Congregations pray for end to Pa.'s budget impasse

September 09, 2009|By JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, Pa. -- Nighttime negotiations in the governor's mansion didn't work.

Neither have conference committee meetings or debate on the floor.

Now, Christians and Jews across Pennsylvania are turning to prayer for God's intervention in the state budget impasse.

The faithful are being asked to participate in prayer vigils, pray on their own or as a church, and write letters to legislators and Gov. Ed Rendell.

A sample letter being distributed to United Methodist church members says "legislative leaders must begin round-the-clock negotiations until the stalemate is broken." It cites stopped funding for child care, education, counseling, senior services, economic development, housing, and foster care and adoption.

Pennsylvania is the only state that has yet to pass a budget for fiscal year 2009-10. A stopgap measure resumed pay for state workers, but agencies and schools say they're running out of money without aid checks.


"As we were talking, it became clear that we could not solve the crisis, but that God could, and should, play a role," said Stephen Drachler, executive director of advocacy group A United Methodist Witness in Pennsylvania.

The prayer movement involves representation from several faiths, prominent pastors and bishops, and groups like the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, he said.

"It's not really a political statement at all. There has to be some progress because the livelihoods of so many people are affected," said the Rev. Mark Shover, who led prayer for state leaders in both worship services Sunday at his parish, Faith United Methodist Church in Waynesboro.

"Nothing's moved forward in a very long time," state Rep. Todd Rock acknowledged.

House GOP Leader Sam Smith offered a $27.5 billion budget being reviewed by Democrats, said Rock, R-Franklin, who criticized the Democrats for not offering a budget for a vote.

State Sen. Rich Alloway, R-Franklin/Adams/York, came out of session Wednesday and said he's hearing that compromises will be forthcoming.

"There's been a lot of talking behind the scenes," he said.

The Rev. Rick Noll lifted the budget stalemate up in prayer Sunday at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Chambersburg, Pa. He has not decided whether to encourage congregants to write letters.

Jerry Wolgemuth, communications director for Central Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church, cannot remember any other letter-writing campaigns like this one.

"This was an unusual case. It seemed to be the appropriate thing to do," he said.

Agencies to which churches make referrals are having difficulty providing their services, Wolgemuth said.

"We're seeing an increase in requests for help," said the Rev. Dr. A. Robert Cook, pastor of Christ United Methodist Church in Waynesboro.

Cook distributed copies of the sample letter Sunday and received several comments from church members in support of the effort.

"The letter is balanced and fair," Cook said. "It's not political."

"Our perspective is that we are praying for legislators and the governor, not against them. ... We are praying for the millions of people who need help from the state and aren't getting that assistance," Drachler said.

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