The partial government shutdown, the longest in U.S. history, has taken a toll on employees and families throughout America. But while many federal services were shuttered, churches stepped up to provide needed resources.
News stories, both local and national, highlighted the vital role of faith-based organizations during the shutdown, which began December 22. About 800,000 federal employees were either furloughed or working without pay, and ripple effects spread quickly. (Editor’s note: A deal to temporarily end the shutdown has just been reached.)
Government Closed, Church Open
Whether they’re responding to natural disasters or helping community members with expenses, churches remain a reliable institution during unreliable times. In fact, some people might argue that without the body of Christ and its many “hands and feet,” government shutdowns wouldn’t be possible.
“Churches are typically impacted first and worst by government shutdowns,” says Bishop Derek Grier of Grace Church in Dumfries, Virginia. He admits being surprised to discover that at least one of every three congregants was negatively affected by the political impasse. “I lost sleep that night thinking about what could be done to help the many families in need,” he says. “Grace is more than a church; it’s a family. And family must take care of family.” The church offered $500 interest-free emergency loans, as well as special Grace Grocery food services to impacted members.
Innovative Outreach Is Occurring Nationwide
In Anchorage, Alaska, pastors Caleb and Shayna Bialik of AK Joy Church delivered 180 meal boxes to the airport, where TSA agents are working without pay. “Just because they have a job and…they’ll get all that back pay doesn’t mean they have money now,” says Shayna Bialik. “Now is when they need food. Now is when they need help with the bills.”
This week, furloughed federal workers in Washington, D.C., could receive up to 10 free gallons of gas at Shiloh Baptist Church, thanks to the gas-delivery startup Filld. “It’s embarrassing that things like gas are now hard” to afford, says Filld co-founder Scott Hempy.
In San Antonio, Texas, Community Bible Church distributed $200 worth of gift cards to each of the airport’s 376 federal workers. That totals more than $75,000—an amount congregants donated in less than three days. Each employee also received a handwritten note of thanks for their hard work. “We’re in your corner,” Pastor Ed Newton told the workers. “We want to be the wind in your sails.”
For Some Churchgoers, Tables Are Turned
Christians accustomed to making donations are now discovering what it means to receive them. “Typically I’m in a position to be a blessing to other people, so this is a role switch for me,” says Mack Calhoun of Atlanta. The member of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church recently accepted some money contributed by fellow churchgoers. “I don’t know how long this shutdown is going to last,” he says, “and I don’t want to get behind in my bills.”
Also in Atlanta, the South Fulton Ministerial Alliance is planning a “Prayer, Praise & Plates” service to uplift and assist affected workers. Groceries, gas cards and transportation vouchers will be distributed.
Churches have “always worked together to respond to emergencies,” says Joe Beasley, a deacon at Antioch Baptist Church North.