When I first started exploring Hoboken Grace’s website, the “Next Steps” page was surprising. Amid Bible studies, premarital classes and upcoming retreat information was a section on Financial Health. There was a nine-week course that teaches God’s way of managing your personal money matters and I discovered that the team was available to anyone in the church for quick financial advice – even in the face of a foreclosure or bankruptcy crisis.
I thought churches want your money. They tell you to tithe – giving the church a percentage of your income. They offer local emergency shelter and food to those in need, and funds to the latest mission projects. But emergency financial advice to church members who are in crisis? That level of commitment requires training, patience and love – and a willingness to walk the journey alongside advice that’s given. I’d never heard of such a thing at a church.
Financial planning seems like a cold and boring subject that makes you scrimp to put money away for a rainy day. Keeps you from buying the car you really want. Tells you to have a modest stay-cation instead of putting those Bahamas airplane tickets on your credit card. But I began to feel an odd warmth around the idea of taking the class and signed up for the Sunday afternoon class.
Each session involved a video of a conference presentation by the author of the program. A dynamic speaker, he told about how he and his wife became bankrupt early in their marriage, and fought their way back from debt by reading the Bible and looking at God’s instructions on how to manage your money.
There was a question and answer session, then a breakout into small groups with a discussion leader. We moved into another room, sat around a table facing each other, and the tone of the discussion changed. It began to feel more like a Bible study or prayer group. We were asked a few questions about our personal reactions to the lesson, and how we felt we could improve our finances by applying the spiritual guidelines presented. Everyone seemed a little sheepish to be there.
But slowly, the discussion opened up. The conversation became more authentic and people told their stories, revealing a great deal about their personal lives. They talked about what they valued, how they saw themselves, what role money had played in their relationships, how their parents had handled finances, how they were tripped up by purchases they couldn’t afford and how they wanted to change. It seemed this course might really get through to some of the deeper issues around finances, relationships and a spiritual desire to change.
I still don’t have all of the concepts working in my life, but I’m making more steps to get better at it, and doing it in a church gives it a deeper impact. Trading shopping tips and encouraging others to stay on their budgets, while not passing judgment on individual financial choices, can be another aspect of a supportive spiritual community.
After working with the information I learned last year, I’ve changed some of my patterns with money, but intend to sit in on a few of the classes again. Hopefully, this will get me back in the mindset of thinking about money as part of my church experience and open up some new financial discussions with others at Hoboken Grace.