A spiritual approach to money
One group’s formula for trying times: Live gratefully, spend less, buy justly, give more.
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For most people, discussing budgets is not easy, but the questions aim to be helpful, not judgmental. At High Rock Covenant Church in Arlington, Mass., the experience brought people together. “When we shared budgets, that vulnerability created a real bond,” says Austin Calhoun, director of a church ministry. “Everyone is much closer, and we continue to meet to support each other in this discipline of simplicity.”Skip to next paragraph
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Along with Bible study, the Lazarus curriculum guides groups through research on global poverty and development. Participants educate each other about specific organizations active in development, microfinance, and fair trade.
Earlier this month in Jamaica Plain, seven women gathered for Saturday brunch and their 12th meeting to select the groups that would receive their donations in the coming year. After sharing individual progress, each made a pitch.
Two were keen on an agricultural development program, one spoke for a small business initiative in Afghanistan, and others highlighted public-health projects. One was passionate about efforts to get bikes to African women who walk miles each day to gather water for their families.
Reaching consensus on four organizations, the women decided to divide their pledged pot of $6,000 evenly among them. As they joined hands in prayer, group leader Angela Letizia began: “Dear God, Your abundance is clearly felt today, and we are grateful for what You have given us and how You have opened our eyes to the world.”
Each woman will write four checks a month, giving her a chance to pray for those who will receive them, and for sustaining the changes in her own life.
“I think this is reimagining the body of Christ to include both those in rich and poor countries,” Ms. Letizia says in an interview. “Today, when we all have so much information about the world, Lazarus is at our gate, so we can’t pretend that we don’t see him.”
Many involved speak of the way the Lazarus process builds community, enabling each group member to accomplish more than he or she would on their own. For instance, Letizia was giving away 1 or 2 percent of her yearly income though she had thought about giving more.
“Doing it in community lends a different joy and excitement,” she says. “This year is the first time I’ve been able to give 10 percent, and it comes from doing it with others.”
The question for many is whether they can sustain the lifestyle changes and commitments – or build on them. Some groups decide to continue meeting weekly or monthly. A few participants are leading new groups to spread the message. So far, 18 groups have completed the Lazarus program in Boston, and 15 more are getting under way this spring.
The curriculum is available on the Web (click here) to encourage churches in other parts of the country to sponsor groups.
It’s now being used in La Jolla, Calif., and Colorado Springs, Colo., and perhaps soon in New York, Mr. Nagasawa says. He’s also created an eight-week version for use by college students. The Lazarus program is part of a broader BFJN initiative to encourage people to consider what it might look like to have a “gratitude economy.”