Tuesday, December 16, 2008

As economy worsens, churches fill up in U.S.

Saya tersengeh(bukan gembira) bila baca berita ini, orang2 Kristian di US mula membanjiri gereja-gereja lantaran desakan hidup akibat Krisis ekonomi yang melanda. Lebih lagi ia berlaku di kawasan-kawasan mewah. Malah ada yang mengatakan tidak pernah setenang ini.

Apa yang berlaku ini adalah contoh manifestasi gharizatul tadayyun (yang saya dah ceritakan dalam posting sebelum ini). Adalah perkara yang lumrah, gharizatul tadayyun manusia akan naik apabila gharizatul baqa’nya tertekan. Senang kata, bila dah susah baru nak ingat tuhan. Naluri pada dasarnya mampu terpenuh walaupun dipenuhi dengan jalan yang salah. Tetapi ketenangan hakiki hanya penyembahan kepada Allah swt.

Saudara-saudara2 bacalah ye… 

International Herald Tribune
By Paul Vitello
Published: December 14, 2008

The sudden crush of worshipers packing the small evangelical Shelter Rock Church in Manhasset, New York - a Long Island town of yacht clubs and hedge fund managers - forced the pastor to set up an overflow room with closed-circuit TV and 100 folding chairs, which have been filled for six consecutive Sundays.
In Seattle, the Mars Hill Church, one of the fastest-growing evangelical churches in the country, grew to 7,000 members this fall, up 1,000 in a year. At the Life Christian Church in West Orange, New Jersey, prayer requests have doubled - almost all of them aimed at getting or keeping jobs.

Like evangelical churches around the United States, the three churches have enjoyed steady growth over the past decade. But since September, pastors nationwide say they have seen such a burst of new interest that they find themselves contending with powerful conflicting emotions - deep empathy and quiet excitement - as they re-encounter an old piece of religious lore:
Bad times are good for evangelical churches.
"It's a wonderful time, a great evangelistic opportunity for us," said the Reverend A.R. Bernard, founder and senior pastor of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, New York's largest evangelical congregation, where regulars are arriving earlier to get a seat. "When people are shaken to the core, it can open doors."
Nationwide, congregations large and small are presenting programs of practical advice for people in fiscal straits - from a homegrown series on "Financial Peace" at a Midtown Manhattan church called the Journey, to the "Good Sense" program developed at the 20,000-member Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, and now offered at churches all over the country.

Many ministers have for the moment jettisoned standard sermons on marriage and the Beatitudes to preach instead about the theological meaning of the downturn.
The Jehovah's Witnesses, who moved much of their door-to-door evangelizing to the night shift 10 years ago because so few people were home during the day, returned to daylight witnessing this year. "People are out of work, and they are answering the door," said a spokesman, J.R. Brown.

Bernard plans to start 100 prayer groups next year, using a model conceived by the pastor Rick Warren, to "foster spiritual dialogue in these times" in small gatherings around the city.

A recent spot check of some large Roman Catholic parishes and mainline Protestant churches around the nation indicated attendance increases there, too. But they were nowhere near as striking as those reported by congregations describing themselves as evangelical, a term generally applied to churches that stress the literal authority of Scripture and the importance of personal conversion, or being "born again."
Part of the evangelicals' new excitement is rooted in a communal belief that the big Christian revivals of the 19th century, known as the second and third Great Awakenings, were touched off by economic panics. Historians of religion do not buy it, but the notion "has always lived in the lore of evangelism," said Tony Carnes, a sociologist who studies religion.

A study last year may lend some credence to the legend. In "Praying for Recession: The Business Cycle and Protestant Religiosity in the United States," David Beckworth, an assistant professor of economics at Texas State University, looked at long-established trend lines showing the growth of evangelical congregations and the decline of mainline churches and found a more telling detail: During each recession cycle between 1968 and 2004, the rate of growth in evangelical churches jumped 50 percent. By comparison, mainline Protestant churches continued their decline during recessions, though a bit more slowly.

The little-noticed study began receiving attention from some preachers in September, when the stock market began its free fall. With the swelling attendance they were seeing, and a sense that worldwide calamities come along only once in an evangelist's lifetime, the study has encouraged some to think big.

"I found it very exciting, and I called up that fellow to tell him so," said the Reverend Don MacKintosh, a Seventh-day Adventist and religious broadcaster in California who contacted Beckworth a few weeks ago after hearing word of his paper from another preacher. "We need to leverage this moment, because every Christian revival in this country's history has come off a period of rampant greed and fear. That's what we're in today - the time of fear and greed."
Frank O'Neill, 54, a manager who lost his job at Morgan Stanley this year, said the "humbling experience" of unemployment made him cast about for a more personal relationship with God than he was able to find in the Catholicism of his youth. In joining the Shelter Rock Church on Long Island, he said, he found a deeper sense of "God's authority over everything - I feel him walking with me."

The sense of historic moment is underscored especially for evangelicals in New York who celebrated the 150th anniversary last year of the Fulton Street Prayer Revival, one of the major religious resurgences in America. Also known as the Businessmen's Revival, it started during the Panic of 1857 with a noon prayer meeting among traders and financiers in Manhattan's financial district.

Over the next few years, it led to tens of thousands of conversions in the United States and inspired the volunteerism movement behind the founding of the Salvation Army, said the Reverend McKenzie Pier, president of the New York City Leadership Center, an evangelical pastors' group that marked the anniversary with a three-day conference at the Hilton New York. "The conditions of the Businessmen's Revival bear great similarities to what's going on today," he said. "People are losing a lot of money."

But why the evangelical churches seem to thrive especially in hard times is a Rorschach test of perspective.

For some evangelicals, the answer is obvious. "We have the greatest product on earth," said the Reverend Steve Tomlinson, senior pastor of the Shelter Rock Church.
Beckworth, a macroeconomist, posited another theory: though expanding demographically since becoming the nation's largest religious group in the 1990s, evangelicals as a whole still tend to be less affluent than members of mainline churches, and therefore depend on their church communities more during tough times, for material as well as spiritual support. In good times, he said, they are more likely to work on Sundays, which may explain a slower rate of growth among evangelical churches in nonrecession years.

Monsignor Thomas McSweeney, who writes columns for Catholic publications and appears on MSNBC as a religion consultant, said the growth is fed by evangelicals' flexibility. In a cascading financial crisis, he said, a pastor can discard a sermon prescribed by the liturgical calendar and directly address the anxiety in the air.
But a recession also means fewer dollars in the collection basket.

"We are at the front end of a $10 million building program," said the Reverend Terry Smith, pastor of the Life Christian Church in West Orange. "Am I worried about that? Yes. But right now, I'm more worried about my congregation."

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