Praying about the economy

prayingBernankeMany GetReligion readers have been anxious for more religion stories that deal with the economic crisis.

In addition to the Time piece Doug highlighted, National Public Radio had an interesting story about how church leaders are responding to the country’s financial mess. Reporter Linton Weeks spoke with Episcopal, United Church of Christ and Orthodox clergy about what they’re doing to help parishioners who have been negatively affected.

The Episcopal priest says she has seen an increase in attendance, particularly on weekdays, and is offering extra prayer sessions and career counseling to help people cope. The UCC pastor has a different response:

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.”

I think it’s great to speak with a pastor who looks at the problem morally and who looks at the issue as having spiritual and earthly dimensions. I’m really not sure about this, but I’m wondering if the reporter should have identified Currie as being rather outspoken in his support of Obama. Is it relevant? Does it matter? I’m honestly not sure.

There was another part of the story I wasn’t quite sure about:

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.”

We don’t pledge money in my church but a quick Google search showed churches with stewardship drives in the winter, spring, summer and fall. And I’m not sure about hearing Acts 20:35 on “any given Sunday.” Liturgical churches have a lectionary they follow. In my church (we follow the historic one-year lectionary) we heard this reading on July 13. I guess technically it’s true that you might hear the verse on any given Sunday but that would go for any verse in the Bible. Perhaps it was just journalistic license but I think stewardship issues are quite sensitive and should be handled carefully.

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  • Jay

    Mollie,

    Perhaps you haven’t seen it, but I would agree with the author that there is a tradition of stewardship season. Most if not all Episcopal (now Anglican) churches I’ve been to have some sort of push in Fall for pledge, because pledges are for a calendar year and the vestry want to start a few weeks early to allow for stragglers.

    So from my recollection, I’d say it typically happens in early November.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Interesting.

    The fall stewardship season certainly makes sense, but in that Google search are Episcopal parishes with stewardship pledge drives at other times of year.

  • Jerry

    I think it’s great to speak with a pastor who looks at the problem morally and who looks at the issue as having spiritual and earthly dimensions. I’m really not sure about this, but I’m wondering if the reporter should have identified Currie as being rather outspoken in his support of Obama. Is it relevant? Does it matter? I’m honestly not sure.

    This is one question that begs to be looked at from different perspectives. Would you expect a supporter of John McCain to necessarily have a different point of view? Would you expect either to be an outlier from the general case? What about those who don’t profess an opinion on the election?

    I know that people’s political inclinations can influence their theology and visa versa, so I suppose that issue has to be explored. And concepts such as being one’s brother’s keeper can be expressed individually and collectively so there’s plenty of room for political questions. But, to me, the moral question is or should be the root question.

  • Chris Bolinger

    I’m with Jay. Nearly every church that I have attended has a stewardship drive in October or November.

    As for the Paul quote cited by the author, it actually focuses on how we use our time and talents, not money:

    You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ (emphasis mine)

    If you get the four-Sunday stewardship sermon series, then that quote will be used on a Sunday that does not discuss stewardship of money.

  • Karen B.

    Mollie, I too would say that every church I’ve been a part of (5 churches, 3 Anglican, 2 non-demom) over the last 20 years has had a Fall Stewardship / Pledge campaign.

    And as to the “more blessed to give than receive” — that Scripture is repeated as part of the offertory in many Episcopal services (it’s one of the suggested offertory sentences from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer).

    Then followeth the Sermon. After which, the Priest, when there is a Communion, shall return to the Holy Table, and begin the Offertory, saying one or more of these Sentences following, as he thinketh most convenient.

    REMEMBER the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive. Acts xx. 35.

    From here:
    http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bcp/1928/HC.htm

  • http://www.InklingBooks.com/ Mike Perry

    My own frustration with this matter is the “circle the wagons” mentality that seems to be developing among our professional political classes. In common with religious leaders, they seem particularly eager blame the problem on “greed” in financial circles, as if all the blame rested there.

    It doesn’t. Much of the blame lies with a lack of government regulation in some areas and a harsh-to-the-point-of-idiocy overregulation in others, as when government agencies and various groups of ‘community organizers’ conspired to force banks to lend people who were poor credit risks the money to buy homes being sold at then-inflated prices. That’s the ‘sub-prime’ part of this crisis.

    Even McCain, who with Elizabeth Dole and a few others, tried in 2005 to get legislation passed to prevent this crisis, seems perfectly willing to give liberal Democrats such as Chris Dodd and Barney Frank, who are responsible for the sub-prime crisis, a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. That’s perhaps one reason an outsider like Palin inspires so much enthusiasm. Obama won’t bring change. McCain seems unwilling to take on liberal Democrats when they make trillion-dollar mistakes. They are, after all, his colleagues. And worst of all, abdicating their responsibility, the mainstream press refuses to do anything that will lessen Obama’s chance of winning, even it that destroys their credibility, as indeed it is.

    ****

    Keep in mind something that’s best illustrated by drawing a parallel with burglary. If burglary is illegal, if the police respond quickly when I call 911 to report a burglary, and if burglars are regularly prosecuted and sent to prison, then any wrath we may feel about about our home being broken into is best directed at the “greed”of criminals.

    But imagine a country where burglary is legal in numerous circumstances that are difficult for ordinary people to understand but well known among burglars. Imagine that encouraging burglary among the poorer classes out of ‘sympathy’ is a matter of covert national policy. Imagine that calling 911 about a burglary will get no reliable response. And finally, imagine a society where burglars are rarely prosecuted, much less sent to prison. (The last is what some say the UK is like now.)

    In the second case, the fury of the public is better directed at the perversity and incompetence of government than at the “greed” of burglars. And that seems to be the case with this financial crisis.

    ***
    One final note. The various branches of the Christian faith include people who’re either well-recognized experts on some of these topics or that have excellent hands-on experience as loan officers at banks or mortgage agents. Why weren’t they active in this years ago? Why aren’t they speaking out now? Why are religious remarks confined mostly to platitudes about greed or trusting God from preachers who’re obviously clueless. It’d suggest that it might be more biblical for believers who have the appropriate talents to act like Jesus with the moneychangers and apply a verbal whip to the appropriate backs. Why isn’t that happening? Why does that almost never happen? Why is their faith confined to the walls of their church and their home?

    I’m often reminded of C. S. Lewis’ remark that one reason he came to faith was the fact the the authors he like best, the ones who made the most sense, were often Christians such G. K. Chesterton, someone who wrote well on almost every imaginable topic.

    As I flip the channels on my new digital TV converter, skipping quickly past the religious channels, and as I read the remarks coming from many religious leaders about this crisis, I’m not exactly impressed with what they’re saying. Neither the shill TV salesmen for a ‘prosperity gospel’ nor those who think this crisis is all about believers sentiments exert much attraction. Neither represents a muscular and intelligent faith.

    If Lewis were around today teaching at Oxford, would he find much reason to give serious consideration to Christianity? Maybe not.

    –Michael W. Perry, Seattle

  • Brian L

    I’m not sure how a reporter should handle Currie’s outspoken proObamaness. However, I do think that it was something of an error to portray him as simply the average pastor of a small parish. Rev. Currie is a long time, somewhat influential blogger of the religious left. I think he is something of a star in the UCC community. I was actually surprised that his church is only 144 members, considering his pull among the blogs I read.

    Not that I am making a direct comparison – but another analogy fails me: It would be a bit like saying the Pope is the leader of a tiny European country that is no larger than a small city. That is true, but it obscures his actual influence and importance.

    To quote Chuck Currie as a small-time pastor, and not a major Left polemicist leaves quite a bit out about who this guy really is – and why he was selected for the story.

  • Brian L

    Wow – I even misread the number: Currie’s church has 114 members…