Comparatively well off, Original Blessing's congregants and the surrounding community didn't technically meet pro bono committee criteria. So Sallinger decided to personally step up to the plate himself, working with Maher and me to craft and deliver a five-part seminar series entitled "Money Matters," which ran from late May through the end of June. (A second installment of the series—which costs $30 total and includes light meals—is planned for this autumn.)
The Monday evening sessions, held at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Greenpoint, addressed topics such as budgeting and goal setting, credit and debt management, retirement planning and investing and even the "psychology of money."
After an hour of interactive discussion led by Sallinger, with Maher's input, attendees—myself included—were sent home with an assignment, such as getting a free credit report, tracking weekly expenses, opening a savings account or accessing online Social Security statements.
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Being church-sponsored, the series also touched on the societal and spiritual aspects of money, commerce and the economy. The final session, entitled "Sacred Economics"—after a book by author, speaker and "de-growth" activist Charles Eisenstein—addressed the role money plays in private life and the community; alternative economics, such as gifting, time banks and local currencies; and possible future changes in the economic status quo.
"We explore the psychology behind money and the economic system that keeps us running in circles and tied to jobs we don't like because we are afraid of our financial futures," Maher said.
That's what drew New Zealand native Simon Spire, now a Brooklyn-based musician-singer and graduate student in economics and psychology.
"I was interested to meet and discuss ideas with others who are exploring ways of approaching livelihood, money and economic thinking in new ways," he said. Spire told me he sees a great need for a "more evolved" economic system, and "often such changes happen from the ground up every bit as much as, or more than, being initiated from the top down."