Blessed are the poor

almsFor some reason, this collection of stories currently running on the Washington Post‘s religion page remind me of that old saw, I believe coined by Tom Lehrer, about how the New York Times would cover the end of the world: “World Ends: Women, Minorities Hardest Hit.”

The first is a thoroughly reported piece that says that lower and middle class folks are increasingly turning to the clergy for financial and spiritual help:

The number of people in crisis calling and showing up at the doors of the area’s churches, synagogues, mosques and temples is escalating. Parishioners are bringing their pastors important questions about faith in difficult times, and some ministers are seeing their own budgets straining.

“More people are coming to the church because there is no other place for them to come,” said Leah Tenorio, director of the Hispanic ministry at Good Shepherd Catholic Church in the Alexandria part of Fairfax County. Requests for help have spiked there in the past month: The church is receiving 15 calls a week, compared with one or two a week last year.

The story is chock full of such anecdotes, some which show quite dramatic increases in requests for help, and it’s really interesting to see the different ways that houses of worship are helping out parishioners and folks in the community. One thing that confused me as a resident of Washington, D.C., is that this particular area is not exactly noteworthy for being hard hit by any economic crisis. A quick survey of the skyline would lead you to believe we’re competing with Dubai for the largest crane population per capita. Unemployment in DC proper is up over last year, but over a point lower than it was in 2004. Maryland unemployment is up, but well below the national average. The latest report from the National Association of Realtors shows that home sales in the greater Washington area skyrocketed some 40 percent over last year at this time, although prices declined a bit. Washington is, in general, remarkably resistant to economic recessions. Government is almost always — if not always — a growth industry. Not all the economic indicators are great, certainly, but we’re not Michigan or Rhode Island here. (Of course, as someone who would like to buy a home big enough and safe enough for my family within, you know, three hours of DC, I am kind of rooting for housing prices to plummet.)

I mention it just because it would help to know a little bit about why people are flooding religious groups for help. Either way, the groups included in the article all say that things are incredibly dire. Here was one interesting anecdote:

Some houses of worship are expanding programs that help people in crises and cutting back on less-crucial ones. New Life Anointed Ministries, for example, has reduced broadcasts of its worship services on local TV stations and dropped its financial support for international missions while doubling, to six, the number of marriage counselors after requests for counseling rose 300 percent.

“The moment that finances become unbearable, the marriage is the next thing to break,” Reeves said.

The story says that many congregations are offering financial workshops and classes on foreclosures. One great thing about the article — and proof it was written by actual religion reporters — was the nod toward spiritual issues:

Pastors are also grappling with the hard, spiritual issues of their congregants, comforting them about their genuine anxieties while guiding them to put money into the proper spiritual perspective. Some are addressing parishioners’ anger over what they see as the greed of Wall Street. Others are encouraging parishioners to look inward and to Scripture.

“God is not surprised by plunging economic activity,” the Rev. Rod Stafford of Fairfax Community Church told his congregation on a recent Sunday, quoting from Deuteronomy: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.”

It’s such a simple thing to include actual religion in religion stories, but frequently lacking. Other great things about the story are the discussion of how area houses of worship are worried about their own finances and the inclusion of Buddhists, Muslims and other groups. Ramadan giving was down, for instance, at one area mosque. A Lutheran church in Washington held a meeting to tell members contributions are down and utility bills have soared. Other churches are pausing renovation projects.

And if you’re curious how the end of the world is hitting the opposite end of the financial spectrum, the Post also ran a story on how things are going in Greenwich, Conn, the hedge fund capital. The reporter looks at the issue by, among other things, speaking with area clergy about how their flocks are coping.

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  • Jerry

    Given that Washington DC is the seat of the Federal government, I would not expect mass layoffs due to the economy. So that is a good point.

    It’s such a simple thing to include actual religion in religion stories

    Heh. Can you imagine a political story without politics or a sports story without sports? Sigh.

  • Judy Rey Wasserman

    say the New York Times would not cover the end of the world as everyone associated with it would have run somewhere to try to take cover! Just like most everyone else would do.

    In times of crisis we look for safety and security. The religious organizations have people in need (including spiritual need, flocking to them now as these groups are seen as offering safety and security from the cares of the world.

    Jesus said “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” That refers to a kind of humility — the kind Moses had, which was submitting to the Will of God.

    There is NOTHING scripturally correct about being poor. In fact, throughout the Bible there are promises of the many blessings, both spiritual and worldly that will be given to those who love the Lord with all their heart, mind, soul and might.

    That willingness to give up everything (part of one’s might) is a Job like attribute. One could become materially poor like Job. However, at the end, Job’s fortunes were more than fully restored!

    So that someone is wealthy, including living in a wealthy community like Greenwich does not immediately indicate that the person does not love the Lord.

    However, all Christians and Jews are called upon to give to those who are in physical need. That is lovingkindness.
    Last time i looked we very much had a separation of Church and state, so from a biblical point of view, the government of the USA is not obligated to care for its poor citizens. We have government programs only because citizens, many of whom are Christians or Jews or believe biblical principles, are in favor of such charity programs.

    Time when many people are experiencing less financial or material wealth have almost always been times that produced spiritual wealth for the people of the USA. As the financial problems grow, people are flocking together on the Internet into spiritual social networks and groups. Faith and spirituality are flourishing on the web, including through this web site.

    If history is an indicator, we ca prepare for some new understandings that include the promises and a new outpouring and revelation of divine purpose for our lives.

    The Churches and synagogue, temples, etc., where people’s spiritual needs are being met will survive — and possibly increase. Perhaps there will be fewer gala events and more pot lucks, but people will support what brings them closer to God.

    And giving to those in real need does that.

    Judy Rey Wasserman
    Artist, Author
    Post Conceptual UnGraven Image Art theory
    The Art of Seeing The Divine

  • Mattk

    It is strange. Just 2 days ago some remarked to me about the “historic high unemployment” we are suffering. I reminded her that it is only 6.1%, and that during the 1980s there was a 12 month period when unemployment was above 10%, and that in 1933 it was over 24%. I think this story, about how hard times are, is targeted to young voters to get them to vote for Obama.

  • Jerry

    There is NOTHING scripturally correct about being poor.

    There is Matt 19:24

    And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

    Of course, the middle class is another matter.

  • Bern

    Although I don’t agree with Mattk’s conclusion about the Post article being some sort of get-out-the-vote for Obama,
    the official unemployment rate has been lowballed for decades, under every administration and in every economic situation. It only includes people actually collecting unemployment checks which generally run out 6 months after layoff, involuntary seperation (my personal favorite), downsizing, rightsizing, or what-have-you. I don’t do predictions but if I did I’d say (official) double-digits are not that far off. And if it’s YOUR job that’s gone, that’s as historic as unemployment needs to get.

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