|Rising fuel prices force choice between gas, church|
The rising cost of fuel is affecting discretionary travel of
all kinds, including church attendance and participation in charitable
activities. UMNS photos by Mike DuBose.
By Linda Green*
Oct. 6, 2008
Attendance is down, giving is down and the budget is low at
both First United Methodist and Greens Creek United Methodist churches
in Dublin, Texas.
“People have slacked off of coming to church and attending
meetings due to high gas prices,” says the Rev. Cathy Mordecai, the
pastor of both congregations. The food pantry has given more assistance
than before and members of the church and community are calling on the
church to help pay household expenses. “We are struggling. People are
having a time making ends meet,” she says.
The two Texas churches are not the only ones affected by high gas
prices. Many people across the country are choosing between putting gas
in the car to attend church or putting food on the table.
A U.S. flag flies above an oil refinery
"This is not good news for many of the ways we have currently
come to understand and construct our lives and ministries as
congregations, and particularly as worshiping communities," says the
Rev. Taylor Burton-Edwards, director of worship resources at the United
Methodist Board of Discipleship. "It is a serious challenge and one we
must begin seriously to engage."
United Methodists must remember that since the church is the body of
Christ, "gathering in real time and at the same places, including for
worship, is non-negotiable," he says.
Rising gas prices are prompting church members to make
trade-offs, such as continuing to travel to church but reducing
financial contributions, or attending church less often but continuing
their current rate of contributions.
The trade-off also includes missing meetings, missing
choir rehearsals, dropping out of choir, attending worship less
frequently or finding a new church to attend that is closer to home,
said Dean McIntyre, the agency's director of music resources.
The church is the body of Christ "wherever we are, wherever we
go, wherever God sends us," Burton-Edwards says. This means that
the members are not "only" the body of Christ when a large percentage of
a congregation gathers for worship on Sunday morning.
"We are the body of Christ individually, in
one-on-one conversations, in small groups, in larger groups, and in
worshiping communities that gather as many of us at the same time at the
same place as possible," he says.
While various types of digital media can help people communicate with
one another, "we can't be together only in those ways and be fully the
body of Christ we are called and made by God to be," he adds.
The impact of escalating costs is critical to people who have to
drive long distances to attend worship, church meetings and other
Seminary students who are in the middle of performing fieldwork
requirements at United Methodist-related Candler School of Theology in
Atlanta “are doing what needs to be done by being creative and
cooperative,” says Alice Rogers, Emory’s director of contextual
education and the teaching parish program. She had expected to hear
complaints from the students about having to drive to their assignments,
group meeting and classes, but the students have used ingenuity to get
things done, she says.
In a personal reflection, McIntyre says he lives 15 miles from
the church he attends, and during the week, he averages three roundtrips
for worship, meetings and choir practice. The 90 miles per week equals
$18.14 in gas. The cost would be much higher if a person drives an SUV,
uses a higher grade of gas or makes more trips to the church during the
week, he says.
His monthly gas cost for going to and from the church is
approximately $75. Before the end of the summer, some people were paying
$90 and above for gas that reached $5 per gallon, and in the early days
of fall, gas shortages and higher prices took a toll on budgets.
"For some members of your church, $75 or $90 a month (or more) to go
to church is a sizable amount of money, perhaps even enough to keep them
from attending," McIntyre says.
Suggestions for coping
Speaking from the church musician's perspective, McIntyre offers
choral and music directors suggestions to help ease the gasoline burdens
for choir members.
He advises scheduling choir rehearsals on the same evenings, putting
together as many rehearsals in one evening as possible and arranging a
family style, catered meal. "Not a potluck," he says.
"For some members of your church, $75 or
$90 a month (or more) to go to church is a sizable amount of money,
perhaps even enough to keep them from attending."Another possibility is
to arrange rehearsals before and after Sunday worship services, or have
an extended worship service every other week. He suggests giving choirs
a vacation and use soloists, instrumentalists and ensembles or others
for worship services. Other considerations include carpooling for choir
members who live in the same areas and asking parents to take a week
carpooling children from school, to rehearsal and home, he says.
– Dean McIntyre
Churches are going to lose members unless they are "proactive about
creating ways to strengthen their connections," Burton-Edwards says. He
also notes that the discretionary funds people had to give to church,
charities and non-profit organizations are decreasing. To compensate,
churches will decrease expenses in areas not critical to mission and
increase their mission areas.
Churches that financially depend on members who live far beyond the
boundaries of the church's location will be seriously challenged,
Burton-Edwards says. He advises churches to establish an electronic
withdrawal system so people do not have to be in church to give. Or to
"consider the possibility of returning to the ancient Christian and
earlier Methodist model of collecting an offering in worship
specifically for the poor each week, and in connection with Holy
Communion, rather than or in addition to a weekly offering for the local
and missional expenses of the congregation."
While rising gas prices are challenging daily lives, Burton-Edwards
says, United Methodists should "respond with creativity, courage, and
joy in the face of the opportunities for witness and service God will
open before us in changed circumstances, and not cling fearfully and
defensively to all of the ways we have known in our lifetimes until
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Linda Green, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
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