— by Austin Humbles (Chalmers Center)
When Pam’s marriage fell apart in 2015, she was left alone with bills to pay and a grandson depending on her. She paid for what she could, but sometimes it was a struggle.
“I was scared,” she says. “I wasn’t making a lot of money at the time, and I didn’t know how to budget the little that I had.”
After about a year, Pam’s expenses outpaced her income, and she needed help paying her rent. That’s when she contacted First Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga, TN, for help.
Taking a Long-Term Approach
Located in the heart of downtown Chattanooga, First Presbyterian frequently receives requests for financial assistance from local residents. Over the past decade, the church has intentionally changed the way they help their neighbors in need.
When someone approaches the church for help with a bill, they’re offered more than a handout. Instead, the church invites people to participate in Rapha, a ministry led by the deacons at First Presbyterian. Through Rapha, the church aims to welcome them into fellowship with the body of Christ and begin exploring root causes of poverty in a supportive environment.
Rapha takes place on Wednesday evenings in the midst of other midweek programs at the church. Deacons from First Presbyterian Church meet with people to discuss their needs and pray with them. Each participant is invited to join in the weekly congregational meal alongside church members and attend a variety of classes where they hear the gospel, gain practical skills, and build relationships with one another and with members of the church body. Children and youth of all ages are invited to participate in the church’s regular youth programming.
Participants start in Rapha’s “Faith & Relationships” class and graduate to a Faith & Finances class where they learn money management basics through the Chalmers Center’s curriculum. After that, they attend a “Faith & Works” class where they learn job-readiness skills through Chalmers’ Work Life curriculum. For each week of class participants attend, the church responds with a small financial reward to help with outstanding bills.
Discovering a New Community
When Pam started attending Faith & Finances at First Presbyterian, she wasn’t sure it would work for her. But she was surprised at how quickly she learned new habits in a supportive community. Through the class, Pam was able to cut her expenses, create a budget, and set financial goals.
“I was scared that I couldn’t do it, but they showed me how easy it was to eliminate expenses and make certain things important,” she says. “Now I’m paying my bills on time, and I have a bank account where I’m saving money.”
After Faith & Finances, Pam took Rapha’s “Faith & Works” class, where she learned how to find a job where she could use her gifts and abilities to earn more income. When she graduated from the class, she had the opportunity to apply for a job as Rapha’s administrative assistant. Thanks to the skills and newfound confidence she’d gained as a Rapha participant, she got the job and has worked at First Presbyterian for the last two years!
When Pam graduated from Rapha, she also had the chance to serve others. She took the program’s “Faith & Leadership” class, designed to help graduates understand their God-given gifts and become leaders within the program.
Pam started co-facilitating classes alongside the deacons at First Presbyterian. Eventually, she got trained to lead both Faith & Finances and Work Life classes, and today she leads Rapha’s “Faith & Works” class. At first, she felt nervous facilitating classes, but over time she has gained confidence.
“I’ve always had problems feeling shy in front of people and looking them in the eye,” she says. “But the more I’ve led classes, the easier it’s gotten. I’m still learning, but I’m getting out of my shyness.”
Becoming Part of a Family
Through Rapha and First Presbyterian, Pam got the help she needed with her rent. But for her, the benefits were far greater than that.
In addition to financial assistance, Pam gained new skills and confidence, a new job, new friendships, and a renewed understanding of the important role she has as a member of God’s covenant community. She recently joined First Presbyterian as a member!
“I love being at this church,” Pam says. “The people here are amazing. It doesn’t matter what’s going on with you; they cheer you up when you walk through that door. This is my safe place!”
[Special thanks to Chalmers.org for the cover photo]