Mecklenburg County’s Covid-19 deaths were connected to long-term care facilities.

  • 93% of the county’s deaths were residents aged 60 or older.

  • The number of people hospitalized with Covid-19 in the county was 58 as of Wednesday. That’s up from 54 earlier in the week but half as many as the peak in early April.


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The reopening: Now, the wait for sales to amp up

Many Charlotte retailers were back in business Friday for the first time in six weeks, like Midwood Guitar Studio in Plaza-Midwood. “It’s been brutal,” said owner Douglas Armstrong. The blow was cushioned by online sales, which account for half his business, and by a Paycheck Protection Program loan from PayPal, which allowed him to keep paying his five employees. His landlord allowed him to forgo paying April rent. He found hand sanitizer at an Asian market on The Plaza and several boxes of masks at Target. A few customers have already called about strings and cords, but Armstrong knows it will take awhile for many walk-in customers to return: “We’re excited that we’re open, but we also know we won’t have tons of people.”

Taming the grays with curbside hair dye

In this photo from Kenna Kunijo salon’s Instagram, a customer picks up hair products via the salon’s Friday curb-side service.

There aren’t a ton of options for those who fret about the gray roots of quarantine, but one Charlotte hair salon has a solution: customized to-go DIY hair color kits. 

The stylists at Kenna Kunijo in SouthEnd want to keep their clients from resorting to boxed hair dye from the drug store, which manager Mackenzie Spence says would require post-pandemic corrections that would cost “twice the amount of money and twice the time.” 

So every Friday, the salon offers drive-up service for clients who’ve requested DIY color. 

In some cases, colorists prepare clients’ specific formulas, which they have on record. 

Or in the case of new clients, they’ll ask for three pictures so they can create a formula from scratch. 

“I think we’ve really been clear to our clients, and our clients understand that if they were to do something at home because they’re unhappy with seeing how their hair looks right now, that it could cause more damage in the long run,” Spence said. —DG

In brief

  • Restaurants to open in S.C.: South Carolina will allow restaurants to open their inside dining rooms to customers starting on Monday, Gov. Henry McMaster said. Those that open must limit the number of customers to 50% capacity and keep tables at least six feet apart. Restaurants with patios were allowed to open for outdoor dining last Monday. McMaster said he hopes to announce reopening plans for South Carolina salons and barbershops next week. (The State)

  • Healthcare death: A critical care nurse at Atrium Health’s Cabarrus County hospital died this week of Covid-19. Rose Liberto, 64, “is the area’s first reported health care worker to die from the virus.” She had undergone rounds of chemotherapy 20 years ago that left her with lung problems. It is unclear if she contracted the virus at work. Her family described her as a feisty woman who loved Cajun cooking. (Observer)

  • On-time rent improves: About 84% of Charlotte apartment tenants paid rent in the first six days of May, according to a survey, up from the 75% who paid rent on time in April. In May 2019, the figure was 87%. (Biz Journal, subscriber-only)

  • Unemployment spike: The U.S. jobless rate hit 14.7% last month, the highest figure since the end of World War II. (CNBC)

  • More mall openings: Carolina Place Mall in Pineville plans to reopen on Tuesday. Northlake Mall plans to open May 18. (Observer)

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The Charlotte Ledger is an e-newsletter and web site publishing timely, informative, and interesting local business news and analysis Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, except holidays and as noted. We strive for fairness and accuracy and will correct all known errors. The content reflects the independent editorial judgment of The Charlotte Ledger. Any advertising, paid marketing, or sponsored content will be clearly labeled.

Executive editorTony MeciaManaging editorCristina BollingContributing editor: Tim Whitmire; Reporting intern: David Griffith