Episcopal City Mission Blog

Monday, October 26, 2009

Reclaiming Christian Wisdom in an Economic Crisis

Rachel Anderson, the Director of Faith-Based Outreach, Center for Responsible Lending, Washington DC and former Associate Director for Public Policy and the Burgess Urban Fund at Episcopal City Mission, recently posted her thoughts on faith and the economic crisis on the Faith and Leadership Blog at Duke Divinity School.

Here is an excerpt:

Well before the September 2008 implosion of Lehman Brothers, pastors and priests sounded the alarm that something was rotten at the foundations of the American economy. As far back as 1992, religious investors warned that securitization (the process of pooling and re-selling loans to investors) would encourage unsustainable lending by separating the risks of credit from its benefits. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Catholic Archbishop of Washington, told Congress in 2002 that predatory lending was trapping families in high-cost loans, provoking foreclosures and loss of wealth for low-income households.

It was not just the Wall Street-watchers and social justice stalwarts like Cardinal McCarrick who suspected problems in the American economy. Throughout the 2000s, I knew many pastors who worried about ever-expanding consumer debt and an economy premised upon it. As Quaker author Parker Palmer wrote last year, those in tune with their “deeper knowing” had long sensed the coming economic tremors.

We know now that these concerns were all too prescient. The loans that religious investors and advocates warned about ultimately resulted in millions of foreclosures. These surging waves of foreclosure, in turn, triggered the massive losses and bank failures at the heart of the current financial crisis. Since the economic crisis began in 2007, over 4 million families have lost their homes to foreclosure. Another 9 million are expected to experience the same fate by 2012.

As common-sense as the warnings voiced by many in the religious community were, they differed sharply from much of the prevailing philosophy on Wall Street, where the whole business of debt had undergone transformation. Rather than collecting payments from homeowners over the life of a loan, banks and mortgage companies began making huge sums by bundling and re-selling mortgages to investors. This model encouraged unsustainable and even deceptive lending for the sake of short-term gains. Regulators – many of whom shared the culture and philosophy of the bankers they regulated – stayed silent. Few were asking the holistic question of whether the risks and benefits of credit were adequately shared. Even fewer were investigating the impact of new credit models on the most vulnerable, as Cardinal McCarrick did.

As Christians seek to turn their wisdom – which served as an early warning system – into a moral compass for the economic rebuilding ahead, here are some key ways to engage.....

Click here to read the rest of Rachel's post on the Faith and Leadership blog.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Ending homelessness with your help

On Friday Aug 28th I stood outside the ECM office in downtown Boston and watched as a hearse with Senator Ted Kennedy’s body passed us by. As the motorcade came down Tremont Street one of the homeless men who spends much of his time on the Common and in the general area of St. Paul’s Cathedral stood along with me and the hundreds of others, in respectful quiet for Kennedy. I couldn’t help but think how glad Kennedy would have been to see this man, who has suffered greatly in his life, standing there with others who are privileged; employed and housed, sending him off and saying thank you.

No matter what your political beliefs or your feelings about the Kennedy clan, we can all agree that Ted Kennedy did not live his life sitting down, he stood up and spoke out when he felt others needed his support and backing. Episcopal churches and many other faith communities across the state are doing just this by engaging in the work to end homelessness in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts, along with many other states is guilty of letting the crisis of homelessness overwhelm us into acceptance. As a state we have seen a HUGE increase in this crisis from the early 80’s when we only had a few emergency shelters, to today when we have over 90 shelters that are all full to capacity every night and over 1,000 people living in motels. We have watched the problem grow and instead of looking at the root causes and solutions, the state reacted with emergency supports and short term answers which resulted in an expanded shelter system costing the state over $80 million dollars a year, and a dying affordable housing program.

BUT this is all changing. In the last 3 years a movement to shift away from this shelter system and towards a system of prevention and long term solutions (like housing) has begun. From the Patrick administration to non-profit organizations to the foundation and funding community, the energy has changed.

We all agree that homelessness is a community crisis that we can abolish if we all stand up, speak out, and work together.

So many parishes run programs, operate facilities and provide volunteers to organizations across the state. Because of this we know it is essential for the faith community to be at the table as the state and organizations transition from a reliance on shelter to a new approach.

When talking to members of the faith community I have often been asked “How do we fit into this change? We want to help but in what way?”

The faith community is historically known to support essential emergency programs, like soup kitchens, food pantries, etc... The first step towards change is to think differently about how you operate your program. If you are offering a meal to a person who is on the brink of homelessness, you are providing them not only with a hot supper, but with the knowledge that they do not have to purchase that food, thus you have become a homeless prevention program as that person can now use that money to pay other bills. The same can be said for a food pantry or a free clothing shop. If you provide a meal to an individual who recently moved back into housing, whether recently released from incarceration or from a drug abuse program, in addition to the meal you are providing a community space and support for that person, helping stabilize him/her in their new environment.

Second, we need to ensure that the programs we operate are not stand alone, but part of a larger community wide support system for those in need. The key is to link up to other organizations and services happening in your area so that you are part of this community wide collaboration.

Recently ECM partnered with two other organizations to award faith based initiatives in 7 regions across the state. The goal of these grants is to ensure that the faith community is engaged in the work to end homelessness and that they are empowered to look at new ways to run their programs and offer resources to those in need.

If you are interested in learning how you can engage with the work happening in your community please email kcsimons@diomass.org or to learn more about the movement to end homelessness visit the state’s website for the Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness.

As members of the Episcopal Church we are called to help our neighbors and to engage in our community. We can help end this crisis, together.

Save the Date: Annual Meeting June 7, 2011

Keynote speaker The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop the Episcopal Church

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