Another week of better late than never. Sigh. Hopefully, this won't continue for too much longer.
The other day, a friend of mine mused in her facebook status message that it feels more like we're in a depression than a recession, and many folks had to tough out the winter with lose-lose prospects, like having to choose between the mortgage/rent or the heating bill. At first, it doesn't pinch that much, but if you can't catch up in the cycle, the cycle catches up to you.
Or, more likely, someone in your congregation. As one of our number queried:
A family I know is putting on a good front at church but I know they are at the edge of becoming homeless. How can churches minister with those suffering from economic problems in this current time? What has been done before?
There aren't easy answers, say the matriarchs. Sometimes people are too proud to ask for help, and even less amenable to receiving it. As Jan says, "In a perfect world, churches happily circle the wagons around a family like this without any embarrassment or shame or awkwardness. But we still live in a world where everything is 'fine' when it's not, and instead of being free to share real life with each other, we still keep up a good front because of pride or the need to appear to be 'successful' in every way." All of the matriarchs noted that they, too, see the hard times pressing down on more people.
Some advice from them, then:
Our congregation has a fund for emergencies whether the emergency is a transient with rent needs or a church member who can't afford to go to her grandmother's funeral across the country. Is it possible to gather a small group of loving, supportive church friends to cover the needs of this family for the next three months? You could call it the Acts 2:44 Team or something (less dorky) than that. "One-anothering" is an essential part of being the church together (love one another - John 13:3; serve one another - Gal. 5:13; comfort one another - I Thess. 4:18, etc. etc.)
We have a family in crisis in our congregation and someone has anonymously agreed to cover their mortgage for the next year. It makes me want to weep. This is what the church is all about.
This is a good question for these times. I can only begin to imagine the anxieties for each of you: those in need, you, and the church members. Start by finding out what your resources are, and then make use of them. Often people will help naturally once they know, though not always though.
We are helping a family who has long-term medical issues. So far, we've had fund-raisers for them, advocated for them, and helped them affordable
housing in addition to pastoring them.
I would suggest a handful of ways to minister to them, none of which would necessarily provide a concrete solution for their problem.
1 - Pray for them. Definitely yourself, but also as a community if they are willing for their situation to be known. If they don't want the entire church to know of their difficulties (which the phrase "putting on a good front" suggests), then perhaps they would be willing for a small prayer group or Bible study group to know and to pray for them.
2 - Refer them to resources in the community. Obviously, certain agencies and resources are available for any individual, but sometimes churches have better connections, stronger networks, or access to resources that individuals won't. Investigate agencies that help with employment and/or housing, and go with the family yourself to some of the places that seem likely to help them get assistance they might need.
3 - Offer funds from your discretionary/benevolence fund. I do not think money from the church will solve their problem, though money is likely what they feel they need most. Whatever you might be able to help them with is not likely to keep them in their house. But a small amount might still help them in some critical way, and mostly it is a tangible indicator of your concern. When I have known of a family or individual in our congregation who is struggling financially, I have sometimes written a check for $250 or $300 to them, even if they haven't requested financial help. (Our disbursements from this fund are always confidential.) The amount is too small to "fix" their situation, but it is enough to help them in some important way, and most of all it helps them know they are not alone.
4 - Be a good listener and friend. They need economic stability, job security, and to stay in their home. Chances are that you and your church cannot provide those things for them, though you may be able to assist them in finding the resources to make those things possible. What the church can provide is companionship and care. They need to be assured of their ongoing place in the community regardless of their financial or housing status. They need good friends who will listen to them as they express their anxiety and grief over what is happening. They may need people in the church to step up and offer them temporary shelter. The church cannot fix their financial problems, but the church can certainly be a refuge for them, and part of that ought to rightfully mean that someone opens their home to them if it comes to that. If the family will allow you to let others in the congregation know of their plight, you might be surprised with what your church members will come up with by way of concrete response.