The Gift of Presence
For nearly two weeks, those of us in the Saint Paul Area Synod have been blessed by the presence of ou[...]
Lutherans have a robust appreciation for God's work in the public sphere of government and for God’s particular work through the church. In response to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the importance of physical distancing to slow the spread of the virus, the U.S. Congress recently enacted several legislative measures to provide financial resources for individuals and for businesses, including congregations.
On Thursday, April 2, the Saint Paul Area Synod hosted a Zoom conversation with the presidents of more than 80 of the synod’s congregations. Sarah Crippen, synod attorney, presented an overview of several topics related to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. This included information on expanded unemployment benefits, the Families First Act and paid family leave during the pandemic, as well as the CARES Act, which includes the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) for which congregations are eligible. Here are Sarah's notes, which reflect the guiding wisdom that was available as of April 2. As Sarah reminded the participants in that Zoom conversation, many details are still unfolding. Know that we will share updates as those become available.
The ELCA Churchwide organization has also made a variety of informational resources available. The first of those is Frequently Asked Questions on the Payroll Protection Program. Congregations are eligible to apply for small business loans to offset several months of payroll expense at this time when congregations may be experiencing reduced revenue. Such applications are made through the bank where the congregation does its business. A portion of the loan can be used to pay rent, mortgage, utilities and other overhead, as outlined on the information sheet. If all criteria are met, which includes not reducing or eliminating staff positions, this funding will become a forgivable loan, bolstering the congregation’s resources for pursuing a vital ministry for the coming months of 2020.
Each congregation of this synod is governed by a Council or Board, which usually includes the pastors and deacons serving the congregation. Applications for these federal and other applicable state relief funds need to include the endorsement of the elected lay leaders. Consequently, the ELCA Churchwide organization has also included an overview on how to hold a meeting electronically in this time in which we are not allowed to gather in person (Considerations for Remote Council and Congregation Meetings During the COVID-19 Pandemic). Such electronic meetings are allowed in Minnesota. Please contact Bishop Lull (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you need advice on how to proceed in light of your constitution.
In this country the majority of funding for the missional life of a congregation comes from the donations of members. Maintaining strong and generous stewardship is needed as much in the midst of the pandemic as it is in all other seasons. I have been encouraged by the testimony of those who have stepped forward with increased online giving or with added gifts during this time of crisis. While not every household can contribute in the same way in the face of the economic changes that have happened so quickly during this crisis, the resilience of our communities of faith shines through in innumerable creative ways.
On the synod’s COVID-19 resource page, you will also find an update from Portico Benefits. In addition, congregations with mortgages with Mission Investment Fund or Thrivent are encourages to talk with their lenders about their loans.
No congregation is required to participate in these public relief initiatives. In fact, every congregation is encouraged to speak with their attorney and their financial leaders to determine if these programs are advantageous for sustaining the congregation’s financial viability. There is not one answer for all congregational contexts.
One of my favorite Bible verses in these trying and unfamiliar days comes from I Peter: “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence (3:15-16a). While we are all navigating unfamiliar territory, none of us is in this alone. I am grateful for the partnership that is so deeply woven into this synod. None of us is left to figure out all things apart from the presence and mercy of God, who is our unyielding source of hope and courage. It is a privilege for me and all the synod staff to serve with you.
Bishop Patricia Lull