Isolation, anxiety and financial strain swept through our communities this past year. Many people experienced the effects of interrupted careers, financial instability, canceled plans and physical distance. A recent report from the Pew Research Center indicates that “one in-four adults have had trouble paying their bills since the coronavirus outbreak started, a third have dipped into savings or retirement accounts to make ends meet, and about one-in-six have borrowed money from friends or family or gotten food from a food bank.” It appears that the effects of this collective trauma are real and long-lasting.
In partnership with The Chalmers Center, STCH Ministries offers a unique course designed to alleviate the burdens of economic struggle. The Faith & Finances course exists to equip financially vulnerable individuals with money management strategies that connect Jesus’ redemptive work to all aspects of personal life. While the course focuses on the holistic integration of faith and healthy financial habits, students also experience intentional relationships in spiritual community. As Christians, the desire for community is hardwired within, and our souls are created for relational closeness with God and others. While most students walk into the classroom as strangers, they leave as confidants, accountability partners and close friends.
During the 12-week class, instructors introduce the conceptual idea that God’s plan for personal finances is greater than our expectations. The course content is highly interactive and pairs biblical principles with financial literacy. Students walk away feeling equipped with the necessary tools to overcome past mistakes, manage debt, spend wisely and save for the future. While some groups meet virtually and others meet in-person, relational bonds form across a diverse spectrum of demographics and life experiences. With faith as the common thread, course participants create meaningful connections that translate into tangible support outside of the classroom.
Throughout 2020, Faith & Finances class locations remained active, and students experienced real life change. Here, you will read the stories of two women, Lynne and Brandy, who recently completed the course in different cities, with different meeting formats and different financial needs. While these women hold unique life experiences and their stories do not directly intersect, both women found acceptance, encouragement and support through this community.
Years ago, Lynne experienced relational connection within Christian community. She lived in Ohio and felt blessed within her career, finances and friendships. While no immediate needs required drastic financial savings, Lynne’s personal choices reflected a paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle. But when her employer closed its doors, she began free-falling into an unstable world. From here on out, Lynne struggled with her faith and finances. Anxious thoughts crept into her mind, and before long, isolation and fear gripped her life.
While Lynne experienced relational abandonment with close friends, she remained connected to her aunt and uncle. Recognizing her desperation, these relatives walked alongside Lynne as mentors and prayer partners. With no signs of improvement, Lynne’s uncle suggested that she attend a STCH Ministries Faith & Finances class. The group planned to meet virtually, and while Lynne was initially hesitant, she agreed to participate.
As Lynne counted down the days until the course began, her anxiety swelled within. She found it easier to isolate than participate in community. The journey toward being known by others presented emotional difficulties as she held tight to distrust and cynicism. Lynne nearly backed out hours before the first class began, but she gathered her courage and accessed the online portal.
To her surprise, Lynne experienced an overwhelming sense of peace during the first meeting. The people were diverse, and the group felt like a safe space. But vulnerability did not come easily as Lynne tried to reintegrate into community. As time passed, the group found commonality in shared stories of struggle and glimpses of hope. The more someone shared their story, the more it inspired others to do the same. This process allowed Lynne to internalize a truth—she is not alone.
The group’s facilitators presented financial concepts in a way that everyone understood. They used skits and anecdotes to break down difficult theories. She learned that small budgeting changes can add up and make a big impact on personal finances. Lynne expected to learn about budgeting, saving, spending and eliminating debt, but the course exceeded expectations. “The first time I heard ‘Jesus makes all things new including money and relationships’ I understood it, but by the end of class I could feel it. It became my own belief,” said Lynne.
Lynne recognizes that her instructors and classmates nurtured her own growth mentally, spiritually and emotionally. Today, Lynne is surrounded by the healthy relationships that developed within the Faith & Finances class. These friendships span socio-economic backgrounds, races, ages and stages of faith. The group found meaningful connection through communal learning, prayer, growth and fellowship. For Lynne, the Faith & Finances class was the final piece of the puzzle at just the right time. “Hearing others rise above their stories gives me courage to rise above mine,” noted Lynne. “We started out as strangers, but by the end, we were brothers and sisters.”
Not only did Lynne personally adopt the suggested financial management strategies, but the course allowed her to become more generous in giving to God. “It’s worth it. It is hard and time consuming, but it will change your life in more places than just in your wallet.” Lynne continued, “The more you put into the course, the more you get out of it.” STCH Ministries Faith & Finances class served as the catalyst that made a major difference in Lynne’s financial stability. By the end of the course, she committed to seek God first in all aspects of her life.
STCH Ministries prioritizes this class by offering options for attendance as well as full access to materials regardless of an individual’s ability to pay. While Lynne intentionally encountered community through digital avenues, many others engage through in-person gatherings. Brandy’s story toward financial and spiritual wholeness began when she decided to attend a Faith & Finances class at her church in Corpus Christi, Texas.
As a mother of two adult children that she proudly raised in a single parent household, Brandy became highly familiar with paycheck-to-paycheck spending. After moving to Corpus Christi from Nacogdoches, Texas, Brandy struggled to find full-time work and an independent living arrangement. She worked part-time at the Walmart pharmacy while sharing a home with her cousin. The realities surrounding Brandy’s recent move proved to be more difficult than expected—physically, emotionally and financially.
When her local church announced registration for STCH Ministries’ Faith & Finances course, she decided to finally take her personal spending habits seriously. Eager to meet others on a similar path, Brandy made a commitment to engage with the instructor, students and course materials each week. During the first gathering, she internalized the phrase, “you save, you give, you spend.” This financial prioritization changed the way she approached paychecks each month.
Throughout the duration of the course, Brandy took control of her finances with confidence. As new strategies and tactics filtered through her life, Brandy took bold steps within her career and living situation. She found a full-time job within a hospital and negotiated her position for a higher hourly wage. With financial grounding to stand upon, Brandy found an apartment with a reasonable monthly rent and moved in with her adult son.
“During the Faith & Finances class, I learned how to budget, make necessary cuts, save for a rainy day, the importance of reading the fine print, how to avoid gimmicks and differentiating between wants and needs,” said Brandy. She recalls the years living paycheck-to-paycheck, and she’s proud to now experience life in a different way. Today, Brandy frequently shares helpful practices with family and friends that include budgeting worksheets and a cash envelope system for all purchases. She is passionate about her journey toward financial freedom while encouraging others to register for the class.
Brandy credits the Faith & Finances course for her spiritual and financial transformation. She admires the instructor’s consistent vulnerability and holds tight to the principles that help integrate her faith and finances in a tangible way. Brandy is now a greeter within her church’s volunteer ministry where she faithfully serves every Sunday. She loves giving back to her church, and it brings real joy to her life. As a daily practice, Brandy reminds herself to prioritize necessities over wants while centering her Christian faith in all things. “Faithfulness in everything,” Brandy explains. “In personal finances and the rest of my life.”
There is hope, and there are resources for individuals who feel trapped in financially difficult situations. STCH Ministries is proud to play a role in fostering faith and financial wholeness within communities throughout Texas and its surrounding areas. When global events feel helpless, God’s faithfulness continues. When economic decay intrudes, God’s promises sustain our souls. And when the act of taking the next step to engage in community feels difficult, messy and uncomfortable, God’s peace surrounds our hearts and minds.
Article resources: “Economic Fallout From COVID-19 Continues to Hit Lower-Income Americans the Hardest.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (September 24, 2020) www.pewsocialtrends.org/2020/09/24/ economic-fallout-from-covid-19-continues-to-hit-lower-incomeamericans-the-hardest/
Read the article at STCHM.org/messenger.