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Churches, synagogues struggle with budget woes

At St. Paraskevi Greek Orthodox Church in Greenlawn, with 2,500 members, the clergy has cut back on visits to the sick, elderly and homeless because falling contributions to the church have crimped its fuel budget.

And at the small Clinton Memorial AME Zion Church in Greenport, drops in contributions have resulted in deficits some of its 60 members have had to cover.

The recession's effects are being felt at the largest religious institutions on Long Island and the smallest.

"We are hearing that across the board," said the Rev. Thomas Goodhue, executive director of the Long Island Council of Churches. "The recession is hitting congregations at a time when they are already pretty stressed out."

The Rev. Louis Nicholas, assistant pastor at St. Paraskevi, said the pastor there, Dimitrios Moraitis, recently asked parishioners to increase contributions, "telling them he knows times are tough but we have to remember we're doing God's work, helping the needy."

Moraitis said contributions are down about 28 percent from last year.

In recent years, mergers of synagogues - spurred in part by declining Jewish populations and financial pressures - have accelerated, said Rabbi Steven Moss, of B'nai Israel Reform Temple in Oakdale. And he said some congregations have cut staff positions - eliminating the cantor, for example, or making the rabbi position part time.

Not every diocese has cut back. Canon Kris Lee said the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, which also covers Brooklyn and Queens, is adding staff.

At Clinton Memorial, the recession has exacerbated the effects of seasonal unemployment on its resources, yet "we try to help as much as we can" with its community food program, as well as pay the bills, said the Rev. Nathaniel Heyward.

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