In Crisis, Wall Street Turns to Prayer
Starting early last Sunday morning, the turmoil in New York's financial markets triggered a spiritual response among Christian leaders reminiscent of the response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Cell phone text messages quickly spread calls to prayer. "Barclay has pulled out of Lehman deal," one announced. Wall Street giant Lehman Brothers was finalizing bankruptcy papers; Merrill Lynch was clinching its deal to sell itself to Bank of America. Monday would be devastating.
Many Wall Streeters realized that the crisis could be earthshaking. A. J. Rice, well-respected CEO of the hedge-fund firm Pomeroy Capital, says, "Most people think this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. In 1987 we had a dramatic shock, but the other shoe didn't drop." This year, a whole lot of shoes have dropped. Wall Streeters have lived with a constant sense of foreboding.
First there was the January sub-prime market crash and its ongoing problems; then the collapses of Bear Stearns and, most recently, Lehman Brothers; and now Merrill Lynch's loss of independence. More than 350 banks are on a watch list circulating on the street. "I was surprised and unsettled when Bear Stearns went under," says Rice. "I worked for them at one time. I knew we were in untested waters."
How Christians respond to the crisis will be a test of their wisdom, courage, integrity, and compassion for the mighty as well as for the humble. One executive told CT, "Our response will answer the question, 'Who is Jesus on Wall Street?' "
Bishop Roderick Caesar of New York City's Bethel Gospel Tabernacle, which has a number of members from Wall Street, says that the crisis is so fundamental to our world that "the church has to be poised for the moment and be prepared to work together."
Last Sunday night many Wall Streeters could not get to sleep. After midnight, an executive at one of Wall Street's leading investment banks, who requested that his name and his company's not be used, lay in bed watching CNBC report that his competitors were going by the wayside. "I was surprised how quickly it had come. By 8 P.M. we knew how Monday would open. I prayed, very selfishly, that my company would not be on the list." He worried "about my family, the economic environment, my church, and community."
His wife rolled over and asked, "Are you really worried?"
"No," he told her. "I am just interested in the news. I work for a really good company."
She asked again, "Are you stressed?"
He weighed what was important to them and answered, "Even if the worst happens, we will still be together as a family and have Christ who loves and cares for us." Reassured, his wife turned back over; 30 minutes later her husband turned off the television. He needed to be at work very early the next morning.
On Monday, Christians on Wall Street set up special prayer meetings for the week. First came the special prayer conference calls on Monday and Tuesday nights. Then, starting Wednesday, extraordinary prayer meetings were scheduled at Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, Deloitte, and elsewhere. Pastors began planning to gather for a sidewalk prayer meeting outside of the stock exchange.
Mac Pier of the New York Leadership Center started getting calls from friends who were losing their jobs. "Of course, I prayed with them that God would give them the spiritual and financial resources they need." Pier says that the Wall Streeters who called him were stunned. "It was unnerving to them because of the speed [at which] it happened."