Church Leaders Counter Economic Crisis With Faith

There's financial tumult all around and people are thirsty for answers. Across America, religious leaders prophesy and preach about ways to deal with the roller-coaster crisis. And they counsel congregants who have deep questions, unquenchable anxieties.

Trinity Church on Wall Street sits smack dab at the epicenter of the financial cosmos. Brokers, traders and "masters of the universe" fill its pews. The Rev. Anne Mallonee says the Episcopal church — with a 900-household membership — is seeing a definite increase in attendance. Especially on weekdays, when people from the financial district drift in for services, for solace and for solitude.

The church is offering a number of different programs — including extra prayer sessions and career counseling — to help people cope with the great unease. The first wave included support staff, such as secretaries and administrative staffers. "This week we are seeing more executives," she says.

"Someone who was here for 9/11 says this is the closest thing she has seen to that time," Mallonee says.

Feelings Of 'Fear And Distrust'

Across the country at the Parkrose Community United Church of Christ in Portland, Ore., the Rev. Chuck Currie has noticed that his congregation is rife with "fear and distrust of leaders."

He tries to calm the flock by saying: "Ultimately, our hope rests with God."

But, he adds, "economic problems are moral problems and how we respond speaks about our relationship with God and to the world."

Parkrose is no megachurch. With 114 members, it's a small house of worship in a modest neighborhood of low-income and elderly people. "We have a responsibility," Currie says, "to care first for those Jesus called the 'least of these' in society: the poor, homeless, sick, children and the elderly."

Responding To 'Doom And Gloom'

The Rev. Ted Bobosh of St. Paul the Apostle Orthodox Church in Dayton, Ohio, says members of his congregation are fretful about their future. "Their investments and retirement funds are shrinking rapidly. Some are worried that the bottom is going to fall out of the system and people are going to lose their homes," he says.

St. Paul is part of the Orthodox Church in America, a sister group of the Russian Orthodox Church. "I think the situation is exacerbated by the constant doomsday negativity of the presidential campaign," Bobosh says. The message "is doom and gloom — 'be afraid' if the other guy is elected."

Such relentless Chicken Little rhetoric is unsettling, Bobosh says, "because doing something or doing nothing has equal chances of real failure and either candidate might lead us into disaster."

And, he adds, "the campaign makes it out as if you — the voter — are personally responsible if the other guy gets elected for the doom we face. I just think it weighs heavy on everyone's heart."

To lighten those hearts, Bobosh counsels his members to pray, "to put their trust in God. I do not promise them that prayer guarantees success. It only grounds us in God, which is our only defense for whatever happens — disaster or prosperity."

The Financial Impact

The current meltdown comes at an especially inopportune time — stewardship season.

Many churches calculate their finances according to the calendar year, and the first of October traditionally marks the time when preachers are talking about money anyway. On any given Sunday, you are liable to hear the pastor refer to the Apostle Paul, who quotes Jesus as saying: "It is more blessed to give than to receive."

This year there may be some blowback.

"Funny enough, our 'Pledge Sunday' is this week," says Chuck Currie. Pledge Sunday is when people tell the church how much they plan to give in the coming year. The church then plans its budget according to the pledges.

What people feel like they can pledge in the middle of this monetary mess, says Currie, "will sure be an indicator of how people are feeling and where we are headed."

The church has faced financial problems for years, he says. "A downturn in pledges could be a disaster."

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