Even churches are laying off employees

October 13th, 2009 by

Unemployment is hitting all segments of the economy hard, and churches are no exception. Bay area churches and parishes are freezing wages and laying off employees just like corporate America.

Local parishes within the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg have laid off more than 50 employees over the past year, according to Frank Murphy, spokesperson for the Diocese, a little more than half a percent of the Diocese’s 8,000 workers.

Several priests are among the positions eliminated. The loss of clergy puts pressure on the remaining priests and deacons who increasingly are taking on parish responsibilities once reserved for priests.

“They’ve said we really can’t afford sometimes two and three priests anymore,” Murphy said. “If the parish has shrunk because of demographics they say, well, we’ll have to do with one less priest,” Murphy said.

The Diocese stopped hiring and froze wages more than a year ago, according to Murphy. He added that overall church giving is down 4 percent while the needs of the poor in some areas of ministry are up more than 25 percent.

“It’s really hard,” Murphy said. “A lot of our ministries are seeing increasing numbers of people asking for help and seeking assistance with utilities, food and mortgage help.”

It’s the same story within Protestant denominations. At East Lake United Methodist Church in Palm Harbor, a $150,000 deficit forced senior pastor Bob Martin to lay off four staff members this month. He had to eliminate another position, resulting in a loss of about a third of his total staff.

“The last three weeks I think I have shed every tear that’s inside my body,” Martin said. “It’s hard to lay someone off in the corporate world, but when you lay someone off in the church, it’s a family.”

Martin said giving is down while the community’s needs for programs like food and utility assistance are soaring.

“Our family gets bigger, because in these economic conditions the need for the service of the church rises considerably,” he said.

And with high unemployment expected to continue for the foreseeable future, churches and parishes, just like families, are recognizing they have to do more with less.

“We trust in a higher power and that higher power is the one that leads us to believe that at the end of the day we’ll accomplish the things that need to be done,” Martin said.

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