Note to Editors: A FACToid is available for use with this story which illustrates congregational involvement with a variety of programs.*
*This file appears in .pdf format, if you do not have Adobe Acrobat, you may download it for free from their web site.
HARTFORD, CT, November 20, 2001 – America's synagogues, mosques and churches are already deeply involved in President Bush's call for a new voluntarism, according to Prof. Carl S. Dudley of Hartford Institute for Religion Research, Hartford Seminary.
"The nation's congregations provide a massive 'safety net,'" Dudley says, citing comprehensive research on U.S. Faith Communities Today. "It's not new."
"From one coast to the other, American congregations are engaged in caring ministries. Where pain is greatest, churches, synagogues and mosques respond," he said.
Dudley has statistics to prove it. "Our FACT research shows that nearly 85 percent of all U.S. congregations are engaged with soup kitchens or food pantries, with emergency shelters and clothing pantries, and with financial help to persons in need," he says. (See FACToid)
American religious groups are deeply involved, either directly or with other local faith-based agencies, in such programs as tutoring children, providing housing for the elderly, substance abuse therapy and ministries to persons in prisons. According to Dudley, Americans "act out their faith" by collecting and distributing food and in other ways sharing the benefits of the life they enjoy."
"The religious practice of caring for and about others is nearly universal in America," he said. "People are thankful and want to share-regardless of their theology or liturgical practices."
Speaking in Atlanta earlier this month, President Bush urged all Americans to become "September 11th volunteers" through service in their own communities. Earlier he had called for a partnership between governments and religious groups to provide aid to needy families and individuals.
According to Dudley, "the work of faith communities long preceded what people today call charitable choice. Our research demonstrates that congregations are already at work with governments at every level. In many situations there is a close partnership between local religious groups and business, philanthropy and educational institutions when it comes to serving people in need."
"These fluid relationships are a reflection of current practice rather than the cutting edge," he said, describing congregations serving with schools to help tutor, with police departments in mentoring teenagers, with businesses to help prepare individuals for jobs and with welfare agencies providing foster parents. "There's an enormous amount of counseling going on in these days when men and women, even highly-placed persons, lose their employment."
Such ministries with direct ties to governments take place everywhere, but especially in urban and suburban areas, the FACT research shows. More than 40 percent of all congregations in center-city areas provide child-care or health related programs that have connections to federal or local governments. (FACToid forthcoming)
The FACT research was funded in part by the Lilly Endowment of Indianapolis, was conducted by 41 religious groups and denominations, and was coordinated by Hartford Institute for Religion Research, Hartford Seminary. It is the most extensive research ever undertaken on congregational activities and motivations.
Commenting on the September 11 attacks, Dudley said that Americans are showing the physical, psychological and spiritual symptoms of stress. "This is a significant faith-challenge to religious leaders, as well as a medical and public health issue," he said. Pastors, rabbis and imams are on the front line of counseling, he pointed out, and called attention to the large number of hotline programs and counseling centers that operate under faith group sponsorship.
The Hartford scholar called attention to the deep involvement of historically African American congregations, especially in urban areas, where they clearly lead the way in outreach to people in need. On average, he said, African American congregations sponsor 8.7 different outreach ministries. Liberal protestant groups come second with an average of 7.1 separate programs to meet human needs.
Dudley says that the FACT research also demonstrates that the growing number of Muslim congregations reach out to their communities as well. "Although they are distinct in belief and faith-practices, in their social ministries they appear remarkably similar to other faith communities," he says.
For more information, contact
Dr. Carl Dudley