October 14, 2008

Poverty Fundraising Always ‘Big Surprise’

By Rob Johnson [email protected] 981-3234

Dicey economic conditions threaten to put a dent in special offerings at some churches, including collections for overseas ministries and the domestic poor, some pastors say.

One measure of how strong the current support is for such causes will surface Sunday, when the annual Communities Responding to Overcome Poverty walk in Roanoke counts its contributions. The money donated by sponsors of the 300 or so volunteer walkers isn't collected until registration, which starts an hour before the 2 p.m. event.

"It's always a big surprise," said the Rev. Ken Lane, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, one of about 30 congregations that organize the charity effort, which raised $22,000 last year.

Donations and pledges are welcome right up until the five-mile walk starts at First Presbyterian Church, at 2101 Jefferson St. S.W.

Lane said that 75 percent of the contributions are used to provide food through foreign missions; the rest goes to local poverty agencies for their fight against hunger.

Ironically, the feared drop in special donations comes at a time when they're needed more than ever, Lane said. "Locally we have increased demand on food pantries and emergency ministries because of the economy."

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Don't be surprised if the presidential campaign comes to your church in the last few weeks before the Nov. 4 election. Democrats in Southwest Virginia and other places are recruiting "Faith Captains" -- a strategy that helped Sen. Barack Obama win the Iowa caucuses earlier this year in a critical early boost to his candidacy.

Obama's "Faith Captains" are members of the congregation willing to approach others after church or during the week by phone on his behalf. There's a sign-up form available on his national Web site.

Not to be outflanked in the pews, Republicans are rallying religious voters in Southwest Virginia with a canvass called "Americans for Faith." The campaign's volunteers are talking up Sen. John McCain at church events and through phone banks.

If your vote has been solicited through a church-related organization, this column would like to hear from you on whether the lobbying was welcome and had any impact. Also, if your preacher has taken a public stand on the election, please contact reporter Rob Johnson at the phone number or e-mail address accompanying this article.

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An article in The Roanoke Times in September about the church trend toward theater seating and other types of chairs instead of traditional wooden pews brought a difference of opinion from Rachel Newhouse, a mom in Lexington.

"I understand the flexibility in using individual seats in a sanctuary but there is something comforting about pews in a church," she wrote in an e-mail.

Newhouse's experience with individual seats at a church when her family previously lived in Texas left this impression: "While the seats allowed a wide and comfy seating area, along with more room for passage between rows, they weren't very kid friendly. Young children sometimes had a hard time keeping the folding seat down and if a child fell asleep during the service it wasn't feasible for them to lay down across the seats."

Another complaint registered by Newhouse: There weren't any pockets on the backs of the seats -- similar to those on an airliner -- in her Texas church. So Bibles, purses and other items had to go either on the floor or be balanced on the edge of a seat that was upturned, which, she said, "usually resulted in the item falling off on the floor."

If you have opinions about church seating options, and experiences about them you want to share, please send an e-mail or call me.

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