prevent a year-2000 panic.
Amid doomsayers' claims that power grids will shut down and automated teller machines malfunction when the calendar turns to Jan. 1, the trade group has written a sermon aimed at easing fears about the Y2K bug.
ABA officials are asking community bankers to pass along the generic, five-page sermon to their priests, ministers, and rabbis.
Churches play an important role in most communities, and people put a lot of credence in what they say,'' said Kathleen Murphy, director of the ABA's community bankers council. Drawing comparisons with Orson Welles' famous War of the Worlds'' broadcast in 1938, the sermon urges consumers to get the full story'' before going out and buying a year's worth of groceries or burying your money in the backyard.'' Though it does not promise that there will be no glitches, the text tries to reassure consumers that government and industry - particularly banking - are ready for the millennial change.
I'm not worried about America's ability to solve the technical problems of Y2K,'' it says. But there is something that does worry me: misinformation. The kind of misinformation that led some people on the night of Oct. 30, 1938, to panic.''
The ABA faxed its members last week, calling attention to the posting of the sermon on its Web site. The association is not expecting the text to be read verbatim but views it as a template'' for sermons, said ABA spokesman John Hall.
The banking industry is spending about $8 billion to upgrade computer systems to meet regulators' year-2000 guidelines. At last count, 99% of the nation's banks and thrifts were year-2000 compliant.
Robert B. Fazzini, president of commercial lending at Busey Bank in Bloomington, Ill., said the sermon could help persuade customers that their money will be safe in the bank. If a minister is saying everything is going to be O.K., you'll tend to believe it more than if I'm saying it,'' Mr. Fazzini said.
ABA officials decided to target religious groups after an article in a Baptist-affiliated publication suggested that people's money would be safer in large banks. The February article in Baptist Press said community banks and credit unions have dragged their feet'' on upgrading computer systems.
The bankers were concerned that some portions of the religious community were fanning the flames of Y2K anxiety,'' said Mr. Hall.
Members of the ABA's community bankers council met with leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville last May to assure them that banks of all sizes are prepared. ABA officials and members have already delivered their message on religious radio and television shows in Phoenix, San Francisco, Chicago, and other cities.
The Southern Baptist Convention has since softened its stance on community banks' readiness.
John Gillmartin, pastor at First Baptist Church in La Verne, Calif., said he has told members of his congregation that he believes their money is safe in banks.
The Rev. Gillmartin said it is unlikely he would a use a canned sermon. But he said it is not uncommon for members of the clergy to use unsolicited material, especially if they are running low on ideas.
It seems like preachers are expected to hit a home run every time they come to the plate,'' he said. But it doesn't always happen.''