Instead, Myers Park Presbyterian takes a twofold approach. First, the church created practical ministries like job networks and counseling programs for those out of work or struggling with the jobs they have. Next they recognized that there are a lot of successful people in the church — “These are not people who need their hand held,” as he puts it — and that they need to be challenged.
“I came at it from a leadership angle,” he says. “These are leaders who are getting hit, and their number one job is to lead people out of this.”
The church launched a four-part preaching series in January and February on the leadership models of Moses and Jesus, for example, calling on those who can lead “to have a servant’s heart” to help others.
“Now is not the time to get cocky and brassy. We need to serve people who are hurting,” Eason says. “We’re still a very blessed people for all the hits we’ve taken.”
In Catawba County to the west of Charlotte, Brad Thie D’98, pastor of Friendship United Methodist Church in Newton, sees his job as more like triage for a region where hardship is deep and wide. And prolonged.
Unemployment is above 15 percent and rising, and symptoms of the affliction can be seen in the huge spike in demand for medical and social services, as well as a rise in emergency calls.
Thie — who earned an M.B.A. before attending the Divinity School — does not avoid the recession in his sermons, but preaches on passages such as Jesus’ counsel in the Sermon on the Mount (“Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”) or the laments to God of the prophet Habakkuk, who nonetheless takes solace in faith: “Though the flocks disappear from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, Yet will I rejoice in the Lord and exult in my saving God.”
“I continually find myself trying to connect [my preaching] with the economic hardships the people are feeling,” Thie says. But he adds that even the best homily must be complemented by practical ministry — counseling and spending time in prayer with people.
As the number of out-of-work parishioners has increased, so has attendance at daytime Bible study group, Thie says. “It’s been a pleasant surprise to see these unemployed people throwing themselves into Bible study.”
Thie does what he can to help with gas or transportation, because many can’t afford to drive to church more than once a week, and others have had to sell one of their cars. The church also has a fund to disburse money — anonymously — to help cover costs of medication, or help with rent or utility payments.
“We are living through the greatest opportunity in our lifetime to minister and witness,” Thie says. His bottom-line message: “Not only will God take care of you, but we want to help.”