Financial help is available for local churches
By Erik Alsgaard
NOTE: Local church finance leaders and pastors who have questions about their particular situation are encouraged to sign-up for a 15-minute consultation with BWC finance team members. Go to https://www.bwcumc.org/article/local-church-consultations/ to sign up. There are four areas available for consults: church budgets; online giving; benefits (pension and health insurance); and stewardship/generosity and planned giving.
LOCAL CHURCH FINANCIAL RELIEF WEBINAR | March 31
Local Churches in the Baltimore-Washington Conference have not worshipped together since March 8. At the time this webinar is being held, churches will have been shuttered for three full weeks and it appears that this may continue for at least four more weeks. We celebrate the innovations being developed by local churches to continue ministry into these days. However, the reality of making payroll and paying the bills is putting stress on all local church stewardship teams. The need for our Stewardship Teams to take action is urgent and essential.
To sign up for a consultation based on your church's needs, visit the Local Church Consultations page.
As the impact of the coronavirus pandemic reaches its third week in the BWC, financial leaders in the conference continue to put together financial supports to assist local churches.
Paul Eichelberger, Conference Treasurer, has been meeting almost daily with Bishop LaTrelle Easterling, the Cabinet, the Stewardship Committees and other leaders to find creative and innovative ways to keep expenses down for local churches.
The first such initiative, announced March 20, said that beginning with the April 2020 medical and pension invoice, and extending through and including June 2020, local churches will not be billed for the local church component of the Conference Sponsored Pension and Health Benefits Plans. Benefit obligations waived include Employer Pension Premiums (CRSP-DB, CRSP-DC, and CPP/UMLife Option); and Employer HealthFlex Premiums ($860/month per participant). This waiver does not impact the benefits received by any of the participants.
In addition, Conference Trustees continue to offer local churches access to loans and grants funded by the Loan Endowment Fund. Emergency Loan and Grant requests are accepted year-round. Applications for loans and grants are found online at https://www.bwcumc.org/administration/local-church-resources/grants-and-loans/ .
Less than a week later, on March 26, the Board of Pensions developed a comparable relief benefit for churches that do not have pension and medical benefit obligations. Called the "Small Church Grant Initiative," local churches that did not benefit from the waiving of local church benefit obligations will receive a grant that is of comparable value. About 250 churches in the BWC qualify for this benefit.
The Small Church Grants will begin in April 2020 and continue for three months. “This measure,” Eichelberger said, “undergirds the BWC's commitment to the health and financial wellbeing of its smaller churches.”
The Conference Council on Finance and Administration – CFA – met online March 25 and voted to cut the BWC’s 2020 expense budget by $1.1 million. This 8% reduction is the result of ceasing accelerated debt repayments on the Mission Center and other properties, as well as reductions in travel and events. The CFA also reallocated $615,000 from the budget to support local church financial relief.
In addition to cutting expenses and offering payment forgiveness, Eichelberger stressed that the income side of local church ministry isn’t all doom and gloom right now.
In fact, he said, “many of our churches were ready on day one with their online giving portals. We are also encouraged that online giving vendors are servicing most new accounts within 24-36 hours.”
To boost income, Eichelberger strongly urged churches to ramp-up their online giving capabilities. (The BWC website’s coronavirus resource page has a section on “Collecting Tithes from a Distance.”)
The Small Business Association, he noted, is also backing 8-week loans that can be switched to grants if certain criteria are met to offset payroll, benefit, and other expenses. Called the Paycheck Protection Program, these loans are available to non-profits and other businesses that have fewer than 500 employees. Applications are available at most banks.
“That loan amount would be for 2.5 times the church’s payroll and benefits,” he said. “However, the money has to be spent on salary and benefits, and well documented, all within that 8-week window.” Whatever money is spent will be considered a grant, he said. Whatever is not spent will have to be paid back.
In Maryland, Eichelberger noted that there is a $10,000 grant available for “loss of income” for non-profits with fewer than 50 employees.
“Grants are available,” he said, “up to $10,000 not to exceed three months of cash operating expenses for Maryland businesses and nonprofits impacted by the COVID-19.”
The MidAtlantic United Methodist Foundation has also produced a two-minute video explaining why now, in fact, may be a good time to approach those most heavily involved in your church and ask for a special contribution. Other resources and information are available at https://midatlanticfoundation.org/ .
Local church finance leaders and pastors who have questions about their particular situation are encouraged to sign-up for a 15-minute consultation with BWC finance team members. Go to https://www.bwcumc.org/article/local-church-consultations/ to sign up. There are four areas available for consults: church budgets; online giving; benefits (pension and health insurance); and stewardship/generosity and planned giving.