800,000 Neighbors in Need: Churches Shine During Federal Shutdown


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Last Friday, 800,000 federal employees got their first news in about five weeks – President Donald Trump and Congress agreed to fund the federal government again, if only for three weeks. And while this is a welcome development to federal workers, there’s no denying that surviving more than a month without a paycheck has dealt a serious financial blow to employees and their communities. 

Until this temporary deal was struck, the news out of Washington has been discouraging at best. And for all we know, this news is just a nice three-week respite before another shutdown. 

However, as I write this, I find myself moved and filled with inspiration rather than despair. How could this be? With partisan bickering and tweet fights between politicians? It’s because I’ve seen how churches have stepped up to help federal workers in their communities during the shutdown. Churches know that these federal employees – people so unaccustomed to accepting help – need help, just as others in our communities do. 

Here are a few stories have been very heartening for me during a rather bleak moment:

A church in Alabama – where there are close to 40,000 federal workers – handed out $16,500 in grocery gift cards to furloughed employees. They were all gone in half an hour.

In Dallas, churches across the Metroplex helped federal workers in their communities with spiritual, financial and food assistance. 

In Mobile, Alabama, where there are many Coast Guard families, churches offered food and household supplies to those missing paychecks. As Episcopal Church of the Redeemer Priest Joy Blaylock told a local TV channel, “This is a focused, easy issue that we can get up and do something about right away.”

In Maryland, food banks worked together to provide food to families struggling through the shutdown. 

Even at my own small church in Minneapolis, a neighbor (not a member of our church) got in touch with us to ask if we knew any federal workers in the neighborhood who could use assistance. Our neighborhood association connected the donor to a member of our community who was in need after going a month without pay. 

These stories all show us one of the most wonderful things about giving at our churches: We don’t know what form of good our gifts will take. These are powerful reminders that although churches plan for certain giving events each year, and we trust our contributions will be used for good, we never truly know how our gifts will be manifest in our community. 

I know I plan to use these stories as I speak this year with churches about their giving plans and how they ask members to give. We can all learn from how these churches were ready to provide comfort during a period of unforeseen need. And we should all ask ourselves one question about our own churches: Are we prepared to help if the government shuts down again in three weeks? 

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