Today's sermon: Money woes

Even in the midst of a recession -- and within communities of faith, where members pledge to help one another -- the last thing people tend to discuss openly, says Bryan Brunelle, is their struggles with money.

"People will talk about their sex lives more easily than their financial problems," says Brunelle, a deacon at Central Presbyterian Church in Towson. "It shouldn't be that way in a church community. But it is."

So when Brunelle, 30, saw a chance to bring to his 800-member congregation, and to the wider community, a free, interactive, multimedia Webcast on how people should handle personal finances during the recession, it seemed like the answer to a prayer.

Thursday night at 8, Central Presbyterian will be one of 11 churches within 30 miles of Baltimore - and more than 6,000 venues nationwide - to present a 90-minute, live-streamed workshop on money strategies during hard times, "Town Hall For Hope."

"Most Americans are sick and tired of all the doom and gloom they're seeing in the newspapers and on television," says financial guru Dave Ramsey, the author and multimedia star who will host the event, in a promotional clip at "[This is] your chance to sit face-to-face with others as we figure this thing out together."

Optimism and homespun advice are the hallmarks of Ramsey, author of the best-seller The Total Money Makeover and host of a syndicated radio show and a TV program on the Fox Business Channel.

His Tennessee-based Dave Ramsey Ministries will foot the bill for the event. Fox Business Channel will also broadcast it live.

Brunelle says sound financial advice has scriptural roots. "We believe God says, 'This [money] is my gift to you; manage it well for your good and the good of others,' " he said.

And he's a Ramsey believer. When Brunelle, a physical therapist, and his wife, Julie, 31, started married life as many young professionals do, hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt due to student loans, Ramsey's theme of sticking to a plan helped them so much that Brunelle brought the guru's 13-week video course to the church last fall.

About 30 people have finished it, including Associate Pastor George Antonakos and nonmembers of the church.

Students didn't start openly sharing their financial concerns right away, Antonakos said. "We don't really want to mention the dumb things we've done," he said, including simple but expensive bad habits like dining out or paying $50 a month for cups of coffee.

It's an open question whether Central's initiatives are part of a trend. Mark Chaves, a professor of sociology, religion and divinity at Duke University, said that the most recent study on the matter, in 1998, found that 22 percent of congregations - including churches, synagogues, mosques and temples - had held a personal finance class within the previous year.

"The interesting question would be, is it now two in five?" he said. "Has that gone up?"

The percentage will likely rise tonight when Ramsey speaks from Oklahoma City. He'll also answer audience questions submitted via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Brunelle expects a crowd of about 200 at Central and hopes visitors will find that scriptural wisdom applies even during a recession.

"The borrower is servant to the lender," he said, quoting both Proverbs and Ramsey.

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