Churches

Annalisa Musarra 3-22-2012
Collection plate and bible, Wellford Tiller, Shutterstock.com

Collection plate and bible, Wellford Tiller, Shutterstock.com

WASHINGTON--Even as membership remains relatively stable in U.S. churches, the effects of the recession have caused contributions to drop by $1.2 billion.

According to the 2012 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches, the almost $29 billion contributed by church members represented a 2.2 percent decrease in terms of per capita giving.

The $1.2 billion decline in 2010 was nearly three times as large as the $431 million in losses reported in 2009, and "provides clear evidence of the impact of the deepening crises in the reporting period," the Yearbook's editor, the Rev. Eileen Lindner, wrote.

The Yearbook is produced annually by the National Council of Churches and is considered one of the most authoritative sources of church membership. The 2010 figures, released Tuesday (March 20), were collected from 228 U.S. denominations in 2011.

the Web Editors 2-10-2012

The Obama Administration announced earlier today a change to its policy regarding conscience exemptions and contraception coverage for faith based organizations.

Sojourners released the following statement:

We applaud the Obama Administration’s decision to respond to the concerns of many in the faith community around respecting religious liberty. This compromise respects the conscience concerns of those persons and institutions opposed to the use of contraception while still allowing greater access to those services for women who seek it. Expanded access to contraception is important for women’s health and is a key part of our country’s efforts to prevent unintended pregnancies and thereby reduce abortions.

Christian Piatt 1-19-2012
The Devil Inside movie poster.

The Devil Inside movie poster.

This is a touchy subject for me, as I am a strong advocate of bringing cultural criticism and dialogue into the church, and I’m equally supportive of churches having frank forums where they deal with issues of sex and sexuality. But there is a distinct, if not fine, line between stretching a church to be relevant and jumping on the latest trend simply to draw attention to yourself.

Yes, I know religious institutions are collectively flipping out about the decreasing number of attendees and increased number of church closures. The fact is that some churches will do the world more good once closed than they’re doing today. This is not to say they’re doing active harm (though I’m sure some are), but rather that the tireless, copious use of resources – both human and financial – to prop up dying institutions is to point to one’s self rather than toward God. We get hung up on the idea that the former is a necessary means to the latter end, but not necessarily. Like a fallow field, sometimes it’s best to take what is left, turn it into the ground and allow it to be reborn into something entirely new.

Jack Palmer 12-14-2011

Person Of The Year - The Protester; Newt Gingrich's Vision For The Impoverished -- A Reflection Of Our Values (OPINION); Teaching About HIV/AIDS In The Church; Catholic Bishops: Don’t Treat Illegal Immigrants As Criminals; Christianity 2.0; Keystone Pipeline A Tough Decision For Obama; How Many Innocent People Are In Prison?

Carrie Adams 12-02-2011

Social Muddle: Business, Justice, and the Gospel are Already Social; Obama Refers to His Christian Faith During National Tree Lighting Ceremony; Fount of Blessing, Fount of Youth: Age and the American Church; One-Third of Shelter Residents Are Newly Homeless; U.S. Unemployment Rate Falls to Lowest Level in Nearly Three Years; Gingrich Says Poor Children Have No Work Habits; For Afghan Woman, Justice Runs Into Unforgiving Wall of Custom.

Jack Palmer 11-17-2011

As Injured Vets Return Home, Churches Reach Out. Occupy Wall Street Gears Up For The Big Day. Faith Overtones In Occupy Protests But Leaders Wary. OpEd: How The First Amendment Got Hijacked. Religious Groups Offer Help To Evicted Protesters. OpEd: What Happens When A Seminary Is Occupied? Religious Voices Loud And Clear At Keystone XL Protests. Iowa Scientists Ask Candidates To Acknowledge Climate Change. And Below The Line: Portraits Of American Poverty.

the Web Editors 10-31-2011

golden calf
Abuse at Afghan Prisons. How Catholic Conservatives could turn the GOP presidential race. OpEd: Jesus would not #OccupyWallStreet. OWS is "largely secular." Religious leaders see immigration as "God's Call." OpEd: Alabama new immigration law has unintended consequences. OpEd: Wall Street Worship. Could 2012 be the most ideological election in years? And much more.

Cathleen Falsani 10-04-2011

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The U.S. Supreme Court is set to begin hearing oral arguments this week in one of the most important church-state cases in decades. In Hosanna-Tabor Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the court will consider whether a Lutheran school in Michigan is subject to a federal law banning discrimination based on a disability.

animal blessingThis weekend and on St. Francis Day (Oct. 4) some churches are having services for the blessing of animals. The following new hymn can be used.

the Web Editors 9-30-2011
UPDATES: Earlier today (Friday, Sept. 30), the Iranian Embassy in the U.K. issued the following statement regarding Pastor Nadarkhani:
Lisa Sharon Harper 9-30-2011
Dear Herman, On September 28, you actually called African-Americans "brainwashed" for their support of the Democratic Party.
Margaret Benefiel 9-06-2011

Yesterday, the U.S. and Canada celebrated Labor Day, a day honoring workers. What does it mean to honor workers at a time of high unemployment, job insecurity, and the threat of lay-offs? In the U.S., the unemployment rate remains just over 9 percent, with no decrease of the rate in August and the recovery of jobs apparently stalled. As President Obama prepares to deliver his "jobs speech" this week, he faces immense challenges.

In the U.S., the first celebration of Labor Day was held in 1882 in New York City, organized by the Central Labor Union. In Canada, Labor Day can be traced back even further, to when Toronto Typographers went on strike for a 58-hour work week in 1872. Religious leaders, both nationally and internationally, recognizing the sanctity of labor, joined labor leaders in calling for justice for workers. Pope Leo XIII, for example, issued Rerum Novarum (On the Condition of Labor) in 1891, building a biblical foundation for the dignity of the worker.

Cathleen Falsani 9-02-2011

110902_liberateeden"The man who can articulate the movements of his inner life," the late Christian apologist and author Henri Nouwen said, "need no longer be a victim of himself, but is able slowly and consistently to remove the obstacles that prevent the spirit from entering."

Throughout the ages, how Christian believers have chosen to articulate their inner lives has had many manifestations in literature, music, architecture, and other artistic endeavors.

As a means of communicating and wrestling with his inner life -- his journey of faith -- Greg Fromholz, an American expatriate youth worker for the Church of Ireland in Dublin, wrote a book titled Liberate Eden, but traditional publishing houses found that his work was a bit too iconoclastic for their tastes.

"It is just too different to be Christian," one publisher pronounced.

Julie Clawson 8-22-2011

Earlier this summer I attended a church service where the pastor, a man struggling with what appears to be his final bout with cancer, preached about the hope that Jesus promises to those who trust in him. After describing the returning Jesus brandishing a sword and dripping with the blood of all our vanquished enemies, he invited the audience to share what they saw as the hope that this Jesus promises. The responses ranged from no cancer, to no pain, to no worries about paying the bills, to the promise of an upgraded body -- all of course in heaven someday after we die. The congregation was encouraged to find contentment in the present from the possibility of realizing these promises someday. Our souls are what matter; the body just has to endure until our souls reach heaven. No mention of help with how to pay this month's rent or what it means for a cancer-ridden body to be the temple of the Holy Spirit, just the spiritual promise that someday all will be well.

Julie Clawson 8-16-2011

So NPR just released the results of their survey for the "Top 100 Science-fiction and Fantasy Books." It's a great list with some of my all-time favorite books on it (although I disagree with their decision not to include young adult books on the list, but that's just me). Some 5,000 books were nominated for the list, but the ones that made the top 100 were mostly ones that were more than just entertaining stories; they are the stories that mean something. Stories that through their imaginings of alternative worlds tap into the power of the prophetic to deliver the message that our world too is not absolute, but imagined and therefore capable of change.

Now, while I have complained in the past about why imaginative challenges to oppressive orders in our world only seem to happen in speculative fictions, the genre still remains my favorite -- often for that very reason. As this recent comparison of women of sci-fi vs. women of prime time shows, there are just so many more substantial ways of being in the world than the status quo generally allows for. Speculative fictions not only present the possibility that the dreams we struggle for now could someday actually be realities, they are also the prophetic voice calling us into that world.

Many people remember "O God, Our Words Cannot Express," a hymn written on the afternoon of September 11, 2001. The hymn was quickly shared by email and Web postings (it is still on over 10,000 websites); it was used by many churches on that evening and in the days that followed. The hymn was featured in newspaper stories, radio programs, twice on national PBS-TV, and on BBC-TV in the United Kingdom. YouTube has the Church World Service music video by Emmy winner Pete Staman of this hymn being sung by Noel Paul Stookey (of "Peter, Paul & Mary") with the Northfield Mount Herman School Choir.

The new posting of this interfaith hymn includes a revised version for the 10th anniversary. Also included is "God, We've Known Such Grief and Anger", a hymn lifting up Christian hope in the face of disaster that was written for the first year anniversary of 9/11. Last week I wrote a new hymn for the tenth anniversary of September 11 with an emphasis on working for peace and justice for all.

Eugene Cho 8-09-2011

Some sources have stated that more than 12 million people are being impacted by the worst drought and famine in the region of the Horn of Africa in 60 years.

12 million people.

How do you wrap your head around such a number?

12,000,000

You begin with one.

The World Food Programme, for example, has shared that they can provide a nutritious meal for one person for .17

Margaret Benefiel 8-05-2011

In Galatians 5:19-20, Paul lists the "works of the flesh," contrasting them to the "fruit of the Spirit" immediately thereafter (Gal. 5:22-23). Among the works of the flesh are hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, and division. Another translation puts it, "People become enemies and they fight; they become jealous, angry, and ambitious. They separate into parties and groups ... I warn you now as I have before: those who do these things will not possess the kingdom of God."

Andrew Simpson 8-04-2011

When the Alabama legislature passed their infamous, anti-immigrant law (HB 56), the religious community in the state immediately cried foul. Jim Wallis and other national leaders condemned the law as unjust and immoral.

HB 56, which will go into effect September 1, attacks virtually every aspect of immigrants' lives. Among many punitive measures, it authorizes police to detain anyone they suspect is undocumented, mandates criminal penalties for those who transport undocumented migrants, and demands that public schools determine the immigration status of all students.

Eugene Cho 7-15-2011

1100715-circleofprotectionSeveral weeks ago (right before I left for my sabbatical), I joined with six other pastors from around the country -- in partnership with Sojourners -- to draft an open letter to Congress and President Barack Obama regarding the budget and the proposals to cut certain programs that aid the poor in our country. Our hope was to invite at least 1,000 pastors to join us in signing this document.

As of today, we've had nearly 5,000 pastors and Christian leaders from all 50 states join us in signing this open letter, and we hope to keep adding voices and signatures. As a pastor and Christian leader will you add your voice to let our political leaders know that you stand with the poor?

Read the letter below and if you resonate with our message, please sign your name.

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