“I love your materials!” That is a direct quote from Marlene Kroeker on a call with Criterion Institute via Zoom last week. Marlene visits and speaks regularly in congregations as a Stewardship Consultant for Everence® Financial, a financial services organization that helps individuals, organizations and congregations integrate finances with faith through a national team of financial professionals. At least she did. Those stewardship conversations have now shifted to the phone and Zoom as we all shelter in place to slow the spread of COVID-19. But these deeply troubled times have not dampened Marlene’s enthusiasm for the 1K Churches approach to faith and finance reflected in the Bible study materials. She went on to say, “I can’t shut up about your materials.”

As a stewardship professional, Marlene has a solid theological background and is familiar with many Christian education materials related to money and stewardship available to congregations. What she likes about the 1K Churches materials is the way they speak to people of faith who are asking hard questions and seeking to effect change. She sees this happening in three ways:

  • The Bible study draws on participants’ understanding of familiar Bible stories and then helps them shift to a different, broader, more challenging way of thinking about those same stories.
  • The Bible study opens up the connection between the Bible and business, which was right there in the text all along, but is seldom lifted up and talked about. 
  • The Bible study creates momentum for action and puts wheels under the new insights gained. Participants make a small loan to a small business – up close and personal, right in their own neighborhood. They learn from that experience and their faith is enriched.

Marlene is already putting these materials to work. She has been talking them up to the leaders, clients and congregations she serves in her work. She encourages them to organize groups and get started with the 1K Churches experience.

Many will ask how any group could possibly start something like this when we are each isolated in our homes for the good of all. Don’t we have to put meetings and studying on hold for a while now? It would be natural to stop organizing at church and connecting with neighborhood business owners while we deal with the immediate trauma of the coronavirus pandemic.

While supporting social distancing, Marlene evaluates the opportunity quite differently, saying: “Never in my entire life would I have thought the whole world would stand still. This is a time for new thought about how the economy should work and for whom. The timing may be just right for 1K Churches.” Parents, doctors, grocery clerks, and other workers in essential industries are stretched impossibly thin at this critical time. Others of us find ourselves at home with time on our hands, looking for something meaningful to do – some way to make a difference, some way to keep our minds engaged and our hope alive.

A whole range of electronic communication services are available to us, from Zoom to Skype to FaceTime. All kinds of people are learning to use them out of necessity – to order groceries, to see their grandchildren, to go to school, to access worship experiences on Sunday morning. Surely someone in your congregation has the capacity to bring together a dozen people on Zoom or Skype to do the 1K Bible study. 

Now more than ever, we are aware of the critical need for large and small loans to small businesses. The economy is frozen, and businesses have been asked to shut down. Massive legislation has been passed by our federal government to infuse billions of dollars into our economy to sustain small businesses through this difficult time. You can be sure that some small businesses, vital to your community, will fall between the cracks. There has never been a greater need for churches to help with food pantries, emergency rent support, and, yes, with small loans to small businesses.

Marlene is part of a group of women who want to have open conversations with an economically diverse group of women about money: how we use it, how we feel about it, the power we as women have related to it. The idea is the brainchild of Mennonite Women USA Executive Director, Cyneatha Millsaps. The Bible Study, once it gets started, will be co-sponsored by Mennonite Women USA and Everence Financial. When this group was wondering how they would even begin to talk about this subject, Marlene immediately thought of the Criterion materials. “We will all be coming from different places economically and these materials will give us a great place to begin the conversation. They also come with a call to action, something we can do together.”

The group decided now was as good a time as any to start. They will begin with a core of five members of Mennonite Women USA, each of whom will invite three more women to join them. They are working on dates. Marlene thinks they have the necessary leadership among the group to take turns facilitating the five sessions of the Bible study. Criterion staff will be present electronically at an introductory session to provide some background, answer questions, and share some of what we have learned from hundreds of congregations that have found new ways to put their faith into action through the 1K Churches experience.

This is a time of great danger and disruption. It may also be just the time for you or your congregation to begin something new. You can gather a group through the miracle of digital communication to begin the 1K Churches Bible study. You can make the most of these long days sheltering at home. You can make a difference in the economic challenges of your community.

The materials that Marlene loves are available to download at no cost from the Criterion website. The materials include both a Participants’ and Facilitators’ Guide to the Bible study; a Getting-Started Guide; and Loan Implementation Guides. Contact info@criterioninstitute.org to speak to a staff person about helping you get started.

Inspiration

In 1527, when Martin Luther was dealing with the Black Death plague, he wrote a letter entitled, “Whether One Might Flee from a Deadly Plague.” His words are timely and helpful as we face the Coronavirus Pandemic in 2020.  

“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid persons and places where my presence is not needed, in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me, and I will have done what he has expected of me, and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person, but will go freely as stated above. See, this is neither brash nor foolhardy, and does not tempt God.”

Criterion Institute, 501(c)(3) 81 Church Hill Rd · Haddam, CT 06438 860-345-3520 (main) · info@criterioninstitute.org ©2020, all rights reserved.

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