Responding to financial collapse

As financial distress spreads  from Wall Street to Main Street, ushering in a recession likely to be long, churches have two fundamental responsibilities.

One is to stay open. Many businesses will close in the months ahead. It is essential that faith communities swim against that tide. Now, more than ever, people need their churches to be available for care, comfort, prayer, and mutual support.

Staying open won’t be easy. Most churches skate close to the edge even in good times. Church leaders need to be transparent and collaborative with members. This isn’t a time for leaders to sit quietly in a small circle and cut, cut, cut. This is “village time,” when all constituents are brought into a crisis-response process.

In our opinion, churches could come out of this financial crisis stronger than ever, because they will have gotten clear about what matters and gotten broad in constituent engagement. They must stay open, however.

The second responsibility is to be the Body of Christ, to get outside themselves and become sacrificial givers and bold responders to our neighbors. Needs vary from area to area. But you can assume that misery will gather momentum as it rolls downhill.

Most vulnerable will be the poor. Churches need to see elemental needs such as lack of food, housing, and medical care. Feeling most betrayed will be the middle class, who played by the rules and yet found their fortunes soured by greed, irresponsibility, and incompetence at higher rungs. Seething in silence, retrenching in shame, and looking for scapegoats will be the natural responses. Churches must act to call people away from this abyss.

This would be a good time to draw people into the classic Spiritual Disciplines. Form prayer circles, stock food pantries, start informal networks to check in on people likely to be hurting, preach openly about the crisis, lift up stories of people who found their faith tested and ultimately strengthened by financial distress.

Whatever responses we take, we don’t have the luxury of not responding, of “keeping on” as if nothing were happening. Maybe in “God’s time” this financial collapse is a blip. But in the lives of people we serve, this is a crisis.


Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant, and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of Just Wondering, Jesus, and the founder of the Church Wellness project.