US churches help people call off debt
Offer Financial Counselling As Economy Nosedives
New York: Following the advice of the pastor, the faithful shuffled to the altar, cut up their credit cards and humbly placed them near his feet. “If we want to have victory, we have to come out of financial bondage,” the Rev John Jenkins of First Baptist Church of Glenarden, Maryland, cried during a sermon.
Normally, Jenkins’ sermons are about spiritual deliverance and ridding oneself of sin. But his message has taken a different turn lately—one that preaches the dangers of overspending and debt.
Jenkins’ sermon is not unusual in the US these days. With the country on the cusp of a recession and many people burdened by the foreclosure crisis, skyrocketing gas prices and rising grocery bills, religious leaders across states are increasingly ministering to their members about financial responsibility, encouraging them to control their spending. “We tell our members, don’t buy dresses and shoes, take trips, all on credit,” Jenkins told the Washington Post. “It’s killing us.”
Some churches are going a step further by providing financial counselling and pointing people to local and state programmes that help with finances. McLean Bible Church in Northern Virginia offers classes on how to handle money according to Biblical principles. And in June, St Martin’s Catholic Church in Gaithersburg hosted a foreclosure prevention workshop to help those in danger of losing their homes.
The close relationship between people and their churches has prompted state officials to work with the faith-based community to identify homeowners facing foreclosure and warn people of the dangers of mortgage rescue scams. In turn, churches are directing struggling members to state plans.
In the Washington region, churches have recently partnered with the state and federal governments to host foreclosure prevention forums. Some have distributed brochures that suggest that people contact their bank to create a “workout” plan, find creative ways to save, and seek legal advice if they believe that they have been victims of predatory lending.
The Rev Jesse Jackson has encouraged ministers to discuss the foreclosure crisis, saying that religious leaders built their churches “on the middle-class bubble of success”. If churches do not address the foreclosure crisis, he said in a December visit to Prince George’s, parishioners will not only suffer, but “your churches will suffer” as well.
So far, some area churches say they remain fiscally strong despite the struggling economy. It’s their members that leaders such as the Rev Timothy Wood, pastor of the Calvary Gospel Church in Waldorf, worry about. “We can’t pay people’s mortgages, but we can do more with the food bank,” said Wood, explaining how churches such as his are finding ways to help people other than by giving them cash. AGENCIES
AID FROM ABOVE: Many Americans are seeking their pastors’ help to tackle the foreclosure crisis and skyrocketing grocery