Why does Reverend Sykes order the doors of the church shut in Chapter 12 of To Kill a Mockingbird?
This is a good question. Reverend Sykes is a good man, and he does order the doors of the church to be shut. When this takes place, Calpurnia, Jem and Scout are in the pews. So, they witness what is going on.
In this service, there was a special collection to help Tom Robinson's family in their time of need. You can imagine that they needed the money, because Tom was not working, as he was in the town jail waiting for this trial.
So, Reverend Sykes, as the minister of the church, wanted to help the Robinson family. He is also a very direct man. He said that the doors of the church would be closed until they had ten dollars. This was acceptable in this community. It took some time, but Reverend Sykes and his congregation came up with the money to help the Robinsons. This shows the love in the church. Here is the text:
To our amazement, Reverend Sykes emptied the can onto the table and raked the coins into his hand. He straightened up and said, “This is not enough, we must have ten dollars.”
The congregation stirred. “You all know what it’s for—Helen can’t leave those children to work while Tom’s in jail. If everybody gives one more dime, we’ll have it—” Reverend Sykes waved his hand and called to someone in the back of the church. “Alec, shut the doors. Nobody leaves here till we have ten dollars.”
When Calpurnia takes Scout and Jem to Sunday service at First Purchase African M. E. Church, they learn a powerful lesson in community and giving. Reverend Sykes welcomes them to the service after a few members of the church, like Lula, balked at letting them in the all-black church. When it is time to take up the collection, the poor black members donate what little money they can afford, knowing that the collection is to go to Helen Robinson and her family. Tom Robinson is in jail and unable to work or provide for them. When Reverend Sykes counts the money, he tells the congregation that it isn’t enough. He wants to collect ten dollars, and he orders the church doors closed until he collects what he thinks Helen needs.
These are powerful events for Scout and Jem to witness, for they are able to see how the black community has rallied to provide for one of their own. It is a lesson in faith as well, since Christians are asked by Jesus to help those who need it. The actions of the black congregation are in direct opposition to how some of the people in the white community are treating Atticus for taking Tom’s case. Scout and Jem learn about charity and giving during this small but important episode in To Kill a Mockingbird.
Following Reverend Sykes's sermon, which "was a forthright denunciation of sin"--not unlike many sermons heard in Jem's and Scout's own church--the pastor "requested the morning offering." Instead of passing the collection plate around, the congregation approached the pulpit one-by-one and placed their coins in the coffee tin that held the offering. Afterward, Reverend Sykes emptied the contents on the table and then ordered the doors to the church closed. "This is not enough... Nobody leaves here until we have ten dollars," he announced. He then singled out one man who had not yet contributed, and the church members "painfully" began digging for more change. The money donated was going to help Tom Robinson's family and his wife, Helen, and the doors were reopened when the ten dollars was finally collected.