Congregations Share & Sacrifice During Government Shutdown

Members of First Baptist Church of Highland Park in Landover, Md., prepare a free food distribution for furloughed employees on Jan. 19, 2019. Photo by Jennifer Floyd

Deacon Darryl and Deaconess Brenda Musgrove are seeing both sides of the government shutdown — on the job and off.

He is working without pay for the Department of Justice. She’s out of work from her contracting officer position with the Department of Homeland Security. The couple are members of Mount Moriah Baptist Church, which gave out bags of groceries in partnership with Washington National Cathedral on Saturday (Jan. 19). But before they left their church, they took a bag for themselves. They found the donated chicken, macaroni and cheese, fruit and eggs provided several meals for their family.

“It was interesting just to see so many people come through with the same stories and the same situation that I’m dealing with, but it was humbling to be able to help others,” she said.

The Musgroves are two of the hundreds of thousands of furloughed federal workers who are relying on savings after missing one paycheck and expecting to miss another Friday. President Trump announced Friday that he had reached a deal with Democrats to reopen the government for three weeks.

Darryl and Brenda Musgrove. Courtesy photo

As the partial government shutdown has lasted more than a month, houses of worship are opening their doors to help, offering supplies, prayer, and listening ears as members of their congregations and their community grapple with mounting bills, frustrations and needs.

“A lot of people thought, as with other shutdowns, this was going to be done and over,” said Terry Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations. “But the longer this drags on, the more that congregations are starting to realize we’ve got to speak out, we’ve got to urge the shutdown to end, and also how do we help those who are directly impacted?”

In mid-January faith leaders from the Washington region sent an open letter to President Trump and congressional leaders decrying the shutdown. Several reiterated their concerns at a news conferenceoutside the United Methodist Building that faces the U.S. Capitol.

“Many in our faith communities are struggling, as are their co-workers and neighbors, and we are concerned for them and their families,” wrote leaders representing the Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Jain faiths. “The long-term consequences of the shutdown are mounting, and we respectfully add our voices to those calling for it to end.”

As clergy wait for action on the part of the nation’s political leaders, they are moving ahead to do what they can to help.

Islamic Community Center of
Potomac Hunger Van volunteers
make sealed lentil quinoa casserole
meals in collaboration with the
National Hunger Van program in
Potomac, MD. Photo by Fatimah

The Interfaith Council of Metropolitan Washington has temporarily waived the fee for printed copies of its emergency services directory. Temple Micah, a Reform congregation in Washington, scheduled a “shutdown shiur,” a Talmudic study group for furloughed workers and others affected by the current crisis. The rector of a downtown Episcopal church offered a video prayer “as we go through the trials of life.”

Houses of worship also have begun using their own financial resources to help those with dwindling ones.

The Islamic Community Center of Potomac, in suburban Maryland, has spent $4,000 on assistance for government workers who haven’t been paid in weeks; it also collected about $2,000 worth of in-kind donations. The center has waived tuition payments for furloughed workers for its Sunday school programs where their children learn Arabic, the Quran and Islamic studies. And it recently donated 80 pounds of lentils and quinoa to a local food bank.

“There’s definitely people going to the food bank for food during this difficult time,” said Dilshad Fakroddin, a spokeswoman for the center and program manager of its hunger van, of displaced workers.

The Rev. Glenna Huber. Photo
courtesy of Church of the Epiphany

The Rev. Glenna Huber, who recited the video prayer about the shutdown at Church of the Epiphany, said her church, located blocks from several closed federal buildings, continues to offer a midday worship service, though attendance is down. She’s particularly concerned about members of her “multi-socioeconomic” and multicultural congregation, about 75 percent of whom are currently or formerly homeless.

“A lot of our parishioners are in subsidized housing, and so they are dependent on those federal resources to maintain the roof over their head,” said Huber. She is concerned about rapidly approaching deadlines when Housing and Urban Development funding could run out for some of the 200 people who usually attend on Sundays.

“We may have more people who’ve just recently been housed find themselves in a bind,” she said.

Alfred Street Baptist Church, a black megachurch in Alexandria, Va., followed its Saturday service with a reception for affected workers. While almost 400 people ate and prayed at the reception, less than half took the church up on its offer of gift cards to grocery stores.

“They said that they didn’t need it and they didn’t want to take cards from families that really did,” said the Rev. Howard-John Wesley, the church’s senior pastor, of some of his members.

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Source: Religion News Service