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January 26, 2007

Winter storms hit rural pastors hard

NORMAN, Okla. — Pastor John Gifford of Shepherd’s Community Church knows what it's like to be a country minister working at a small church.

“I know because I’ve lived it,” Gifford said. “What goes into the collection plate Sunday morning is what the pastor lives on for that week.”

When a bitter winter storm hit much of Oklahoma earlier this month, covering roads and power lines with more than an inch of ice in some areas, Gifford knew he had to act. As a regional director for PastorCare, a national, non-denominational organization that provides financial and spiritual help to pastors in times of need, Gifford knew there were pastors at small churches across the state who were hurting because they were forced to cancel Sunday services because of the weather.

“Many pastors say they have no one to talk to in their time of need and that’s where PastorCare comes in,” Gifford said.

Gifford and other PastorCare volunteers have spent much of the past week driving across Oklahoma to find pastors at small, rural churches who are facing financial hardship because of icy weather.

“The storm has an immediate financial impact on them,” Gifford said. “When you’ve got to cancel services for two weeks straight because of the weather then that means there’s no money coming in.”

Gifford and Dan Price, a PastorCare volunteer from Goldsby, drove across eastern Oklahoma last week on icy roads in search of small churches in need of help in the form of a check to buy groceries or a just a few words of encouragement and prayer.

“Most people don’t realize that most rural churches have less than a hundred members,” Price said. “And about 50 or 60 percent of their operating budget is coming from what comes in the collection plate. These pastors are living on the edge.”

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