The message


Religious leaders offer hope in turbulent times

By Ray M. Wong


Times are tough.

Wall Street is reeling. Employees are losing jobs. Businesses are closing. Financial and credit markets are in turmoil. Home prices have plummeted and foreclosures are at an all-time high.

People are worried.

In turbulent times, many turn to their faith to help steady them and to help reveal answers in the wake of a tenuous future.

The leaders of local religious, spiritual and community organizations are responsible for delivering a message that will uplift, unify and inspire people in troubling times - even when they themselves and their institutions may be experiencing the same woes.

While the religious views of these leaders may differ, their overall message for this holiday season and the new year share a common theme: Helping others and having hope are first and foremost.

Paul A. Cunningham, the pastor of La Jolla Presbyterian Church (LJPC), is empathetic to the fact that members have less money this year and has addressed financial hardship with them. His message reminds people of the folly in defining security in terms of how much money they make or in the value of their material possessions.

“So many of us base our security on what is in our savings account or our 401(k) plan or the home(s) that we own,” Cunningham said. “At LJPC we remind our people that our ultimate security is not found in any of these things. The church’s calling in the midst of all of this uncertainty is to remind people that God is still present for them.”

In an effort to spread the Word and help others, LJPC is taking part in a Mission Gift Market, an interactive fair for their members to support various missions. The church has also organized an effort called Military Outreach Ministries to provide Christmas gifts to hundreds of needy children from military families.

Joyce Teague said the economy has hurt the Buddhist Temple of San Diego, which practices the Jodo Shinshu branch of Buddhism, the most popular form in Japan.

Despite its own financial setbacks, it’s continuing in the spirit of giving. The Buddhist Temple is involved in fundraisers such as selling traditional rice cakes for the New Year. Next year, it will organize a Japanese Cultural Fair Bazaar and a festival named Bon Odori to honor one’s deceased ancestors through music, dance and food.

The Temple, which conveys worship themes such as interdependence of everything, the preciousness of life and a de-emphasis on material things, holds a family service conducted by Yushi Mukojima on Sundays. On Dec. 31, he will preside over a bell ringing ceremony at 11:30 p.m. at the Japanese Friendship Bell on Shelter Island to cleanse away the regrets and misdeeds from the last year in preparation for the dawning of a new year.

At St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Del Mar, Rev. Frank Hegedus delivers a slightly different message. He tells members of his congregation that now is a time to recapture their inner-child.

Hegedus provided the following excerpt he wrote for his church’s December 2008 newsletter:

“This Advent and Christmas season we must learn again to treasure the child, whether it be the children of our own families and neighborhoods or those millions yearning for love throughout the world. But we can only do this by first rediscovering and cherishing the child still within each of us - hidden beneath layers of needless complexity and sophistication.”

Complexity and sophistication can translate to material possessions, portfolios - whatever the interpreter chooses to plug in.

At St. Vincent De Paul Village downtown, Father Joe Carroll refuses to let the recession get him down.

“I focus on the positive,” Carroll said. “(People) are worried about unemployment. Ten percent unemployment means 90 percent are working.”

He won’t allow a drop in donations to affect what his church does for the community either.

“We will keep helping people,” he said. “The message of Christmas is hope. Christmas is the season of hope.”