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Churches Strive to Increase Giving Amid Recession

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Budgets are tight from households to high rises.  During these tough economic times more people are turning to churches and religious organizations for help.  WFPL’s Stephanie Sanders reports on how two of them are responding to the needs of the community while trying to keep their own books balanced.

Jill Baldwin is the administrator of Mercy Medical Clinic in Shelbyville. She’s also a nurse practitioner AND the only employee of the free clinic. You might call it one of the front lines of battle in the recession. The clinic has doubled its number of patients over the last year – from 13-hundred to 26-hundred – and is on track to add another one thousand by the end of the year.

“We have patients calling every single day: “I’ve lost my job”, “I’ve been laid off”, “I have kids”, “We have current needs”, and so our phone is constantly ringing off the hook and our needs are growing significantly," says Baldwin.

Mercy Medical’s parent organization is Operation Care. Executive Director Judy Roberts says as to be expected in a recession, some of its private funding has decreased.

“Our personal contributions are down 45%, our business contributions are down 50%, our church contributions are up, believe it or not," says Roberts.

Those church contributions are up about 60%. Operation Care has several church partnerships, including one with Southeast Christian Church, the largest congregation in Louisville, where, for disclosure’s sake, I am a member.

“When the economy tanks, I think it’s a perfect time for churches to step up to the plate,” says Southeast Senior Minister Dave Stone. “It could be in a variety of ways, but it is not the time for churches to sit back and say ‘well, you know what, everybody’s having a rough time’.”

Local outreach was on the minds of Stone and the church’s elders, when they approved an aggressive budget late last year – increasing its 31-million dollar budget by four-point-five percent in the throes of the economic downturn.

“We felt like there are things we wanted to do in this community, and we sensed and felt that God would bless that step of faith," says Stone.

And so far, the church is on track to meet its budget. The church’s commitment to local community organizations – like Mercy Medical Clinic – increases as parishioners increase their giving. Stone says Southeast has committed 16-point-five percent of its budget to local, national and international missions. About one-point-six million dollars went to local projects like the free clinic.  

Champaign, Illinois-based research group Empty Tomb has been researching church giving in recessions over the last several decades. Its studies show that nationwide, member donations to churches are just as likely to go up as they are to go down in a recession.

And Operation Care’s Judy Roberts says while money is great, volunteers are gold.

“If all of our volunteers were suddenly removed, the entire program would have to close down. There would be no way we could operate without them," Roberts says.

Southeast Christian Church has seen a huge spike in volunteers working in the community. Over the last 18 months, the number has climbed from 250 to 500.

Time is something even small congregations with much smaller budgets can contribute. At St. William Catholic Church in west Louisville, Formation Minister Anne Walter says the church’s three-to-four thousand dollar per month allotment for those who are struggling is falling short these days.  

“We have gotten to the point where we are out of money most of every month," she says.

Walter says people are often standing in line to receive money for food, utilities, rent and medicine.  She says donations are steady, but more people are giving their time.

“It’s jumped considerably lately, so on Wednesdays it used to be a couple of us handled what would happen," says Walter, "and now there are five or six people here.”

Even when church’s budgets are tight – parishioners are stepping up, giving their money, and their time.


To continue the discussion, view the blog post " Sowing Sparingly? or Generously?"


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