Mar 22, 2020 4:58 PM

As offerings dwindle, some churches fear for their future

Posted Mar 22, 2020 4:58 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — As in-person worship services are canceled or downsized amid the coronavirus outbreak, some churches across the U.S. are bracing for a painful drop in weekly contributions and possible cutbacks in programs and staff.

One church leader, Bishop Paul Egensteiner of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Metropolitan New York Synod, said some of the 190 churches in his region were unlikely to survive because of a two-pronged financial hit. Their offerings are dwindling, and they are losing income from tenants such as preschools which can no longer afford to rent church venues.

“As much as I’d like to help them, everybody's reserves are taking a hit because of the stock market,” Egensteiner said,

At Friendship Baptist Church in Baltimore, a mostly African American congregation of about 1,100, the Rev. Alvin Gwynn Sr. bucked the cancellation trend by holding services last Sunday. But attendance was down by about 50%, and Gwynn said the day’s offering netted about $5,000 compared to a normal intake of about $15,000.

“It cuts into our ministry,” he said. “If this keeps up, we can’t fund all our outreach to help other people.”

There was a brighter outcome at the Church of the Resurrection, a large United Methodist Church congregation that operates out of five locations in the Kansas City area.

Cathy Bien, the church’s communications director, said about 25,700 people logged in to join online worship last Sunday after in-person services were canceled. That compared to normal Sunday participation of 14,000 worshippers -– 8,000 in person and 6,000 online.

“It blew our minds,” Bien said. “They were coming from all over the country -– a lot of Methodists from other churches.”

The huge turnout didn’t translate into a larger than normal offering, although the church is still processing checks that were sent by some of the worshippers, Bien said. She expressed hope that financial support will remain robust as the church stresses the need to bolster food pantries and other community programs in the face of COVID-19.

t Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, Virginia, giving was down modestly last weekend as the church cancelled in-person worship and made the service available online.

The pastor, Walter Kim, said some of his roughly 1,000 congregants have grown accustomed to online giving in recent years, but many worshippers still give in person at the services - an option not available for now.

“We’ll be asking them to sign up (for online giving) or mail a check,” said Kim. He will be urging congregants to bolster the church’s “mercy fund” for use assisting hard-up members of the community as job losses multiply.

In addition to his pastoral duties Kim is president of the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents more than 45,000 evangelical churches. The NAE will be co-hosting a two-day digital summit next week featuring videos from church leaders advising other pastors nationwide how to respond creatively and effectively to the virus outbreak.

The co-host is the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College in Illinois, which already has offered resources to churches in response to COVID-19.

“Some changes are going to be required,” Kim said. “The church is a very creative institution. In the end it will find ways of fulfilling its mission.”

In Western Massachusetts, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield has indefinitely cancelled all public Masses, and recently rescinded permission for parishioners to pray individually at their churches.

Funeral Masses were still allowed with a maximum attendance of 25; the diocese said the times of those Masses were not to be shared in the media,

“Lack of access to the churches and Eucharist is particularly difficult for many older parishioners whose entire daily routine is built around getting up, out of the house, and going to Mass,” said the Rev. Mark Stelzer, who has served in the diocese as a parish priest and college chaplain.

The Rev. William Tourigny, pastor of Ste. Rose de Lima Church in Chicopee, Massachusetts, said his parish had a solid financial foundation and expected it could maintain all programs and staff payroll for the time being.

“For smaller faith-based communities with little or no reserved funds, difficult decisions will need to be made,” he said.

Joe Wright, executive director of the Bivocational and Small Church Leadership Network in Nashville said many pastors in the network have been holding regular in-person services, while monitoring the spread of the virus.

“Once the coronavirus rises to the level where it starts hitting smaller groups, then we’ll see even the smaller groups back away and seek ways to gather, probably electronically,” he said.

When that happens, Wright said, financial giving will depend on the church, especially the age of the congregations.

“Some churches with older congregations do not give electronically so the transition to that will be a little bit harder,” he said.

Ron Klassen, executive director of Rural Home Missionary Association, said it’s too early to say how the rural churches he represents are being impacted.

"My sense is that in the past, people rise up and, if anything, the giving might increase,” he said. “People are going to give. They’ll take care of their church and their community.”

In Baltimore, pastor Gwynn worries that tensions might rise past the point that church outreach programs can help.

“With all the uncertainty, I’m afraid this could turn into anarchy,” he said. “Not everybody’s patient. Not everybody’s law abiding.”

He even envisioned the possibility of a stampede toward the goods being doled out after church’s annual food drive.

“My biggest fear right now is what's happening to the minds of our people,” Gwynn said. “How long can we hold them together?’

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Continue Reading Salina Post
Mar 22, 2020 4:58 PM
UPDATE: What Kansans need to know about the COVID-19 coronavirus
Health officials say one way to stop the spread of the new coronavirus is to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service

Kansas News Service

The new coronavirus is spreading quickly around the world, including across Kansas, and setting off a range of responses.

The Kansas News Service is boiling down key developments in the state and updating the status regularly here. To read this information in Spanish, go here. This list was last updated at 2:10 p.m. March 31.

CASES AND DEATHS

430 cases, including two from out of state (see map for counties)

9 deaths (4 in Wyandotte County, 3 in Johnson County, 1 each in Sedgwick and Crawford counties)

NOTE: These figures only include cases confirmed with lab tests and do not represent the real, unknown total. Community transmission is occurring in parts of Kansas.

STATEWIDE ORDER TO STAY HOME

Gov. Laura Kelly is instituting a statewide stay-at-home order as of 12:01 a.m. March 30. It will last until at least April 19. Stay-at-home orders allow people to take care of essential activities (such as grocery shopping or going to work) as well as exercise outside, but otherwise keep to themselves. 

The state’s stay-at-home order supersedes at least 13 county-by-county orders. Should the state’s order lift before a county’s is through, the county can choose to keep its own in effect.

SHOULD I SELF-QUARANTINE?

For the whole state: The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) is now mandating home quarantine for 14 days if you've traveled to the places listed below. If you come down with symptoms (such as a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher, coughing or shortness of breath) during those 14 days, contact your health care provider and explain your potential COVID-19 exposure.  

  1. Louisiana or anywhere in Colorado on or after March 27.
  2. States with known widespread community transmission (California, Florida, New York and Washington) on or after March 15.
  3. Illinois or New Jersey on or after March 23.
  4. Eagle, Summit, Pitkin and Gunnison counties in Colorado (if your visit was March 8th or later).
  5. Cruise ships or river cruises on or after March 15. Anyone previously told to quarantine because of their cruise ship travel should also finish out their quarantine.
  6. International destinations on or after March 15. Anyone previously told to quarantine because of their international travel should also finish out their quarantine.

TESTING AVAILABILITY

As of March 27, Kansas health secretary Lee Norman said the state lab was handling 175 samples a day. But Kansas will receive more equipment within about a week that will let it handle 700 to 1,000 samples daily, though shortages of specialized supplies such as nose swabs may still hamper work at times. 

Norman said there’s enough capacity in the state, now that testing has ramped up through commercial labs and hospitals. State testing is reserved for high-risk groups, such as sick nursing home residents and health care workers. Others can ask their doctor or nurse practitioner to order through private labs.

What Kansas still lacks is enough testing material to study COVID-19 rates among people without symptoms.

KANSAS HAS DECLARED A STATE OF EMERGENCY. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

It gives the state government more power to marshal resources and triggers the state's response plan. The state Legislature has extended Kelly's declaration through May (and can extend it), with the aim of giving her the ability to make certain decisions when lawmakers aren’t in session.

On March 22, Kelly eased state rules to expand the use of telemedicine, to temporarily license more health workers and to allow heavier trucks on Kansas highways hauling relief supplies. On March 23, she ordered a ban on evictions if a tenant was unable to pay because of the coronavirus crisis. And she extended the income tax filing deadline to July 15, in line with a delay for filing federal tax forms.

HOW ARE UNIVERSITIES RESPONDING?

K-State, University of Kansas and Wichita State: All of them will go fully online for the end of the school year. Students at K-State and KU will need special exemptions to remain in dorms.

Other colleges: Washburn and Fort Hays State are online. Newman University expanded spring break for two weeks (March 14 to March 29). Johnson County Community College will close campus from March 14-29, and all courses will restart online March 30. Pittsburg State started break a day early and will resume classes indefinitely online on March 30.

HOW ABOUT K-12 SCHOOLS?

Gov. Laura Kelly and Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson have shut down all K-12 schools, public, private and parochial, for the rest of the 2019-20 school year. They had initially issued a strong recommendation that schools close March 16 through 20. 

Some county health departments had already issued similar orders. 

A Kansas State Department of Education task force has issued guidance to school districts on how to continue some amount of student learning. 

WHAT’S BEEN CANCELED OR SUSPENDED?

The governor’s executive order temporarily banning landlords from evicting businesses or residential tenants is effective until May 1. That same order put in a moratorium on any mortgage foreclosures through the same period.

The governor mandated on March 23, through an executive order, that gatherings be restricted to less than 10 people.

Kansas state workers: Access to the Statehouse is limited to official business only, and lawmakers went on break early. Kelly wanted most state employees to stay home for at least two weeks starting March 23.

State prisons: The Kansas Department of Corrections ended visitation at all state facilities, and will “re-evaluate on an ongoing basis.” It urges families to talk to inmates through email, phone calls and video visits. 

Electric companies: Evergy, which serves 950,000 customers in Kansas, will not disconnect residential or business services for an unspecified amount of time due to the “unprecedented challenge” of coronavirus that “may result in customers facing unexpected or unusual financial strain.”

Casinos: All four state-owned gaming facilities will close at the end of business on March 17, and remain so until at least March 30.

Public events: Many events and public places around the state have been canceled until at least the end of March. 

Sports: The Kansas State High School Athletics Association canceled the state basketball tournament midway through it. And the Big 12 suspended spring sports until March 29.  

HOW BAD IS THE VIRUS? 

COVID-19 usually causes mild to moderate symptoms, like a fever or cough. Most people with mild symptoms recover in two weeks. More severe cases, found in older adults and people with health issues, can have up to six weeks’ recovery time or can lead to death.

HOW CAN YOU AVOID IT?

  1. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. Frequently.
  2. Cover your coughs.
  3. If you’re an older Kansan or medically fragile, put off any vacations and limit your trips to the grocery store or any public space.
  4. Stay home if you are sick — this goes for all ages.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON COVID-19

Kansas Department of Health and Environment: http://www.kdheks.gov/coronavirus/

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.