On the first Sunday this year, resolutions and holiday spending fresh on their minds, members of Pasadena Community Church sat through a sermon about personal debt. A few days later it was followed by a seven-week class on handling finances.
Across the country, religious communities are girding themselves to guide and sustain believers through these dire economic times.
Temple of the Living God, a metaphysical church that highlights positive thinking, has scheduled a class on how to save on groceries.
Chabad Lubavitch, an Orthodox Jewish group with a center in St. Petersburg, recently launched a Web site of tips and inspiration for surviving the financial crisis.
Even the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has long preached frugality and instructed members to store up to a year's worth of food and supplies, is finding itself helping more members in need of food and financial and employment aid.
"We have seen an increase in the demands for the needs of welfare assistance over the past few months,'' said Dr. Nathan Emery, an ophthalmologist and president of the Mormon community in Pinellas County and western Pasco County.
"Fortunately, the system of the church is set up to be able to provide for those needs.''
The Mormon welfare program is funded by members who forgo two meals one Sunday a month and contribute the equivalent of what they would spend to the church.
Those in need approach their bishop — the head of the local ward or congregation — for temporary food or financial help.
The food comes from what are called bishops' storehouses. The Tampa Bay storehouse is in Plant City.
The program, said to be the largest private welfare system in the world, dates back to the church's 1830 founding and was a means of survival during the Depression.
Today a church Web site urges self-reliance and the need to be prepared "so that, should adversity come, we can care for ourselves and our neighbors and support bishops as they care for others.''
For Tonia Fuller and her husband, Cameron, that has meant converting a coat closet in their St. Petersburg home into a pantry and propping up a bookshelf and dresser with institutional-sized cans of staples such as rice, wheat, macaroni and potato flakes. The cans also are stored under a crib along with bottled water and other supplies.
"I feel a sense of well-being and peace knowing that whatever happens, be it a natural disaster or a financial emergency or a health emergency, we will have food for our family and that can be short term or long term,'' said Fuller, who has three young children and is expecting another.
In an apartment off Gandy Boulevard, Dianne and Patrick Lynch, whose children are adults, use a spare bedroom closet for their supplies.
Because their household is small, Dianne Lynch prefers to seal items like flour and sugar in Mylar bags she gets from her stake, or congregation, rather than the large cans available at the bishop's storehouse.
The couple has never had to resort to their supplies in an emergency. "We've been very lucky,'' Dianne Lynch said. "It's just nice to have a backup, especially during these uncertain times. You never know.''
Current financial problems led the Chabad Lubabvich community to launch a new Web site. The Orthodox Jewish organization offers advice ranging from managing household budgets to money-saving tips. In St. Petersburg, the Chabad Center planned this year's programs with the current situation in mind, Rabbi Alter Korf said.
"We have done several things to help people cope. From a spiritual perspective, people come for counseling and are having a difficult time … but knowing that God is present in every facet of life offers every comfort,'' he said.
His wife, Chaya, recently taught a class on how to prepare a tasty, thrifty Sabbath meal in an hour or less, Korf said.
"We're trying to do things that will give people tools and equip them to live more effectively and make their dollars stretch longer,'' he said.
Temple of the Living God in St. Petersburg also wants to develop wise consumers. Its seminar "Prosperity: Beyond Affirmations" promises to teach shoppers how to save 50 percent or more on groceries and other basics.
"The climate of fear which pervades the current economic environment is a very debilitating energy,'' the Rev. LeRoy Zemke said. "We need, as a congregation, to put a message out that has something hopeful in it.''
For congregations like First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks, offering personal finance classes is nothing new. In August, though, said church administrator Tim Ferguson, the Largo church added a new series to its schedule.
The Rev. Charley Reeb, the Pasadena Community Church pastor who gave the new year sermon about debt, thinks talk about money has a place in religious settings.
"Now more than ever, the people need the church for financial, for spiritual help,'' he said.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2283.