Everywhere I have traveled this summer I have seen evidences of the Great Recession. Once thriving businesses have closed. Grass is high around houses in foreclosure. It may be my imagination, but it seems that there is a general shabbiness where once there was a sheen.
As depressing as they may be, the physical appearances of places are not nearly as important as what is happening in people's lives. Millions of people have lost their jobs, and finding work today is extremely difficult for many people.
Obviously, the economic situation is affecting churches. Church programs have been curtailed, and church employees have been laid off. Pastors, church councils, and committees on finance are concerned about how to meet all of their financial obligations for the year. Concern about church budgets will be high as we enter the month of September and the last quarter of the year.
These are difficult financial times for our churches, but I believe that we can get through them.
It is necessary to maintain objectivity. When our churches are struggling to pay the bills, there may be a tendency for leaders to blame themselves or even for members to blame their leaders. Of course, this kind of blaming is irrational. The rational point of view is to remember is that we are in the middle of the Great Recession, and so we should expect struggles. I think it would be good for members to emphasize this message in their conversations with persons and in church meetings in order to help leaders not to take financial struggles personally.
I think it is also necessary for leaders to have communication with the members of the church about the financial situation their church is in. I believe it is always the best policy to keep the members fully informed. In this climate, when it is likely that income from offerings is less than in previous recent years, it is especially important for members to receive information about the finances of the church in special announcements or meetings and letters from leaders of the churches. By keeping everyone informed, you encourage eveyone to do their part to overcome financial challenges together.
This is a great opportunity for witnessing. There are faithful Christians in our churches who are keeping their pledges to the church even though their income has declined and their futures are uncertain. They do this because of their relationship to God. To give them a chance to speak briefly to the congregation would be a great opporltunity to learn about Christian stewardship.
It is also a great opportunity for us to grow in faith. We are a people who trust in God's care. While we need to be prudent and careful with our money, we can learn during uncertain times what it means to have faith, to walk where we do not see, and to trust in God's providence.
I believe that dark economic clouds disclose a silver lining as they pass overhead. We start realizing how liberating it is to live on less. We can do a lot to "get by." Somehow our spirits and our daily values get re-calibrated in ways that make us stronger and wiser people. I think this happens to us and to our families especially when we have a Sunday School class or a prayer group where we can talk with our Christian friends about what is going on in our lives, how we are coping, and what we are learing about ourselves and the God we worship.
I see friends or husbands and wives walking every night to talk about their situation. There is a lot of tension in our lives today because of the money pressures. I worry about how the financial pressure will affect persons, marriages, and families. While I am relieved when people have someone to talk to, I think this economic crisis is too big for persons or married couples to handle on their own. This is when being a part of a Christian community is life-saving. The church has received a different message about the meaning of life from our Lord. The church is a place where we can be ourselves and share our struggles and pray for one another. This is the kind of community where lives are literally being rescued in hard times.
I pray for all of our churches, clergy, and members during these times. I pray that your church will be a place where new stories of faithful living are coming into being as we keep our perspective and our faith in times like this.