More Needy Are Turning To Clergy for Funds, Faith

By Jacqueline L. Salmon and Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, October 26, 2008

Across the Washington area, houses of worship and their clergy are finding themselves on the frontlines of the economic crisis -- preaching spiritual sustenance from the pulpit, counseling those in distress, holding financial and foreclosure workshops, and providing food and cash to those in need -- all the while looking nervously at their own bottom lines.

"Anybody that has a congregation of any depth, if they are not addressing this, they are really missing the point, because what's happening in our economy is affecting every phase of human life," said Bishop Eugene Reeves of New Life Anointed Ministries in Woodbridge, where donations are down 12 percent this year and requests for assistance have soared.

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 Catholic Archdiocese of Washington reports that requests for food and help with rent and utility bills have tripled at some parishes, and similar requests at the archdiocese's seven Catholic Charities offices are up 25 percent. Carol Shannon, executive director of the Catholic Charities Foundation, predicts a further "dramatic" increase in the months ahead.

"Even among middle-class families, we are beginning to see real issues," said Misha Galperin of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, which recently set up an emergency fund with an initial budget of $300,000 to meet the growing demands of financially strapped Jewish nonprofit groups.

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.

Many congregations are sponsoring financial workshops and economic summits.

In the past few weeks, the Islamic Center of Maryland in Gaithersburg has been bringing in financial advisers regularly to help people manage their finances, said Imam Jamil Dasti. Usually it does so every two or three months.

A major focus of some churches has been mortgage foreclosures. Sixty-four people -- far more than expected -- showed up at an August foreclosure-prevention workshop at Holy Family Church in Hillcrest Heights, said Donna Hurley, executive director of Housing Options & Planning Enterprises, which conducted the event. Hurley's group will hold another session Nov. 9 at Ascension Catholic Church in Bowie, offering assistance from financial counselors and pro bono attorneys. "We want them to walk out with solutions," Hurley said.

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.

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