faith communities and the bleakonomy

So much in the news this weekend -- Obama's infrastructure investment plan, the bailout for the "Big 3" automakers, and inflation has topped 230,000,000% in Zimbabwe, leading for calls for the overthrow of Mugabe. I'm looking forward to seeing what the bleakonomy bloggers have to say on these things.

But with Eid al-Adah, Hannukah, and Christmas all around the corner, I thought I'd open up the conversation to talk about faith communities. Not the big cosmic/theological/spiritual implications of the bleakonomy (is religion the pie-in-the-sky opiate of the masses?), but asking about the practical economics of religious institutions.

I've had clergy colleagues who've talked about parishioners that have stopped going to church because they are embarrassed about loosing their jobs. In a culture where "What do you do?" is the first question after "what's your name?," to be unemployed is to be un-personed. The pundits claim that a downturn in the economy drives people to places of worship; I haven't seen that yet -- has anyone else? Here are some of the other challenges the bleakonomy presents to faith communities:
  • Endowment income? Wealthy parishes can kiss that sources of income goodbye for a few years. Likewise, plans for capital campaigns, program expansion, and building repairs.
  • Lay employees and program staff? Will churches, etc., be able to continue to employ program staff -- and if not, what does laying someone off look like in a community dedicated to justice and abundant generosity?
  • Pledging, membership, zakat... Whether folks are pledging members of a parish or synagogue, or give zakat through their mosque, or make financial commitments to their temple, many members are looking at their end of the year budget and realizing they can't meet the commitments they made back in January. How do religious leaders and communities handle such situations? Is there a temptation to the guilt-trip and the spiritual blackmail, a questioning of people's financial priorities? And perhaps there's an opportunity to talk about what else we value about our congregants -- their prayers, their faithfulness, their questions, their commitments of time and talent.
  • Able-bodied retirees Many faith communities rely on their able-bodied retirees to keep things going. Boomers and elders who have time on their hands and come in to volunteer, repairing window latches, making phone calls, leading prayers. As the bleakonomy forces people to defer retirement, will we have fewer retirees around to take on all that volunteer work?
OK, that put the bleak back in the blog. Your comments and posts are invited; maybe next time I'll post something a little more uplifting...

No comments:

Post a Comment