A High-Octane Higher Calling

By Ashly McGlone
Religion News Service
Saturday, July 12, 2008

At St. Stephen Baptist Church in Louisville, the 14,000-member congregation billed itself as a "seven-day-a-week" hub of activity, with choir practices, ministry meetings or small groups scheduled every night.

Then the Rev. Kevin Cosby noticed a drop-off. People couldn't afford the gas to drive to activities on several evenings.

So Cosby shifted all activities to Wednesday night to give parishioners a "one-stop-shop for your soul." The church also bought a third 14-passenger bus to shuttle people to and from church.

"We thought it would be a better practice of stewardship," Cosby said. "The good use and stewardship of resources is how we demonstrate our love for God."

Members with long commutes say they feel the benefit of the schedule shift.

"I think it's great. Tonight I am going to attend three different auxiliaries all in one night," said Cornelius Pumphrey, an 11-year member who lives 25 miles away. "Gas here is $4. . . . I will be able to save a considerable amount."

Brenda Dudley, a member for 21 years, said, "Budget-wise, it really helps to have everything under one roof at one time."

With rising food and gas prices, Americans are grappling for economic stability. Religious institutions, in turn, are becoming creative in trying to soften the blow of rising prices on parishioners.

Some churches have responded with weekly gas card raffles and subsidized gas outreaches to the community. For others, such as St. Stephen, the answer lies in major changes of service offerings.

In Eastlake, Ohio, the Worldwide Great Commission Fellowship church started raffling a $25 gas card and a $20 grocery card for attendees during Sunday services last month.

"People feel they cannot afford to come to church, and if they do come, that they do not have money to give to the offering," the Rev. Melinda Bauman said. "That is a significant sign that people are struggling."

In Flushing, Mich., the Rev. Mary Lloyd said God called her to give $5 gas cards to first-time visitors. Her 300-member church, Community Hope Church of God, has given out more than 36 cards since May.


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