The effects of the financial crisis have begun to translate into real economic hardships for everyday folks. As the Dow slipped below 8,000 at today's close while the Senate refused to bail out the auto "Big Three," people far away from Wall Street are beginning to feel the ripple effects. Our churches are made up of the same hurting people as those that make up the rest of society. As the old song goes, "The church is not a building/The church is not a steeple/The church is not a resting place/The church is the people." People in our churches have begun to hurt. How will we respond and how will the hurt of our people affect our ability to help those beyond our church doors?
Every year the church that I serve donates animals through the Heifer Project. It's typical for us to raise 10, 11, 12 pigs (we always give pigs). I was concerned that this year we might not be able to raise quite as much as people nearing retirement feel cautious about their pensions, as people in retirement worry about rising prices, and as those in the earlier phases of life worry about job security. And yet, we raised enough for 16 pigs! I was surprised and impressed. However, that was a few months ago.
As Christmas nears and I hear more and more stories of hardship I do wonder how we will respond? How will we interpret what our baptismal vows demand of us? How are we to take care of one another? Will we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and open and accepting of care? Will we retreat and hold one another at bay?
People inside and outside of the church are feeling the hurt of our current economic crisis. I don't keep a log of the number of calls I receive for help, but I can say that I have received a marked increase in contacts from people seeking help. I hear reports of food banks are running dry. I also am aware that as the city of Seattle creates its budget for next year, it faces some difficult choices given the economic report of our area; Washington faces a $5 billion shortfall as lawmakers try to create two year budget. How do churches respond to the need of their city and also care for those in its covenant community?
Reuters has a video on how the crisis is affecting the ability of churches to maintain themselves.
These are big problems and many of us are in small churches. I am hoping that this will be a time of loaves and fishes; that God's abundance will find its way into our communities. If you have any ideas of how to offer care for one another as our neighbors lose jobs, file bankruptcy, or struggle to make ends meet, I would love to hear them. I am also interested in knowing if your communities are doing anything differently in the running of your congregations in order to stretch the dollars that you do receive for ministry.
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