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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Economic disruption and an evolving church

Hard times pull to front new ways to consider church's work

On Nov. 5, 2009, I joined the ranks of 14 million laid-off Americans. My household's hastily revised pledge forms, reflecting a two-thirds loss of income, resulted in a reduction of $7,000 in undesignated offerings (tithe) to the two congregations my family supports. Then there were the gifts, which suddenly we could no longer afford.

In my example (see right), one person entering unemployment in 2009 meant an annual loss of approximately $10,685 in giving/lending to ELCA institutions and ministries.

Because my spouse is a rostered leader, his congregation picked up the additional burden for our health insurance. That resulted in another $3,000, or 3 percent of the budget, drawn from dwindling reserves of a renewing congregation already in a race against time.

Because I happen to be a laid-off rostered leader, Portico Benefit Services (formerly ELCA Board of Pensions) is not accumulating contributions for me that will also be the basis for my 2023 tithe in retirement.

All of which brings the economic impact of my layoff to the ELCA closer to $18,000 annually, with a compounding future.

I don't know how many of the millions losing jobs or homes are ELCA Lutherans, tithers and gifters. But this exercise illustrates the effect job loss, housing insecurity, and the sharp decrease in investment and retirement income has had on ELCA budgets across the church's three interdependent expressions. It's not difficult to see the necessity for steep reductions in and the loss of:

• Personnel in churchwide offices, synods and congregations — dedicated, paid expertise to spark, direct, inspire, administer and support mission/ministry.

• Program support — grants or gifts to "goods" such as campus ministries, colleges, seminaries and outdoor ministries that have been considered held in common and supported by all three expressions.

Image Copyright Binkski, 2011. Used • Major cooperative campaigns — reduced in scope to assure our commitment to our companion churches and organizations across the nation and globe.

The spiraling effect of the Great Recession and its fallout is clearly illustrated in my study: less offerings given locally, less ability to increase or maintain percentages of mission support, and less mission supported in the ways to which we have become accustomed through dollars and expertise at congregational, synodical and national levels.

It doesn't take an economic genius to see how the ELCA as an interdependent organism has been impacted by the ripples and whirlpools of economic downturn.


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