The basic comfort of the Christian tradition is that God is with us. The pastoral response for those whose lives are being affected by the economic crisis is not that you won’t lose your job, or that the downturn will be short-lived. The guidance is simply a reminder that God is in our midst – that whatever happens, God promises companionship.
From our vantage point in New York City, the sidewalks are emptier, the stores and the restaurants less crowded. Pastoral counselling sessions are booked. And yet it is remarkable to me that people are still giving of their time and financial resources to good causes. We’ve not seen a downturn in financial giving, nor have many of my colleagues.
I would argue that the concern people have over their futures appears to have made us more alert to the needs of others – as paradoxical as that may seem. It is as though our old self-interest is being trumped by a concern for the other, and the realisation on the part of many that we are all in this together.
People often speak of the iconic status of our church – our historical lineage, our architectural presence, and indeed our location, looking down Wall Street these many years. And yet we are also iconic because we are a spiritual presence, a consistently welcoming house of prayer in the midst of a financial centre.
We are seeing more people enter the church for spiritual reflection. In these moments, many begin to realise that crises can be opportunities for a fresh start. I try to remind people to focus on what they can control, because in a crisis there is a tendency to feel as though everything is out of control: “I can’t control the economy. I can’t control my boss. I can’t control the stock market.” So what can I control? I can control myself and, to some extent, my primary relationships and my relationship with God.
The Church and all people of faith may have a role in shaping the new economy. This “new economy” phrase appears to be catching on, and I think that people are coming to understand first, that something new is needed, and second, that there is a chance for a fresh start. Admittedly, understanding and shaping this new economy feels a bit grand, and a bit far off right now. Now we are in the trenches, doing practical, detailed work. We're offering courses in coping with job-related stress. We’re offering guidance in how to look for a new job. We are offering pastoral counselling day in and day out.
And as always, our doors are open.
Rev. Dr. James H. Cooper is Rector of Trinity Wall Street, New York City