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Kitsap: Heroes rise to churches’ call in tough economic times
Corporations and individuals are feeling the metaphorical pinch a month after the October financial market crash signaled in economic worry worldwide. Nationally known businesses have filed for bankruptcy and shoppers are turning a closer eye toward their pocketbooks. In Kitsap the pinch is evident; locally owned shops are closing their doors as Average Joes wait out the stormy financial climate.
But the county’s church community isn’t reporting grave losses. Several area church leaders recently spoke on the issue, and said the religious community hasn’t taken a large hit, nor have they experienced a rush of attendance — though, some added, it may be too soon to tell.
According to Religious News Service, an October Guideposts.com poll revealed financial concerns are of top consideration in America. Thirty-two percent of those asked to name their leading prayer request pointed to financial relief, which outpaced the No. 2 response, the country and its leaders, by 12 percent.
Combined with the 15 percent of those polled who tagged a new job as their top request, job and money prayers lead lists for almost half of responders.
It’s a trend that lacks mirrored reports in Kitsap; five area church leaders all said local prayer requests haven’t strayed far from usual topics, which often center on health issues.
But a common economic backlash in the area has grown by way of increased usage of food banks and thrift stores, many of which are run by religious organizations.
Bayside Community Church Pastor Scott Montagne said in trying times individuals often become susceptible to what they hear, and respond with a knee-jerk tendency that doesn’t always fit the bill. Rushed reactions, he explained, were evident after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
But so far, Montagne said he’s hopeful the economic situation will “work its way out,” and not forge a scar on religious giving. His Kingston church has experienced only a slight decrease in donations, though even a modicum of change can have an effect.
Serving the community
“We have seen a small drop off, but small is enough to possibly affect ministries,” said Montagne, a 36-year pastor. “Fortunately we’ve got money in savings.”
Where effects are most seen: ShareNet, the church’s food bank that has experienced rising demands. The organization operates along with an in-church Compassion Fund meant to help members in difficult situations.
The Barna Research Group has compiled giving statistics, including 2007 figures stating 84 percent of all adults donated money to churches or nonprofit organizations, with a median amount of $400. However, only five percent of the adult population tithed in the same year.
Poulsbo’s St. Olaf’s Catholic Church meets community needs through the St. Vincent de Paul charity. Father David Mayovsky said a 30 percent increase in usage has been seen; people lean on the society for help with things like utility bills. Mayovsky, like Montagne, said giving has yet to take a noticeable decline.
Passing the basket
Scott Fontenot, Pastor of Hillcrest Assembly, said recent congregational giving is roughly 10 percent below average in his Bremerton church, though he added some months tally decidedly lower than others. He said it could be too soon to say what is and what isn’t a direct effect of the economy. Hillcrest also offers a Compassion Fund, which Fontenot said has not seen a rise in requests. The church’s mission programs are still funded.
Hillcrest runs operations on a $45,000 monthly budget, roughly $33,000 of that given into an undesignated general fund. Each month $5,000 is given directly to missions, and some donations come designated specifically for the Compassion Fund.
“Our church has a budget and we try to live by it religiously,” Fontenot said.
North Kitsap Baptist Church’s Pastor Terry Tharp echoed his flock hasn’t experienced a marked financial sharing decrease.
“I can say I’ve noticed that we’ve had three people laid off within our flock within the last couple months and that certainly makes an impact,” he said. Talk of real estate worker woes and retirement fund troubles have circled as well.
“There was a point where people were pretty frightened and wondering what they were going to do.”
Olympic Evangelical Free Church in Poulsbo also has yet to show signs of a drop in giving or increase in attendance.
“I think it’s too early to tell,” reiterated pastor Jim Keatley. In fact, he reported four parishioners have recently found jobs.
“I think that has something to do with trusting God to provide,” he said.
According to Tharp, North Kitsap Baptist isn’t looking at decreasing its services. “If anything, we’re looking at increasing services,” he said.
The church’s Benevolence Fund, similar to a compassion fund, has actually seen a rise in contributions.
“We’re seeing some increased giving for that fund because people are aware these are harder times. It’s remarkable,” he said, describing a parishioner attitude that remains aware of the hurting of others. “We begin to see heroes rise up. ... I think it’s a phenomenon that’s not just in our church. It’s an opportunity for us to show what we’re really made of.”
Mayovsky said his Catholic flock has committed in baptisms to witness, live out their faith and share their gifts. He, too, said giving has increased, not diminished, and he doesn’t expect a decline in the near future.
“As a pastor and as a person of faith, to me there shouldn’t be any (decrease). Nothing should stop a person’s commitment to be a steward of their time, talents and treasure,” he said. “God truly does provide for all of our needs. My parishioners are very generous people and I’m expecting to see that generosity continue even through tough economic times.”
In South Kitsap, at least one church is making sure that the next generation keeps generosity alive, as well.
Maria S. Murphee, a pastoral assistant who run the youth group at St. Gabriel’s Church in Port Orchard, said 28 teenagers in grades 7th-12th participated in the church’s recent Make a Difference Day, which connects the kids with local organizations to learn what their ten most-needed items are and help collect them.
“At St. Vincent de Paul, their greatest needs are for diapers, gloves, hats and toiletry items,” Murphee said, explaining that the youth group won’t necessarily help a needy family directly, but they “will be part of the chain that’s helping.”
Once the teens have the lists of needs, they distribute them to parishioners at St. Gabriel’s and its sister parish, Prince of Peace in Belfair, and encourage them to pick up a few extra items as they do their regular shopping.
This year, Murphee said the group collected 1,400 diapers, 76 pairs each of gloved and socks, 34 tubes of toothpaste, and numerous bottles of shampoo and other toiletries. Along with the items for St. Vincent’s, Murphee said the group collected lots of food items — three carloads worth — to restock the church’s “care and share” pantry.
After the event, Murphree said she hoped the spirit of helping will stay with the group for years to come.
“If you start thinking about (others in need) when you’re younger, it always has meaning because you made the connection early on,” she said. “And, if expose (young people) to all sorts of different ways to serve others, something is going to click with them. You can’t expect that everyone’s going to want to work at a food bank or hospital, but the more things they know about, the greater chance they have for finding a passion.”
According to Religioustolerance.org, 53 percent of Americans consider religion to be very important in their lives, though the site also reports confidence in religious institutions has hit an all-time low.
Montagne said reports of doom and gloom tend to stick in people’s minds, and create confusion between needs and wants. He noted the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, trying moments in America’s 20th century.
“That was horrible,” he said. “We’re not even close to something like that.”
Still, “I’m not saying there aren’t tough times,” he explained. “I just think that we can often be manipulated.”
To individuals, Fontenot offered a formula for financial help.
“When there’s a time when you are not sure about finances, it’s really a good time to ask God to help you,” he said. “That’s the best thing to keep things going in the right direction.”