The Christian community in Dalton, Ga., is not giving up although times are mighty tough there. An ecumenical gathering called “24/7: Faith in the Real World” is one rallying point.

Last Monday night, the quarterly dinner event — sponsored by Baptist, United Methodist, Episcopal and Presbyterian congregations — focused on the most relevant topic of faith and finances. Jack “Chip” Bishop, a financial investment representative and former Baptist pastor, was the speaker.

Known as “the Carpet Capital of the World,” this Northwest Georgia town has been hit particularly hard. The flooring industry is hurting. Reports put Dalton as having the second highest unemployment rate in the nation.

Bishop said that one of the first questions he raises with clients is: “What is enough to you?”

In light of the current economic crisis, he said, the concept of “enough” is changing. And, for people of faith, he added, it is always an appropriate and important question.

“Some of the core of what Jesus taught us” has to do with “enough,” said Bishop, former pastor of Signal Mountain Baptist Church in Tennessee and the First Baptist Church of Waynesville, N.C., where he currently lives.

Pastor Bill Wilson, who hosted the 24/7 event at Dalton’s First Baptist Church said some people in the area are tired of talking about money. But he said the time is ripe for dealing with deeper issues that might not have surfaced during brighter days.

“What is this crisis doing to us spiritually?” he asked. “This is one of the most important opportunities to express our faith.”

Although his congregation, like most others, has drastically cut its budget, attention is being given to those needing the basics of life. A new free meal program grew quickly from 35 to 350 he told the CBS Evening News recently.

Monday night’s 24/7 gathering — started last year to help laypersons focus on the “integration of faith and life” — had a serious tone to it. Around round tables, there was talk of lost jobs, health concerns and an uncertain economic future.

But there was also talk of mutual care, compassion, hope and the ongoing re-evaluation of what is enough.

“It is a time to reorder our priorities,” said layman Tommy Duke during the closing moments of sharing.

[PHOTO: Chip Bishop (left), a financial investment representative from Waynesville, N.C., and Bill Wilson, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dalton, Ga., led a Monday night discussion of faith during tough economic times.]

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