Churches as well as parishioners hurt by struggling U.S. economy
BY SUE NOWICKI
JUNE 8, 2008 (www.freep.com) - You've no doubt read recently about the soaring foreclosure rates and the severe cutbacks that schools, government and businesses have faced. In April, the Pew Research Center said a new study showed that one out of every seven U.S. workers feared being laid off in the next 12 months.
The money woes have reached the faith community as well.
A study released earlier this month by LifeWay Research shows that 72% of Southern Baptist pastors indicate that difficulties in the U.S. economy are negatively affecting their churches, and 27% indicate that their congregations will not meet their budgets if current trends continue.
The story is the same for other congregations.
A May 15 letter from Youth for Christ executive director Rick Fritzemeier in Modesto, Calif., said the "current downturn of finances is threatening" the ministry. "Just this morning, I had to release one staff member from our team. It was a very difficult thing to do. ... It is safe to say that (without further contributions) we will approach a shortfall of nearly $68,800 before Aug. 31."
On May 16, KAMB Christian radio station manager Tim Land sent out an e-mail including this statement: "The first four months of this year have been extremely challenging for our staff. Only 66% of our operating expenses have been met so far."
Those examples are a mere blip compared to the reported $5 million to $10 million shortfall for the St. Stanislaus Catholic Church building project in Modesto. While the contractor will be fully paid for the building and initial landscaping, the opening of the church is on hold until the necessary funds come in to complete the interior, officials said.
Similar stories cross religious boundaries. Yet with the bad news comes faith -- the faith printed on U.S. currency: In God We Trust.
Here are comments from Modesto area faith leaders:
Father Joseph Illo, pastor at St. Joseph's Catholic Church, said that for five years, his church's budget increased 7% annually with revenue increasing 8% to 9%. But in the past year, he said, "our revenue only increased 1%, and we are budgeting at a 5% decrease in revenue. This will mean some staffing and program cuts."
However, he added, St. Joseph's charitable giving fund is bolstered by gifts collected in a second Sunday offering, "and these have not dropped significantly. For example, we have maintained a consistent $10,000 offering at each of our five St. Vincent de Paul offerings per year, and we distribute about $60,000 in direct aid per year for food, utilities, rent and clothing to the poor who come to the church."
Bishop Stephen Blaire also gave a mixed report. He confirmed that giving also has been down at the cathedral in Stockton, Calif., and that the diocesan budget "will be tight" this year. But a capital campaign that began in select parishes earlier this year "seems to be going well at this point."
Chuck Adams, senior pastor of the Carpenter's House in Modesto, said his church has seen a decrease in giving and tightened its budget in response.
But he also said the church has added staff and areas of ministry -- "necessary steps we needed to take to be effective in ministry. Remarkably, we are seeing our budget hold fast in light of these additional expenses. We are finding that after we have done all we can to be good stewards, what we do is still a matter of trust in God's ultimate ability to provide what we need to do his work."
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a strong tradition of giving a tithe to the church and helping members in need. Besides their regular giving, Mormons fast for two meals a month and give the money they would have spent on food to the church's welfare fund for needy members.
Mark Martinez, bishop of the ninth ward in Modesto, said "the offerings have not been down, but the need for (welfare) funds has been up. The number of people who need some help are about the same. The magnitude of the help is what has changed.
"Gas prices have hit people hard, especially the elderly," he said. "These are Depression-era people. Asking for help is really hard for them. I had one lady who hadn't had meat for months, just trying to make ends meet. That's the generation that built this country. Those kind of problems are what we want to take care of."
Fortunately, he said, the money coming from fasting has so far kept pace with the needs.
"Members of the church will do things that defy logic. They will often give more in their fast offerings -- 10 times or even a hundred times what they would have spent on food. It's a direct act of faith on their part, and it's humbling to see."