The Jan-Feb. 2009 Yale Alumni Magazine reported that from July 1, 2008, to the end of year, the Yale University endowment declined by 25% from $22.8 billion to $17 billion. Commenting on the impact the recession is having upon the university, Yale President Rick Levin said, “I am confident that we can weather this storm while continuing to advance on our most important objectives, albeit at a slower pace.” From the perspective of the paycheck to paycheck existence of many Americans (if there is a paycheck at all), the $17 billion left in Yale’s endowment may seem like a ridiculous amount of money. However, the losses Yale has experienced have forced the university to put a halt to new construction projects, cut back staff and freeze salaries, which is exactly where many other organizations find themselves, including the church.
There is no business, school, non-profit organization, church, family or individual in our country that has escaped untouched by the recession. One sentence from President Obama’s speech to Congress last week stayed with me, “We will have to sacrifice worthy priorities for which there is no money, and that includes me.” President Levin and President Obama’s statements are lived out every week in our district churches. I regularly receive emails from pastors, saying, “I want you to know that we are going to have to reduce our budget, including cutting back staff.” There is nothing more painful for a church than to have to freeze salaries, reduce hours, or even eliminate staff positions.
I am deeply grateful for the integrity, wisdom and compassion I observe as you determine a realistic budget according to the mission and vision of your particular congregation. You discern what is most important, sacrifice some worthy priorities, then carry out your current ministries with confidence and hope. Rather than turn inward and hunker down to wait out the storm, you are creating new and unique ministries that witness to God’s grace and shalom.
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to share lunch with 9 pastors from the Muskegon area and asked them this question, “How are you doing ministry when families in your church are losing their jobs and homes and your church budget becomes tighter and tighter. How are you being the church?” The responses were absolutely amazing! An incredible mobilization of human and financial resources to embody hope and transform lives is taking place right before our eyes.
On March 21 the HoltonCommunity Centerwill open. For the first time ever the churches of this small community northeast of Muskegon are working together. It began last summer when the Holton UMC organized a church softball league, using the wonderful community sports complex the Holton church build on their land. That was just the beginning. In the new community center, which will be staffed by volunteers 2 days a week, there will be a food and clothing pantry, with other social services to be offered as resources allow. On January 31, the 4 churches worshipped together as a fundraiser, which, according to the Holton UMC newsletter, was an “absolutely electric evening.”
At Wolf Lake UMC, a woman in the congregation walked into Pastor Bobby Cabot’s office and said she felt God calling her to begin a free clothing ministry once a month at the church. Everyone who comes is able to take home 5 pieces of clothing, which is donated from church members and others.
Lakeside UMC has begun offering a $3.00 Wednesday evening meal (can you beat that price?) to the community. Over 50 people attend each week, with half coming from outside the church.
A group of visionary people in MuskegonCountyis working diligently to initiate Family Promise, a homeless ministry that is also called Interfaith Hospitality Network. Churches take turns hosting homeless families in their buildings for a week at a time. Of the 10 churches that are committed at this time, five are United Methodist churches: Lake Harbor, Community, Lakeside, Temple and Church of the Dunes.
Crestwood UMC will offer Bible school this year with First Christian Reformed Church andImmanuelLutheranChurch. They are planning for 100 children, age 5 through middle school – and they are using a Cokesbury VBS curriculum!
Lakeside UMC offers a food ministry to the community called Great Food For All. Every month, people can order boxes of food for $30, each box of which can feed a family of 4 for a week. If people don’t care for something in their box, they can put that food item in another box designated for MAP (Mission for Area People).
Temple UMC continues to host Supper House, which feeds 100 people every night. Churches from all over the area help cook and serve dinner.
Coopersville UMC is starting a support group for unemployed people, which will meet twice a month. The mission statement for this group is to nurture and empower unemployed persons to keep their mental health and self-worth, and encourage a positive attitude so they will be successful in finding employment.
Did you know that Lake Harbor UMC and Lakeside UMC share a youth staff person, Jimmy Epplett? A few weeks ago Jimmy started a young adult worship service on Wednesday nights called Roots, with 65 in attendance. The hope is that young adults from the entireMuskegon area will find a place to connect with God and each other.
What I am seeing in our churches is an absolutely electrifying Wesleyan outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
- I see churches and individuals move outside their doors to respond to the needs of others with confidence and courage.
- I see the lines separating UM churches and denominations become blurry, as we discern that God’s way is to cooperate, not compete.
- I see great creativity as churches realize that they can do more with less.
- I see that when people are enthusiastic about the transforming ministries of their churches, they respond with generous and sacrificial giving.
- I see a renewed dedication to ministry shares, a realization that second mile mission giving come after first mile commitments are honored.
- Most gratifying of all, I see the church leading the way, not lagging behind.
As one of my friends keeps saying, “We gotta keep the faith. That’s our gift to the world. We’re all in this together.” I can’t think of a better spiritual practice for the season of Lent: keep the faith and share the faith!