Archive for September, 2009
Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 9:00pm
Saturday, October 10, 2009 at 5:00pm
Downtown Bay St. Louis
Saturday, October 3, 2009 at 10:00am
Sunday, October 4, 2009 at 6:00pm
Town Green Biloxi, Ms
Organized religion was already in trouble before the fall of 2008. Denominations were stagnating or shrinking, and congregations across faith groups were fretting about their finances.
The Great Recession made things worse.
It’s further drained the financial resources of many congregations, seminaries and religious day schools. Some congregations have disappeared and schools have been closed. In areas hit hardest by the recession, worshippers have moved away to find jobs, leaving those who remain to minister to communities struggling with rising, unemployment and uncertainty.
Religion has a long history of drawing hope out of suffering, but there’s little good news emerging from the recession. Long after the economy improves, the changes made today will have a profound effect on how people practice their faith, where they turn for help in times of stress and how they pass their beliefs to their children.
“In 2010, I think we’re going to see 10 or 15 percent of congregations saying they’re in serious financial trouble,” says David Roozen, a lead researcher for the Faith Communities Today multi-faith survey, which measures congregational health annually. “With around 320,000 or 350,000 congregations, that’s a hell of a lot of them.”
The sense of community that holds together religious groups is broken when large numbers of people move to find work or if a ministry is forced to close.
“I’m really still in the mourning process,” says Eve Fein, former head of the now-shuttered Morasha Jewish Day School in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.
The school, a center of religious life for students and their parents, had been relying on a sale of some of its property to stay afloat but land values dropped, forcing Morasha to shut down in June.
“I don’t think any of us who were in it have really recovered,” Fein says. “The school was 23 years old. I raised my kids there.”
The news isn’t uniformly bad. Communities in some areas are still moving ahead with plans for new congregations, schools and ministries, religious leaders say.
And many congregations say they found a renewed sense of purpose helping their suffering neighbors. Houses of worship became centers of support for the unemployed. Some congregants increased donations. At RockHarbor church in Costa Mesa, Calif., members responded so generously to word of a budget deficit that the church ended the fiscal year with a surplus.
“We’re all a little dumbfounded,” says Bryan Wilkins, the church business director. “We were hearing lots of stories about people being laid off, struggling financially and losing homes. It’s truly amazing.”
In the Great Depression, one of the bigger impacts was the loss of Jewish religious schools, which are key to continuing the faith from one generation to the next. , a Brandeis University historian and author of “American Judaism,” says enrollment in Jewish schools plummeted in some cities and many young Jews of that period didn’t have a chance to study their religion.
Today, some parents, regardless of faith, can no longer afford the thousands of dollars in tuition it costs to send a child to a religious day school. Church officials fear these parents won’t re-endroll their kids if family finances improve because it might be disruptive once they’ve settled into a new school.
Enrollment in one group of 120 Jewish community day schools is down by about 7 percent this academic year, according to Marc Kramer, executive director of RAVSAK, a network of the schools. A few schools lost as many as 30 percent of their students. Many of the hundreds of other Jewish day schools, which are affiliated with Reform, Conservative and Orthodox movements, are also in a financial crunch.
Kramer says 2009-10 will be a “make or break” year for Jewish education, partly because of the additional damage to endowments and donors from Bernard Madoff’s colossal fraud.
Overall, U.S. Jewish groups are estimated to have lost about one-quarter of their wealth.
“It’s going to be painful,” Kramer says. “There will be some losses.”
The Association for , which represents about 3,800 private schools, says enrollment is down nationally by nearly 5 percent. About 200 Christian schools closed or merged in the last academic year, 50 more than the year before.
At least 80 members of the Association of Theological Schools, which represents graduate schools in North America, have seen their endowments drop by 20 percent or more.
The National Catholic Education Association is still measuring the toll on its schools, but expects grim news from the hardest hit states, after years of declining enrollment.
“Some schools that were on the brink — this whole recession has just intensified that,” says Karen Ristau, president of the association.
Clergy in different communities say worship attendance has increased with people seeking comfort through difficult times, although no one is predicting a nationwide.
Americans for years have been moving away from belonging to a denomination and toward a general spirituality that may or may not involve regular churchgoing.
The 2008 American Religious Identification Survey found more people who call themselves “nondenominational Christians” and rising numbers who say they have no religion at all.
Before the stock market tanked last fall, only 19 percent of U.S. congregations described their finances as excellent, down from 31 percent in 2000, according to the 2008 Faith Communities Today poll.
Because of these trends, mainline Protestants were among the most vulnerable to the downturn. Their denominations had been losing members for decades and had been dividing over how they should interpret what the Bible says on gay relationships and other issues. National churches had been relying on endowments to help with operating costs, along with the generosity of an aging membership that had been giving in amounts large enough to mostly make up for departed brethren.
The meltdown destroyed that financial buffer.
The, the , the and other mainline denominations were forced to cut jobs and their national budgets.
The damage was felt across Methodist life. As of the summer, more than half of the church’s 62 U.S. regional districts, or annual conferences, reported they had budget deficits. Some sold property and buildings to continue their ministries. Two national Methodist boards cut more than 90 jobs. Fifty bishops took a voluntary pay cut. Annual conferences in hard-hit regions, such as Florida and Ohio, lost thousands of members as people moved to find work elsewhere.
“Many of these groups have such large endowments that they’re not going away,” Roozen says. “But I think there’s no question that they’re going to be smaller both as organizations and in membership.”
Roman Catholic dioceses for years had been struggling with maintaining their aging churches, paying salaries and health insurance and funding settlements over clergy sex abuse. With the hit to investment income and a drop in donations, they are now freezing salaries, cutting ministries and staff. The Archdiocese of Detroit, at the heart of the meltdown, had a $14 million shortfall in a $42 million budget in the fiscal year that ended in June 2008.
Conservative Protestant groups, known for their entrepreneurial spirit and evangelizing, were not immune. The 16.2 million-member Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant group in the country, has had budget cuts in its , at least three of its six seminaries and in its publishing and research arm.
Religious leaders say the next year or so will be key in determining which organizations survive the downturn intact. Even if the recession ends soon, religious fundraisers say the angst donors feel will not lift immediately, prolonging the difficulties for congregations, schools and ministries.
Wade Rathke A reawakening of labor pressure near Buenos Aires
Kraft Workers’ Case Prompts Protests, and Puts Leftist Government in a Dilemma as Ties to Unions Fail to Calm Demonstrations.
BUENOS AIRES — A labor battle at a Kraft Foods Inc. factory is causing disruption on the streets here and raising concerns about further union unrest at a time of economic distress.
Protesting what they call wrongful dismissals by the Northfield, Ill., food company, a group of Kraft workers had occupied the plant in a suburb of the Argentine capital for three weeks until they were forcibly removed by police executing a court order this past Friday.
The expulsion of the workers has sparked a series of street protests in recent days by the Kraft workers’ union and its supporters. The protests have snarled the capital’s traffic, in an echo of the turmoil that racked the city during Argentina’s 2001-02 economic collapse.
The labor unrest is a big headache for leftist President Cristina Kirchner at a time when Argentina’s unemployment and poverty are rising because of the global economic crisis. Official government statistics put unemployment at 8.8%, but private economists say it is closer to 11%. While official data put poverty at 13.9%, some economists say the true number easily surpasses 30%.
Street protests by unemployed workers — albeit much larger than the current demonstrations — contributed to the downfall of several governments that came before Mrs. Kirchner’s and that of her husband and predecessor, Néstor. But several years of economic growth, along with the Kirchners’ political adeptness, allowed the government to co-opt many union leaders, as well as leaders of groups of unemployed workers known as piqueteros.
In the case of Kraft, the workers on the plant floor seem to have peeled away from their pro-government union leaders. “Kraft is trapped involuntarily in a political conflict between the traditional union leadership and more radical, lower-level representatives,” said Federico Thomsen, an economic and political analyst in Buenos Aires.
That leaves Mrs. Kirchner’s leftist government in a dilemma, because she styles herself as a progressive and has been highly critical of the repressive measures against demonstrators taken by previous governments.
“The government fears that if you call in the police you can end up with deaths on your hands, so that fear prohibits the government from acting,” Mr. Thomsen said.
The conflict started in July, when Kraft workers sought paid leave and enhanced hygiene measures amid a burgeoning swine-flu epidemic, according to a Kraft spokesman. The spokesman says there were never any cases of the H1N1 flu at the plant, and the company took added hygienic measures. On July 3, workers surrounded Kraft’s administrative building and blocked 70 of its employees from leaving.
Kraft filed a criminal claim against the workers and eventually decided to fire 156 employees it says were involved in the matter. The factory has a total of 2,700 employees.
Union members say Kraft owed the employees severance packages, while the company says it was legally justified in firing them without benefits. The company has since offered severance packages to 70 of those workers. Workers occupied and almost completely shut down Kraft’s factory for three weeks until police forced them out last week.
Argentine businesses are afraid other unions might follow the example of those at Kraft. “We’re worried about this,” said Hector Mendez, head of the Argentine Industrial Union, a business group, in a radio interview on Tuesday. “These radical groups aren’t doing any good for anybody. People are extremely irritated and there’s an enormous amount of tension.”
The U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires said it had been in touch with the government on the matter, though it wasn’t involved in negotiations.
In a statement, the embassy said it “supports the full application of labor rights and protections, as well as respect for property rights. The embassy is pleased that the Kraft plant is now operating again.”
U.S. companies employ 155,000 Argentine workers, the embassy said.
I am a normal 14-year-old and can say I’m no angel. I have a question. Do adults remember what it was like to be a teenager?
Whenever I make a mistake or get in trouble, I’m told how they had never been so stupid or would never do that to their parents. Yet I’ve heard stories from my grandparents about things my parents did at my age, and by comparison, I am nearly perfect.
I know raising a teenager is hard on them, but so often it feels adults simply don’t understand what we’re going through. They’ve forgotten what it was like to need a sense of belonging, to “fit in.” Instead, they think we’re bad if we don’t do everything asked of us. When I am an adult, I don’t want to forget what it was like to be a teenager and do this to my kids. What do you think? — Confused, Annoyed Teen
We think your parents remember only too well what it was like at your age and don’t want you to make the same mistakes. They look back and see how lucky they were to escape with all their necessary parts intact.
Those things that annoy you are your parents’ way of protecting you and teaching you how to behave in the adult world. It’s their job. You are expected to bristle at the restrictions and what you consider unrealistic expectations, and if your parents are overly protective, we agree it can be difficult. The best way to navigate these complicated years is to find a way to communicate honestly and respectfully with your parents so they’ll listen and understand you better.
Please send questions to,Annie’s Mailbox, P.O. Box 118190, Chicago, IL 60611.
Jury may get defamation case today
A WLOX news comment in 2006 that no record was found of a contractor’s license on a state Web site was worded properly, news anchor Jeff Lawson testified Tuesday in a defamation trial.
“It’s attribution,” Lawson said under cross-examination.
The comment in question is part of a lawsuit alleging an “action report” about H&H Construction Co. damaged its reputation and business.
The company claims a story by reporter A.J. Giardina misled the public into believing H&H was not licensed, performed shoddy work and walked off a homebuilding job because the company allegedly wanted more money.
Giardina had interviewed a property owner who had complaints about H&H. Giardina was unable to find the company name on the Mississippi State Board of Contractors’ Web site before the news story aired. WLOX later learned H&H is licensed in the name of Gerald “Heath” Hudson of Moss Point. Hudson said he is co-owner with his father, Arthur “Gerald” Hudson, of Lucedale.
“He did it the right way,” Lawson said. “If A.J. says he did not find a record, that does not mean (the contractor) is not licensed.”
WLOX ran a follow-up report five nights later that included the Hudsons’ side of the story.
Attorney Henry Laird, defending WLOX, questioned several station employees Tuesday, including Giardina. Giardina said the Hudsons declined to be interviewed on camera for both reports, but they agreed to let Heath Hudson’s wife, Jennifer, speak on camera in the follow-up report.
“They said what they wanted to say,” Giardina said. “It was accurate.”
Natalie Campen, WLOX executive producer said the news station aims to be “fair, accurate and get both sides of a story, sometimes more than two sides.”
Wayne Fairley of Vancleave is the property owner and general contractor who asked for the “action report.”
The Hudsons said Fairley refused to make weekly payments two weeks in a row. In a letter dated July 14, 2005, the Hudsons stated the contract would be voided if Fairley didn’t pay what he owed.
Fairley hired the Hudsons’ subcontractor to complete the framing job he had started under their contract.
News anchor Rebecca Powers is expected to testify this morning before the defense rests its case.