It’s not just businesses large and small that are hurting from our current economic crisis. As people lose jobs, and others tighten their belts, charitable giving to religious institutions has also dropped precipitously. According to conservative Christian polling firm The Barna Group, this drop in giving will “cripple thousands of smaller and less stable donor-supported organizations.” This shortfall in charitable giving is now hitting the Pagan-friendly Unitarian-Universalists.
One of the largest congregations in the Unitarian Universalist Association, First Unitarian Church of Portland, Oregon, came up $185,000 short in its annual fundraising drive — and announced this past weekend that the church will simply shut down for the month of July. No services, no programs, and the staff will take a month-long unpaid leave. Meanwhile, the UUA itself is projecting a $1.8 million revenue drop in fiscal year 2010, which begins in July. That’s a 10 percent drop. The UUA has already implemented several cost-cutting measures in fiscal year 2009, but many more are expected in the 2010 budget the administration will present to the board in April.
Which raises the question, how will modern Paganism fare during this recession? In some ways little will change. “Paganism” isn’t a denomination or institution, and the several small individual faiths under that wide umbrella will most likely continue to perform their rites and worship their gods (and goddesses) as they did before. Collectively, you could say that we’re way ahead of many Christians regarding the “home church” movement. What’s less certain is how well the bigger pan-Pagan events and institutions that tend to bind us together culturally and socially will persevere over the next five to ten years.
Will our Pagan periodicals survive the current swarm of magazine deaths? Will the Pagan publishing industry reel from major chains like Borders going under? How will attendance fluctuate at the bigger festivals? Will we see some smaller ones close down or go on hiatus? Does Pagan Spirit Gathering’s recent move from Wisteria to Camp Zoe have anything to do with economics? While I doubt we’ll see insitutions like Starwood or PSG grind to a halt any time soon, we may see a general contraction as Pagans lose income or jobs. The common wisdom is that religion, like entertainment, is often recession-proof. But in today’s world, nothing involving money seems certain.
In the coming weeks I’ll be talking to some folks in the know, and taking the temperature of the Pagan economy to see how well we’ll collectively weather this storm. In the meantime, if you have seen any signs of the recession hitting the Pagan community, feel free to share in the comments.