Churches across Conference supporting furloughed federal workers


When it comes to helping those in need, churches are quick to respond.

So, when it came to federal workers being furloughed in several communities – living without a paycheck while the U.S. government remains shut down – churches in the Oregon-Idaho Conference were already set up to help.

“It was a really easy yes,” said Rev. Adam Briddell of First United Methodist Church Eugene.

Briddell said the church was contacted by the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association about setting up barrels in the church to collect donated food. Briddell said they already had the barrels from the local food bank, and they had just been emptied. Within days, the church had filled the barrels again so that the federal employees’ group could assist its members.

“This church has a bunch of retired federal workers as part of its membership,” Briddell said. “It was really on their hearts for how we could provide some assistance for some folks who have no next paycheck on the horizon.”

In Madras, there are a number of people not working right now for Indian Health Services, the U.S. Forest Service and more federal agencies.

“We have a Food Pantry that serves the community three times per week--and they have seen an increase in those coming in for the first time, because they need to continue to feed their families,” said Rev. Nancy Slabaugh Hart. “The core value of Madras UMC is that we are here to serve God through serving others. We take that seriously in all that we do.”

Recently one of her congregants was on a mission trip in Uganda and was asked by people there – not familiar with the United Methodist Church – what the church does.

“He answered, ‘we feed people,’” Slabaugh Hart recounted.

To that end, the church is hosting a community chili feed on January 30. Everyone is welcome and can bring a pot a chili or just show up.

“It’s just a way of letting people know that we hear them, we stand with them, and they are not alone,” she said. 

In Coos Bay there are a number of federal employees working for the U.S. Coast Guard or the Forest Service. The church, right now, is assisting one of their church members that is furloughed pay rent and other utilities, according to Pastor Donald Ford of Harmony United Methodist Church.

The United Methodists are also partnering with other churches in the area to support Coast Guard employees stationed there.

“This is what we do, not only for those on ‘furlough’ but for the many ‘homeless’ in the area,” Ford said.

In Boise, First United Methodist Church, Cathedral of the Rockies, gives out free lunch bags Monday through Saturday and is making a special effort during the government shutdown to help federal employees and their families. Lunches are available between 11:30 to 1 pm, Monday through Saturday and a hot meal is available every Sunday at 1pm.

Briddell, whose wife is a federal employee but is not furloughed at this point, said people don’t realize how devastating this shutdown is for these employees.

"They’re not practiced being on the margins. These are good middle-class jobs that are suddenly gone for people,” he said. “It’s a coin flip whether they give you back pay.”