Financial crisis hits churches

Churches around the country are discussing how the economic news in the US and around the world will affect giving to the local church and in turn the dioceses and national organizations. Although endowments can fill in the gaps in bad years, how will a long term recession affect the ability to carry on ministries. Many turn to the church in hard times for direct assistance, for spiritual and emotional support, increasing demands on leadership. See previous story in The Lead.

The Boston Globe reports:

The next few weeks, between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, will be a key indicator of how dramatically the nation’s financial crisis will affect religious organizations. Contributions to date have been stable or up for many denominations and congregations, but this period is the high season for American philanthropy, in part because people are motivated by the spirit of Christmas to be charitable, and in part because people are try ing to amass tax deductions as the year closes.

“Seventy percent of our budget comes in December, so we live by faith, or by hope,” said the Rev. Jim Antal, president of the Massachusetts conference of the United Church of Christ, which is the state’s largest Protestant denomination. Antal has summoned all clergy to a January gathering for a brainstorming session about pastoring congregations during a downturn. “I can’t tell you what’s going to happen,” he said.


Multiple congregations and denominations are planning for things to get worse. Jewish synagogues are reviving congregation-based job networks that were last used during the real estate recession of the early 1990s, and the Episcopal Church is setting aside money to help congregations that get into trouble.

Many organizations are also already cutting. The Catholic Diocese of Worcester has imposed new restrictions on building projects. The Unitarian Universalist Association has put off planned maintenance work on its Beacon Hill headquarters. The Archdiocese of Boston has been steadily cutting staff. The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts has cut staff and spending. And religious colleges are cutting too, including, most recently, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, an evangelical institution on the North Shore that announced Monday it was laying off employees and reducing spending.

Read the article here.

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