By Connie Davis Bushey
News Editor, Baptist and Reflector

tax-form-1040-calculatorCLEVELAND — For the seventh year about 10 volunteers of the CrossNet Baptist Network (formerly Bradley Baptist Association) will help about 200 citizens here file their annual income tax with the Internal Revenue Service.

The service — the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance — is free which saves the people coming to use the service the filing fee charged by a company to file taxes. It is offered out of the CrossNet Network office in Cleveland.

While there, the Baptist volunteers also help the tax filers spiritually.

The unusual ministry came about after an IRS employee visiting Chattanooga heard Phil Taylor, director of missions, CrossNet Network, speak at an area church. Taylor was speaking on creative and unique ways Baptists can use to reach the community with the gospel.

The next day Taylor received a phone call from the IRS employee. Taylor and the man discussed the idea at length. Taylor asked the man if the association could “share Jesus” with the clients of the service and received the okay. Taylor also asked if the IRS would closely monitor the service and the man said no.

The ministry has worked out very well, Taylor reported.

From yearly reports from the IRS, some of which appear in the local newspaper, Taylor has learned that the IRS sees the service, which is also provided by other groups, as a way for the community to keep money in the community which would have been spent on filing taxes by citizens. Often people assisted by this service are in low income categories.

“It’s a win, win for everyone involved,” said Taylor.

He credited Linda Finnell, volunteer director of the Volunteer Income Tax Service at CrossNet, for directing the ministry for six years.

Finnell, a member of West Wood Baptist Church, Cleveland, provides help in Spanish because one of the volunteers speaks Spanish. Some people who speak Russian also come for help and receive it because they bring their own translators, she explained. Other volunteers serve as counselors who provide spiritual help.

Finnell explained the association provides the computers, printer, paper, and use of the building, even on off hours. She is also proud of the church members who volunteer. Some are trained by the IRS.

She added that she is not trained professionally. She does prepare her own taxes and has a doctorate in mathematics.

Taylor said that when he was a pastor he wondered if members of his church could use their gifts and talents to help people file their taxes. His father is an accountant and his daughter and son-in-law are accountants.

It is clear that through this ministry Baptists are using their gifts and talents because the volunteers “love doing it,” Taylor noted.