A couple weeks ago my husband and I were discussing the financial challenges of churches all over the country given this economic depression. A friend of mine, however, a week before, had pointed out that during troubling times, people flock to the churches for support and inspiration, so the perspective of hardship all depends on whether you’re counting people, money, even faith.
The Hispanic Mission where I serve as a Pastoral Assistant has a Benevolence Fund, and once a month there is a benevolence offering to replenish the fund that periodically gets distributed to families that find themselves encountering great hardship or great need over the year. What is amazing about the giving of a community in which many are struggling is that on the first Sunday of the month, Benevolence Sunday, the offerings are almost always substantially abundant. People seem to understand that if they do not give, the fund cannot replenish itself, and that they are just as likely to be the person in need as their neighbor, so they give with generosity.
My husband and I discussed how during a time of economic downturn the Church is actually blessed with this incredible opportunity–to become just the institution it was always instructed to be, one which sustains the community, and grows people together by sharing resources and sharing faith. Where do most people go when they experience economic hardship? Perhaps they turn to their relatives, to the government, or to second or third jobs, but what if they felt there was a community that would stand behind them not just financially, but spiritually?
What I think is most empowering about this model for the Church is that in my experience, when the church shares its sometimes limited resources with its people who need it most, that gift is returned six or sevenfold. While with such a model, we have to be careful not to encourage people to simply give to themselves, but in a time where our country is in such great need, and its people are struggling to get by, if this concept of benevolence increases the concept of community, of love, mutuality, and vulnerability, I think this giving is certainly doing the work of the gospel. With such a vision, a community in need might be able to use a benevolence fund for mission in the months where hardship has not landed on its members, and as such the greater community might be strengthened. I’d like to know your thoughts, but for me, I feel as though I have reencountered the gospel of possibility, the beauty of the community of the Christian Church.