News

Rural Churches Grapple with a Pastor Exodus

Time magazine reports that America's rural churches are fading even faster than America's rural areas, as it becomes increasingly difficult to attract and keep a pastor in sparsely populated areas.

According to Trace Haythorn, president of the nonprofit Fund for Theological Education (FTE), fewer than one half of rural churches have a "full-time seminary-trained pastor." That figure can drop to as low as 1 in 5 in some areas of the Midwest.

Pastors fresh out of seminary are turning in ever greater numbers to the suburbs, where they can more easily find a salary that will help clear their debt. Dwindling congregations in rural areas simply can't sustain the normal starting salary $35,000 a year for a pastor. "It's a religious crisis, for sure," says Daniel Wolpert, pastor of First Presbyterian in Crookston, Minn. "And to the extent that these churches are anchoring institutions, it's a crisis of community."

Religion Today Summaries

Recession: Bad for Missions or Good?

"If we were to cut back on something, it would never be missions and benevolence," said Trey Morgan, minister for the Childress, Texas, Church of Christ.

For now, the Childress church is surpassing its weekly budget, Morgan said. But congregations feeling the crunch of the economic slowdown also are determined to continue funding domestic and international missions, church leaders told The Christian Chronicle. To cope with the possibility of declining contributions, some churches plan to change the way they fund mission work.

In Antioch, Calif., for example, the Eastside Church of Christ is tightening its budget for 2009, said Rick Johnson, worship and body life minister. Instead of cutting programs, the church plans to fund some of its mission work and benevolence programs through special contributions in addition to the weekly budget.

Contributions have remained strong at the South Knoxville Church of Christ in Tennessee, said J.L. Steele, a deacon in charge of benevolence. The church has assisted churches in two small towns in Honduras for several years, and is raising funds to help one Honduran congregation buy land for a meeting place.

But the economic downturn has affected church members' personal finances, said Steele, who is a realtor.

"I was hoping to return to Honduras this past summer on a Latin American Missions campaign," he said. "That had to be postponed."

Several church members, including Steele, told the Chronicle that the deepening recession gives Christians opportunities to practice sacrificial giving.

"It's my hope that, instead of worrying about the doom and gloom on the news, we will use this as an opportunity to put our money where our mouth is' regarding our faith," Steele said.

Erik Tryggestad, The Christian Chronicle

Pro-Life Pastor Sentenced to Jail for Violating Buffer Zone Law

One News Now reports that a pro-life counselor and pastor will spend 30 days in prison for peacefully approaching women outside a California abortion clinic to share abortion alternatives.

A judge sentenced Walter Hoye, a pastor in Berkeley, for violating a local ordinance that bans protestors from coming within eight feet of anyone entering the clinic. According to Dana Cody of the Life Legal Defense Foundation, Hoye was also fined $1,130 and placed on probation for three years. "That meant Walter had to accept the terms of the probation, which was stay away from the clinic-and Walter refused to accept that term because he doesn't think his free-speech rights should be impinged for three years," Cody said.

Hoye's supporters argue that the ordinance is an unconstitutional violation of free speech.

Religion Today Summaries

President Revamps Faith-Based Offices, but Decisions Remain

Baptist Press reports that on Feb. 5, President Obama named Joshua DuBois to head the newly named White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and established an advisory council.

Obama signed an executive order bringing changes to what was known as the Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives created under President George W. Bush. The White House said the newly designed office would be a resource for secular and faith-based organizations as they serve their communities. The office also will have a role in helping the administration address such social needs as reducing "the need for abortion" and in assisting the National Security Council in fostering interfaith relationships globally.

The president must still decide whether religious groups participating in the initiative may discriminate by hiring only those of their own faith.

Religion Today Summaries

Christian Groups Answer Atheists With Own Ads on British Buses

The Washington Post reports that atheist bus ads in London have inspired an answering ad from three Christian groups.

The initial set of ads, reading, "There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life," prompted both outrage and amusement, and spread to several other countries. Now, the Christian Party will put up ads on similar buses, which say, "There is a God. BELIEVE. Don't worry and enjoy your life."

The Trinitarian Bible Society will also respond with ads in the next few days, posting a line from Psalm 53:1: "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.'" Stephen Green, national director of lobbying group Christian Voice, expressed enthusiasm for the responses.

Religion Today Summaries

Italy's "Terri Schiavo" Dies Suddenly

Eluana Englaro, Italy's "Terri Schiavo," has died only four days after doctors began a "gradual" reduction in her food and water intake with the intent to cause her death. The announcement was made by Italy's Health Minister on the floor of the Italian Senate, which was debating a bill that would have saved Englaro's life.

Although no cause of death has been announced, earlier news reports indicated that Englaro's intake of nutrients was being replaced with a heavy dose of sedatives. Palliative medication in high doses can cause a patient to die prematurely.

The news follows public statements by Englaro's physician that she has enjoyed almost perfect physical health during the 16 years following her car accident in 1992, which left her bedridden and in a minimal state of consciousness. She was 38 years old.

Although euthanasia is illegal in Italy and Englaro's body functions were not dependent on machines, her father received a decision from Italy's final appeals court in 2008 allowing him to remove hydration and nutrition in order to kill her. The ruling was based on the notion that food and water constitute "medical treatment," which can be withheld at the patient's discretion.

Englaro's father claims that his daughter would not have wanted to live as a "vegetable."

The decision to allow Englaro's dehydration death was met with protests throughout Italy during the weekend, and over the past few weeks. The Italian government under Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi attempted to pass emergency legislation through the Italian Parliament to save Englaro's life after an earlier attempt was blocked by the country's president, a former communist. However, the legislation was still in process when Englaro's death was announced.

Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition International denounced Englaro's killing and expressed puzzlement at her quick death.

"To intentionally dehydrate a person to death dehumanizes them because it denies them the basic care due to a human person. We turn them into an object. Everybody deserves basic care, which includes food, fluid, and warmth as long as it is necessary to sustain life. This is not extraordinary treatment," Shadenberg said.

"We ask the question, how did she actually die? She wouldn't have died in just a few days of dehydration," he added.

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