Contrary to widely circulated anecdotal evidence, the economic downturn is not creating a corresponding jump in church attendance.

Several evangelical mega-churches nationwide have reported a spike in attendance that correlates with the drop in the Dow Jones Average, a phenomenon that religious bloggers picked up and ran with all over the Internet.

But it turns out that the numbers don't support the hype. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, an organization that monitors religious trends, conducted a quick survey and discovered that church attendance is exactly the same as it was two years ago when the Dow was nearly twice as high as it is now.

The best explanation that the Pew analysts can come up with for the reports from the mega-churches -- assuming that their observations about increased attendance are correct -- is that they're drawing worshipers from other churches. That theory fits with a recent report that membership in the biggest mainstream faiths, including Roman Catholic, Southern Baptist and United Methodist, is dropping.

A helping hand

In 1990, the Rev. Michael Lapsley was serving in Zimbabwe after having been expelled from South Africa for his anti-apartheid activities, when he opened a letter bomb that blew off both his hands. Far from considering his loss a disability, he has turned it into a worldwide campaign for victims of violence called the Institute for Healing of Memories.

An Anglican priest who is a native of New Zealand, he is bringing one of his workshops to Minnesota this fall, with plans to tailor it for veterans, their friends and families. To launch the seminar's promotion, he'll be in town for a brown-bag lunch at noon Thursday in Room 205 at the Humphrey Institute on the West Bank of the University of Minnesota.

In addition to returning veterans and their supporters, anyone interested in being trained as a workshop facilitator also is invited to the lunch.

Darfur drama

Ruth Messinger, president of the American Jewish World Service, has been packing venue after venue across the country with her mesmerizing firsthand account of the genocide in Darfur.

That's why Temple Israel is telling people to arrive early to allow for big crowds when she delivers her speech, "Jews as Global Citizens: Our Responsibility in the World."

The event, co-sponsored by several organizations, is set for 7 p.m. Thursday. Admission is $10, payable at the door. The synagogue is at 2324 Emerson Av. S., Minneapolis.

Going green

White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church has won a national Faith & Form Merit Award for the addition of an environmentally friendly sanctuary.

The addition, designed by Twin Cities architects Wynne Yelland and Paul Neseth, partners in Locus Architecture, includes everything from a specially designed stormwater-filtering drainage system in the parking lot to the use of a reddish-brown steel alloy for the outside so the building will blend into the surrounding woods.

The church is east of White Bear Lake at 328 Maple St., Mahtomedi. If you want to see the inside of the sanctuary, too, Sunday services are at 9 and 11 a.m.

Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392