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Economically challenging times call for churches to be churches

Given this time of economic and spiritual challenge, churches and faith groups are not exempt from impact from multiple directions.  There is the obvious concern about giving levels and financial support ministries, mission and leadership on local, regional and national levels.
As the state is considering deep cuts to human services, which always seem to be on the chopping block, churches and faiths have responsibility to model faithful, moral budgets as they call for responsible, moral budgets in the secular realm.

As people in congregations lose jobs, health insurance and homes, or face reduced retirement incomes, churches and faiths are called to care, to reach out, to find new ways to be a community.
As the poor struggle even more, churches and faiths have responsibility to advocate on their behalf, giving voice in the halls of power so programs providing a safety net are not cut at greater rates than other government services.

As everyone faces uncertainty, the community of faith has an opportunity to be faithful to be who we are at our best, to live out the words that inspire us, to serve as communities so no one is isolated, to see reasons for hope as the poor well know.

“I’m excited,” said the Rev. Mike Denton, Pacific Northwest United Church of Christ conference minister, in his recent message to regional and local leaders.

Mike’s message offers food for thought that if the faith community chooses, this moment can be an opportunity “to re-focus, re-prioritize and re-member.”   The church, like most other institutions, has lost bits of itself in the haze of affluence.

“How we thought about ourselves has changed over the last decade as we adopted government, nonprofit and business models that seemed to be working in the wider world,” he wrote.
Mike suggests that churches have been diverted as they have moved:

• from evangelism to advertising;
• from being community to being consumers;
• from engaging in mission to writing mission statements;
• from touch to technology;
• from worship to entertainment;
• from spirituality to psychology.

In the process of adopting market values and methods, he observes, churches sometimes have abandoned values and methods that make church church.

Recognizing similarities between the church’s vocation and the work of governments, nonprofits and business, he points out that “ours is not the same,” saying:
“We’re not called to govern people’s behavior but called to share the good news about the gifts of life transformed.

“We’re not called to be a vehicle for service management but to serve.
“We’re not called to act like a business or company but to be in relationships of mutual accompaniment as we all try and figure out how to serve God and our sisters and brothers as best we can.”

Mike said the churches’ role is different because, “we have this faith with stories about manna from heaven; feeding 5,000 people with a couple of fish and a little bread, and the resurrection of a crucified Jesus. We have this faith full of gifts wrapped up in challenges—a faith that makes it clear God’s hope is more than a naive attitude.  It’s a promise.”

So he calls churches to remember that hope shines brightest in those places that seem darkest.”
Mike’s challenge calls us to see our faith beyond its cultural captivity by a society that values affluence over abundance, money over meaning, wealth over wisdom.

Mary Stamp - Editor and
Mike Denton - United Church of Christ Conference Minister