Meeting virtually, the Pacific Northwest (PNW) Conference’s Connectional Table (CT) approved an aggressive plan to redirect up to $940,000 in connectional dollars toward local churches to support and, in places, augment existing services to those in financial distress due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This action was developed in response to Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky’s three-fold call to “share the burden [of COVID-19] in connection.”
Bishop Stanovsky’s call recognized three distinct areas of assistance: (1) lightening the burden on local churches through smart, connectional adaptation, (2) protecting the income security of clergy and staff, where possible, and, (3) offering financial support to those most vulnerable to the economic impacts of COVID-19.
While several efforts in each of these areas are already underway, the proposal brought by PNW Director of Connectional Ministries Rev. David Valera, asked that existing budgeted funds be redirected to support the first and third of the Bishop’s areas of assistance. Funding of up to $540,000 to provide targeted assistance for income security will come in part from a three-month premium holiday for conferences provided by Wespath and did not require the action of the CT.
Up to $50,000 from Office of Connectional Ministries (OCM) funds were approved to support current and emerging efforts to help to lighten the burden on local churches during this time. This funding for things like COVID-19 related resourcing and guidance, subsidized Zoom accounts, expenses relating to webinars and shared worship production (like the Easter service), coaching on financial and technological matters, and future efforts will come from savings realized by the cancellation (or movement to virtual space) of connectional events and meetings.
Extending hope to those most vulnerable through the ‘Funds for Families’
CT also approved the reallocation of up to $350,000 to meet Bishop Stanovsky’s call to support those most vulnerable to the economic impacts of COVID-19. Through Funds for Families, a local church, cluster/group of churches, or specialized ministry can apply for resourcing to support ongoing or new efforts for vulnerable populations. Pacific Northwest’s fair share of contributions to bishop’s Easter offering and “Pass the Stimulus On” appeal also fund this initiative. Churches are encouraged to match grant funds with local contributions and community partnerships.
It starts with a question, according to the Rev. David Valera. “What are the relationships that the local church has? From there, what is the next level or adaption that funding like this would assist with?”
In the Oregon-Idaho Conference where this program has been piloted, it took the form of gift cards given out to low-income families through local schools. While gift cards (food/gas/phone) may make sense in some communities in the PNW, other forms of educational support (i.e., providing WiFi connectivity, other supplies), existing ecumenical and community partnerships (food banks, clothing stores), and even supplies for the production of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) – like facemasks for the community, might all be possibilities.
While new ideas may be considered, existing relationships and ministry partners will be prioritized in consideration. “We aren’t looking for local churches to tell people what they need,” added Valera. “We are seeking to partner with local churches who may need some help because the program they’ve been providing is now overwhelmed by community requests.”
“Funds will be distributed in two waves,” says Kristina Gonzalez, Director of Innovation for an Inclusive Church. “The first wave will be through existing community partnerships already vibrant and in place. These funds will be for immediate needs. The second wave will recognize that the financial impacts of COVID 19 are long term. For this larger wave of support, congregations will be encouraged to think in new ways about their work in community, and to deepen or create new partnerships, all with the goal of preserving dignity and joining resilience.”
Local churches can contact their District Superintendent for more information on how to be considered for this resourcing. The Greater Northwest Innovation Vitality Team will be monitoring this work across the area closely with the intention of offering training that deepens and broadens community connections.
To fund this initiative, the OCM will leave unfilled several open staff positions with CT approving additional funding from two “rainy day” funds built up over years of faithful connectional giving by local church members and wise financial stewardship.
Patrick Scriven is a husband who married well, a father of three amazing girls, and a seminary educated layperson working professionally in the church. Scriven serves the Pacific Northwest Conference as Director of Communications and Young People’s Ministries.