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Daily Devotions
Greed can nearly collapse a global economy
 
''Dear God,'' he said, staring into the camera during a taping session Friday morning at WCSH.
 
''Greed can nearly collapse a global economy - and this isn't the first time. Keep us from easy credit. Keep us from speculation. Keep us from greed. Amen.''

The historical reference is not without its irony.

When the stock market collapsed in 1929, the First Radio Parish Church of America was only three years old.

Now, Wall Street once again is teetering on the brink of collapse. And alas, the nation's oldest broadcast church is too.

''Maybe we'll succeed and maybe we won't succeed,'' Panagore said with a rueful smile before donning his jacket and tie to record three two-minute ''Daily Devotions'' segments. ''But it won't be for lack of trying.''

He's talking about money - as in not enough. Unless First Radio Parish finds a way to offset the impending withdrawal of support by a deep-pocketed donor, it soon will leave the airwaves for the first time in 82 years.

If you're an early morning viewer of WCSH Channel 6, you know the drill. Seven days a week, Panagore appears at 6:15 a.m. to deliver two minutes of storytelling, reflection, encouragement, whatever you want to call it. He then closes with a brief prayer and a ''thought for the day.''

A Protestant minister for 18 years with a master's degree from Yale Divinity School, Panagore is the fifth preacher to run the one-of-a-kind church. The first was the Rev. Howard O. Hough, who, on Feb. 26, 1926, persuaded WCSH founder Henry Rines to make room for a weekly, nonsectarian broadcast service on Rines' fledgling radio station atop the Eastland Hotel.

Eight decades later, the bond persists. WCSH6 provides the studio, the cameras, the production staff and most importantly, the air time for First Radio Parish, all for free. The station has even set aside a cubicle on its top floor for Panagore and his assistant, Lisa Falconieri, again at no charge.

Still, there are expenses. Salaries, insurance, a monthly newsletter, maintenance of the church's Web site www.dailydevotions.org, recording equipment for the 19 broadcasts that Panagore produces each week for six radio stations around Maine, as well as the Armed Forces Radio Network, add up to an annual budget of $120,000.

Individual donations cover 60 percent of the operating costs. The other 40 percent comes from an anonymous benefactor who recently fell ill and has informed Panagore that he can't continue underwriting First Radio Parish beyond this December.

Try as he might to find money elsewhere, Panagore so far has come up dry.

For starters, he said, ''granting foundations generally don't give to churches and they don't give to the broadcast media. And when you're both, it's kind of a double whammy.''

What's more, First Radio Parish's mission - ''Our ministry emphasizes God's spirit of unity and love for all people, and supports rather than competes with traditional religious institutions.'' - doesn't produce the kind of cash flow enjoyed by the TV pulpit pounders.

''We don't use fear tactics. We don't threaten hell,'' Panagore said. ''We don't set up 'our' camp and 'their' camp. And so our constituency, our viewership, our congregation is both churched and un-churched. It's not a group of people who view it as 'us' against 'the culture.'''

How valuable is that in these polarized times? You decide. And then if you're so inclined, log on to www.dailydevotions.org and click on ''make a donation.'' Or you can mail a check to FRPCA c/o WCSH6, One Congress Square, Portland, ME 04101.

And if per chance you're wondering whether First Radio Parish's time indeed has passed, consider the call Panagore received from a family shelter last month, just after he'd taped a ''Daily Devotion'' on domestic violence - one of the topics about which he is the most passionate.

It turned out that a woman who saw the segment knew deep down that her life was in imminent danger. The ''Daily Devotion,'' the shelter director told Panagore, ''gave her the last piece she needed to get out. And now she's out, today, and here at the shelter.'' How did that feel for the preacher who never actually sees his congregation?

''Thankful,'' Panagore said. ''Thankful that the piece aired that day and that woman heard it. If only one person gets something like that out of it, it's worth it.''

Amen.

Columnist Bill Nemitz