Fast offering is the term used in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) to denote money or usable commodities donated to that church, which are then available to provide financial help to those in need. The local bishop or branch president is responsible for the use of the fast offering resources to those in need, and is usually assisted by other local church leaders to identify individuals and families to receive assistance and to disburse the resources.
Members are encouraged to fast once a month on Fast Sunday and to give the money they save by not eating two meals to the church; those who can afford to be more generous are encouraged to give more than simply the money saved as a fast offering.
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.
Donations from fast offerings are not used for the same purposes as those monies given through tithes. Specifically, fast offerings are used to provide food, shelter, clothing, and other things for those who are in need, fulfilling the meaning conveyed in Isaiah 58:6–11, with attendant blessings to the giver and the receiver. Tithing funds are used for buildings such as meetinghouses, temples, and educational facilities, for the general maintenance of church operations, and for costs of missionary and genealogical/family history work.
Church members are encouraged to make regular financial contributions to the church through the leader of the local church unit, usually a bishop. The combined contribution can include tithing, fast offerings and other humanitarian funds, and is delivered to the leader on a "convenience" basis (i.e. there is no set time either in or outside of a formal meeting where the funds are requested). There is no requirement to make any financial donation (to any of the church's funds) in order to maintain one's membership; such donations are encouraged but are not mandatory.
If members are not usually able to make financial donations during the Sunday meetings, young men (deacons or teachers in the Aaronic Priesthood) are assigned to pass by those members' residences after the church meetings on Fast Sunday, to inquire if they can convey the fast offering to the church's offices.
No publicly available accounting of these funds exists. (The LDS Church does disclose its financials in the United Kingdom, Canada, and other jurisdictions where it is required to do so by law. These financials are audited by the UK office of PricewaterhouseCoopers.) However, it is claimed the fast offering funds are primarily available to the bishop (to distribute to those in need) in the area where they were collected, but that any excess (or deficiency) is shared with the rest of the church, first on a stake level, then on wider levels.
Bishops are instructed by church guidelines that they have "a divine mandate to seek out and care for the poor (see D&C 84:112). It is not enough to assist [with fast offerings] only when asked."
Purpose of fast offerings, and financial prudence
While administering to the needs of the poor through use of the fast offering funds, each bishop is also counseled to encourage individuals and families to become self-reliant through reducing debt, seeking work opportunities or improved income through education if needed, and paying tithes and offerings to receive temporal blessings from the Lord as promised in Malachi 3:8–12.
- "Fasting and Fast Offerings", lds.org.
- Church Welfare Resources
- Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Aaronic Priesthood Manual I, Lesson 4: "The Law of the Fast"
- THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS (GREAT BRITAIN), provided by the Charity Commission based on the Charities Act
- Charities Listings. Cra-arc.gc.ca (2008-11-10). Retrieved on 2011-01-04.
- Fast Offerings, Encyclopedia of Mormonism
- LDS Church, Handbook 1: Stake Presidents and Bishops (Salt Lake City, Utah: LDS Church, 2010) §5.2.3.
- "Questions about Coping Financially: Welfare Services Suggests Some Answers", Ensign June 1980, p. 12.