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Utah churches buck national trend

Utah churches buck national trend



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SALT LAKE CITY -- Churches nationwide could be looking at dire financial straits a year after the stock market's biggest single day point loss.

A survey from the multi-faith research group, Faith Communities Today, took a snapshot of the financial picture for churches all over the country in 2008. Lead researcher David Roozen told the Associated Press he expects by 2010 that 10 or 15 percent of all congregations will say they're in serious financial trouble.

But much like Utah has been somewhat isolated from the larger financial troubles of the nation, with a lower than average unemployment rate, it would appear Utah's congregations, regardless of their faith, seem to be weathering the financial storm.

At St. Mark's Cathedral, an Episcopal church in downtown Salt Lake City, pledges or promised offerings are down slightly compared to what was expected for 2009 to date. But it may be made up for in the spontaneous giving that happens in the collection plate. St. Mark's dean, Father Rick Lawson, says year-to-date, he'd expect to have collected around $16,000 in plate offerings, but instead, the church has received more like $20,000.

"That's very encouraging that our people have looked and seen the need in the greater community," he said.

The Faith Communities Today survey also found active congregational numbers dwindling because people have either moved back home or taken jobs in other areas to make ends meet. But Father Lawson says he's seen more people turning to their faith to get them through a hard time. He compares it to the attendance bounce many faiths saw after the attacks of September 11, 2001, though on a smaller scale.

"We haven't seen a big number increase, but we have seen a few people coming to visit with us and try and find some meaning, when they seem to find a lot of hopelessness about them," he said.

One thing is for certain - the need is definitely up. St. Mark's runs the Hildegard's Pantry ministry, providing food to the hungry. On any given day, you'll see dozens of people lined up in hopes of finding food in front of the pantry, near 100 South and 200 East.

"When we started Hildegard's, we thought we might have about 280 people in the course of a month," Father Lawson says. "We're now serving, at times, over 280 people a day."

Still, he's proud of his congregation for stepping up to the offering plate, because despite their own financial troubles, the church has been able to sustain the Hildegard's Pantry ministry and make donations to the Crossroads Urban Center besides.

You can find the Faith Communities Today 2008 report online, here. For more information about Hildegard's Food Pantry, call 801-328-2303.

E-mail: bbruce@ksl.com

Becky Bruce

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