Matters of faith

High marks for helping after Katrina

In the eyes of Louisiana residents, kudos for hurricane-recovery efforts go to faith-based organizations, according to a survey by Louisiana State University. When asked to rate various responders on a scale of 1 (not effective) to 10 (very effective), those polled gave churches their highest mark of 8.1.

Next came nonprofits, the Salvation Army, and local community foundations, with 7.5, and the Red Cross, with 7.4. Not surprisingly, governments ranked lowest, with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) rated at 5.3, the federal government in general at 5.1, and state and city governments at 4.6. (The survey, done by random digit dialing of 653 residents, didn't include evacuees.)

According to a report by Roundtable on Religion and Social Policy, the poll showed Louisiana residents themselves were active in the recovery. Some 24 percent volunteered at a church and 23 percent at a nonprofit. In addition, 39 percent had a displaced friend or relative stay in their home; 14 percent opened their doors to strangers.

The Government Accounting Office (GAO) is assessing the role of faith-based groups in recovery, but its report won't be available for several months.

Government grant to help evacuees

With a grant of $66 million from FEMA, the United Methodist Committee on Relief will lead a program to help 100,000 Katrina evacuees rebuild their lives. Working with 10 social service and voluntary grantees in various parts of the US, the UMCOR effort will help families identify sources of support, develop personal recovery plans, and then take steps to become self-sufficient.

Outcry over persecution in Iran

The Bahai community is raising concerns about an upsurge of religious persecution in Iran. A member of the faith died in an Iranian prison this month of unknown causes. Dhabihullah Mahrami was sentenced to death 10 years ago for apostasy, but his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment after an international outcry. More than 60 Bahais have been detained or imprisoned in 2005, and eight are still being held, the community says.

Smaller congregations in Canada

Some Canadian churches have experienced dramatic declines in membership. A report presented this month to the Anglican Church of Canada - released by Can West News Service and Ecumenical News International - shows a 53 percent decline between 1961 and 2001. With the denomination losing members at a rate of 13,000 each year, it "is facing extinction by the middle of this century," the report says.

Over the same period, the United Church of Canada saw a 39 percent drop, the Presbyterian Church lost 35 percent, Baptists fell by 7 percent, and Lutherans by 4 percent. Conservative groups were not immune: Pentecostals declined by 15 percent, Jehovah's Witnesses and Mennonites by 8 percent.

World Spirituality Day

To put greater emphasis on spiritual matters in the transition to the new year, an interfaith group is encouraging people of all religions to celebrate World Spirituality Day on Dec. 31 (see www.worldspiritualityday.net). For the third year, Integrative Spirituality is promoting the celebration in hopes of establishing a practice similar in scope to Earth Day.

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