Category Archives: Social Issues

Memphis, Tenn., EPC pastors collaborate with local faith leaders on reopening churches video

 

ReopeningTheChurch

Second in a series.

George Robertson, Senior Pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn.., and Rufus Smith, Senior Pastor of Hope Church in Cordova, Tenn., contributed their voices to “Memphis Faith Leaders Stand Together,” a one-minute video on the decision to love their neighbors by waiting for in-person worship.

Smith said the video has received significant viewership and “emboldened many churches to predicate reopening based on data, not dates. It also reinforced implementing safety protocols now and whenever we regather.”

While Tennessee’s shelter-in-place order expired on April 30, Smith noted that most of the Hope congregation understands “the three factors of healthcare, economics, and loving our neighbors must all be considered before in-person gatherings resume.”

The idea for the video emanated from a weekly Zoom meeting of Memphis-area clergy.

“A coalition of churches is in partnership with the Church Health Medical Clinic and Christ Community Health Services, both of which provide quality healthcare for the uninsured and working poor,” Smith said. “The churches in the video have covenanted to care spiritually, materially, and emotionally for those who test positive for coronavirus in their ZIP codes while they quarantine for 14 days.”

The Hope Church Creative Team produced the video.

 

Reopening the church: ‘when and how’ the critical points for EPC pastors

 

ReopeningTheChurch

First in a series.

As debate rages about opening up the country amid the coronavirus pandemic, EPC congregations across the U.S. are weighing options on how and when to resume regular worship services and other activities.

Some churches have already started holding in-person services.

Sylvania EPC in Ward, Ark., reopened for services on May 10 with about half of its regular attendees—most of whom are age 65 and older.

James Pitts, pastor of the Sylvania congregation, said there is “no pressure on the others to return before they are ready.”

He added that they are attempting to follow Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s guidelines.

“Most wore masks,” he noted. “One wore gloves. We positioned offering plates near the doors and did not have bulletins. We practiced social distancing, streamlined the service slightly, and did not have a choir.”

Arkansas has been one of the outbreak’s least-impacted states, Pitts reported. “We are thankful that none of us have experienced serious symptoms associated with COVID-19.”

In Louisiana, which was one of the early “hot spot” states for the virus, First Presbyterian Church in Baton Rouge reopened on May 17 with two services—each of which had an attendance limit of 25 percent of the Sanctuary’s capacity.

ChurchesReopening1-Dawson

Gerrit Dawson

Senior Pastor Gerrit Dawson said plans for future meetings depend on what Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards outlines in phase one of the state’s reopening plan.

“Things change so quickly, the guidelines may or may not be what has been already announced,” Dawson said. “This defines the road ahead as ‘speculative’ and we must remain dynamic and be prepared to make changes to whatever plans we have made.”

Dawson said they asked the congregation to register online prior to Sunday. When the pre-determined capacity limit was reached, the system would not accept additional registrations.

“With pre-registration, we know the size of the families, groups, and individuals who will be coming and will be able to accomplish at least some strategic seat assignments to accomplish healthy distances,” he said.

Ruling Elder Jane Cooper said about 60 people attended each of the first Sunday’s services.

“Everyone was given a mask, and we were spread out,” she said. “We stopped the online signups after the first weekend, and this past week our attendance was about the same.”

Dawson said decisions on logistical matters—such as distribution of bulletins and order of worship, communion, fellowship, and helping attendees maintain social distancing while exiting the Sanctuary—required extra thought but were necessary to reopen for public worship.

“Those who come will be hungry to worship our Lord in Spirit and in Truth,” he said. “Gathering as God’s people is a privilege and one that is in our DNA as Christians.”

In New Mexico, First Presbyterian Church in Artesia reopened for worship services on May 24.

ChurchesReopening1-Phelps

Dan Phelps

Pastor Dan Phelps said maintain social distancing was not difficult for the congregation of about 25 individuals.

“We are in a building that would seat 250,” he said. “I have ordered masks and gloves to have on hand so that folks who would like to utilize them may have access to them.”

Phelps added that a team cleaned the building before the service, sanitizing doorknobs and other potential high-touch items.

“We did not pass the plate but had it at the back for folks to drop off their offerings. Also, we roped off every other pew so that folks would maintain six feet distance between families.”

Faith Presbyterian Church in Crivitz, Wis., began holding outdoor worship services after Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers issued a new five-week “Safer at Home” quarantine order in April that allowed for church gatherings with specific restrictions.

ChurchesReopening1-Pleuss

David Pleuss

Pastor David Pleuss said the church’s leadership felt it was time for the congregation to meet.

“We noticed a shift in people’s attitudes,” he said. “Discouragement was creeping in and relational intimacy beyond our online daily devotion was needed.”

Pleuss said that while Crivitz is located in one of the state’s largest counties by land area, it has had the smallest number of COVID-19 cases.

“After looking at the new order we determined we could in good conscience hold outdoor services with appropriate social distance measures in place. We ended up having somewhere around 50 people (out of an average attendance of 80) attend our first time,” he said. “We are still doing a lot of online presence, but this was a breath of fresh air that many of our people needed.”

He added that the church’s small groups are not yet meeting.

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Tony Myers

Tony Myers, Senior Pastor of St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church in Somerset, Pa., said they will continue to make pre-recorded services available online through May, then consider reopening in June.

Prior to the shelter-in-place restrictions, the church held two services each Sunday—with about 250 people in each. He said the plan for in-person worship gatherings beginning in June is to require pre-registration for three Sunday morning services of no more than 100 each to allow for social distancing.

“During the month of May we are cleaning the building for the health and safety of the congregation,” Myers said, adding that Sunday School classes have been suspended through the summer.

In Indianapolis, where Southport Presbyterian Church Senior Pastor Rob Hock said there is a “healthy relationship between church and state,” churches “have been given a lot of latitude regarding public meetings.”

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Rob Hock

Despite the leeway, Hock said Southport plans to continue digital worship and times of prayer by video conference for the time being.

“We have empowered our elders who have said ‘less is more,’ and we have provided connection,” he said. “Our people believe that gathering more than 10 people together would be immoral and irresponsible, so we are going to be more restrictive. Our values will drive what we do.”

Hock said those values include caring for both the “physical and the spiritual needs of people, caring for the whole community, and caring for authorities over us.”

Cedarville United Presbyterian Church in Cedarville, Ohio, is following much the same strategy as Southport.

ChurchesReopening1-Horton

Anne Horton

Anne Horton, pastor of the Cedarville congregation, said they do not have a firm date for the church to reopen. In the meantime, the church will continue to offer Sunday morning worship and Wednesday evening Bible study on Facebook Live—a service they had not provided prior to the pandemic.

“We are committed first and foremost to the health and safety of the congregation,” she said. “We will rope off some pews and encourage people to stay at least six feet away from anyone not in their household. We have already removed the hymnals, praise books, and Bibles, and will encourage people to bring their Bibles and to download a bulletin from our website and bring it with them.”

She said hand sanitizer would be placed in the sanctuary, along with cleaning supplies in the restrooms. Congregants will be encouraged—but not required—to wear masks.

Horton said she has emphasized to parishioners that while services will be different from previous experiences, it also will be a joyful experience.

“It will be a very different experience from what we have been used to,” she said. “It will feel awkward. It will feel sterile. But whether we are in the sanctuary or in living rooms, we can glorify God together.”

by Tim Yarbrough
EPConnection correspondent

EPC Chaplain Endorser honors first responders with home light display

 

InglesBlueLights1EPC Chaplain Endorser Mark Ingles has washed his home in Colorado Springs, Colo., in blue light to honor first responders during the COVID-19 crisis. Ingles is a Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of the West and a retired U.S. Air Force Chaplain.

InglesBlueLights2“It’s simply a show of support for everyone from local first responders to teachers, doctors, nurses, truckers, churches, food banks, members of the Corona Virus Task Force, and others for their incredibly hard work during this difficult time,” Ingles said. “I wanted to honor the wonderful people doing amazing things to keep us safe, supported, our kids taught, food brought to our stores, and so much more.”

Ingles noted that the LED lights consume the equivalent of a single 150-watt light bulb.

General Assembly called meeting set for May 1 to reschedule 40th GA to September

 

GA2020ThemeArt-BannerNoDateA called meeting of the General Assembly is scheduled for May 1 at 4:00 p.m. EST to approve a motion to reschedule the 40th General Assembly from June 23-26, 2020, to September 17-18, 2020. The called meeting will be conducted as a video conference. Hope Presbyterian Church in Cordova, Tenn., will host the 40th General Assembly.

“With so many uncertainties about when meeting restrictions will be lifted—not to mention the safety of our attendees—the National Leadership Team unanimously agreed that rescheduling the 40th Assembly was in everyone’s best interest,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “I am grateful for their wise decision to postpone GA until the fall, and for Hope Church’s flexibility in being able to host us in September.”

The motion that the called meeting of the General Assembly will be asked to approve is:

The 40th General Assembly of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church is rescheduled from June 23-26, 2020, at Hope Presbyterian Church, Cordova, Tennessee, to September 17-18, 2020, at Hope Presbyterian Church, Cordova, Tennessee.

The National Leadership Team approved the motion and the date and time of the called meeting on Tuesday morning, April 14. A quorum of registered Commissioners to the 39th General Assembly approved the motion later on April 14.

Commissioners to the 39th GA will be notified soon with the called meeting video conference details.

Book of Government 20-5B provides for a called meeting of the General Assembly. Ten percent of Ruling Elders and ten percent of Teaching Elders who were Commissioners to the 39th General Assembly in 2019 must “petition” for the called meeting. A total of 571 Commissioners attended the 39th General Assembly: 282 REs and 389 TEs. In order for the called meeting to take place, 29 Ruling Elders and 39 Teaching Elders needed to sign the petition. The Office of the General Assembly emailed all 571 Commissioners following the NLT action, inviting them to sign the petition. The required number to constitute a quorum had petitioned for the called meeting by 5:00 p.m.

Jeremiah said the proposed September 17-18 meeting will be “business only,” with no Leadership Institute on Tuesday or Wednesday. He added that the Office of the General Assembly staff is exploring the possibility of providing virtual as well as on-site participation for Commissioners at the proposed September meeting. The quorum for meetings of the General Assembly is five Ruling Elders and five Teaching Elders from three presbyteries (Book of Government 20-5C).

If the motion is approved, the following will occur:

  • The fiscal year 2020 budget (July 1, 2019 – June 30, 2020) will be continued until the 40th General Assembly approves the fiscal year 2021 budget at its September 17-18 meeting.
  • Permanent Committee members in the Class of 2020 will continue on their committee until the General Assembly acts on the recommendation of the Nominating Committee at its September 17-18 meeting.
  • Online registration will open July 1.

Jeremiah noted that precedent for a called meeting of the General Assembly was set in September 2006, when a called meeting took place in which he was elected Stated Clerk.

EPC churches in COVID-19 hotspots suffer losses, minister hope leading up to Easter

 
Hotspot-CentralFieldHospital1

Volunteers from Central Presbyterian Church in New York City helped set up a Samaritan’s Purse field hospital in Central Park. The 14-tent, 68-bed respiratory care unit opened on April 1.

As the human and economic toll from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic mounts, EPC churches in some of the hardest-hit areas of the United States have witnessed the death of parishioners in quarantine among other unprecedented challenges as they continue to minister to their congregations and communities.

In New York, which has experienced more cases statewide than any single country outside the U.S., grief and hope comingle in a region under lockdown.

“Every Sunday is a mixture of sadness, grief, lament, beauty, joy, and hope,” said Matt Brown, Senior Pastor of Resurrection Brooklyn. “Traffic in the city has decreased, but the sirens are incessant day and night. But in the midst of sickness and death God has gifted us with spectacular blooming magnolias and cherry trees.”

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Matt Brown

Brown said the congregation mirrors the city.

“We are in a very difficult season right now. We have growing numbers of sick people in our churches and had our first death on April 2. Fortunately, none of our staff has fallen ill yet. We are trying to cope with Sunday worship as best we can—like everyone else.”

Another coronavirus hotspot is in Detroit, 600 miles west of Brooklyn.

Scott McKee, Senior Pastor of Ward Church in Northville, Mich., said the situation is “pretty bad here in Detroit.” He reported that the church staff and congregation are mourning the recent loss of a faithful member.

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Scott McKee

“He was 79 years old and a very active church volunteer. What is heartbreaking is that his wife was not able to be with him, and now, in her grief, is not able to be with family. She has COVID-19 and is home in quarantine.”

Despite the heartache, McKee said church members are stepping up to help in the face of the pandemic.

“A young medical resident in our church was worried about becoming infected and passing it on to his wife and young children. A member of our church loaned him their travel trailer, which is now parked in front of the doctor’s house and has become his home away from home.”

Hotspot-SewingMatthewNeighbor

Matthew Neighbor, grandson of Ward Church member Barb Stahl, taught himself to sew and make face masks by watching a YouTube video. He and other Ward volunteers have made 1,000 masks for local nursing homes, healthcare facilities, and at-risk church and community members.

In addition, more than 100 volunteers from the church have mobilized to sew 1,000 face masks for local nursing homes and healthcare facilities, as well as at-risk church and community members and hospitals.

“God is faithful. Times are troubled. Jesus’ Church prevails,” McKee proclaimed.

For Randy Brown, Pastor of Military Avenue EPC in Detroit, personal illness has slowed—but not stopped—his efforts to address the needs of the congregation.

“I am extremely busy trying to get up to speed on streaming our classes and services online,” Brown said, noting that he came down with the seasonal flu and has been in isolation since early March. “I have had to replace much of our dated internet equipment, as well as learning new software.”

He reported that none of the church’s members have contracted the coronavirus, but confessed, “the isolation is getting to people.”

Back in New York, volunteers from Central Presbyterian Church in Manhattan helped set up a Samaritan’s Purse field hospital about three miles from the church in Central Park. The 14-tent, 68-bed respiratory care unit opened on April 1 and is designed especially for coronavirus response.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris, Senior Pastor of Central, reported that “a lot of positive work” is taking place during the crisis, noting that volunteers from the church also are preparing hundreds of sack lunches for the city’s homeless each week. Yet he echoed Matt Brown’s comments that the good is mixed with heartache.

“Several people within our congregation contracted the virus, and we suffered our first loss on April 2. An elderly member contracted the virus, and then fell in his home fracturing nine ribs, one of which punctured his lung. He was rushed to the hospital Wednesday night and died peacefully Thursday morning. The saddest part is that none of us could visit him in the hospital.”

Harris emphasized that the member received “exceptional care” from the attending doctor, who “rested his hand on his shoulder as he breathed his last. This has brought comfort to the family and friends.”

Across the East River from Manhattan, members of Resurrection Brooklyn’s Williamsburg campus (one of five in Resurrection’s network of churches in New York’s largest borough), are communicating their experience of isolation to the rest of the congregation by email.

“Anything that reveals a bit of light ultimately points to the One who is the Light of the World,” said Vito Aiuto, Lead Pastor of the Williamsburg congregation.

Steve Brune, a self-described “seminary dropout” who now works in finance, offered the following perspective during Holy Week:

“As we celebrate the season of Lent in anticipation of Good Friday and Easter, we would do well to imagine the ultimate moment of Christian emotional dislocation and vertigo as we see our King executed outside the city like a common criminal. The hopes and dreams of the faith community crushed—overwhelming feelings of tilting or spinning.” Brune wrote. “The losses we are experiencing are real and should never be diminished. We have absorbed tangible losses, fractured community, emotional dislocation, and severe vertigo.”

He added that “grief and outrage at these forms of evil and pain and at death itself” are normal and acceptable responses—but are not the end of the story.

“Then it happens,” he wrote. “Easter comes. Resurrection. A new song of the Lord.”

by Tim Yarbrough
EPConnection correspondent

Drive-in church the ‘new normal’ for rural Missouri EPC congregation

 
BigCreek1-ParkingLot

Nathan Markley, Pastor of Big Creek EPC in Hannibal, Mo., led Palm Sunday worship from the sanctuary’s fire escape, which faces the church parking lot. 

Drive-in restaurants. Drive-in oil changes. Drive-in car washes. And for those old enough to remember, drive-in theaters.

Big Creek EPC in Hannibal, Mo., has added “drive-in church” to the list.

Nathan Markley serves as pastor of the congregation of less than 50 in rural northeastern Missouri. When a deacon proposed it as a way to gather during the coronavirus pandemic, he thought she was joking.

“When we first cancelled our regular worship gatherings, we shifted to a home worship,” Markley said. “I did the bulletins and mailed them to our members by Wednesday. I was not preparing a sermon the rest of the week, so I called everyone in the church to check on them and find out if they had any prayer needs. One of our deacons mentioned that someone in her family went to a big church that was meeting this way. She said I could stand on the fire escape and everyone could just stay in their cars and listen.”

Janet Taylor suggested the idea, and said she was serious.

“We’ve been doing in-home church which worked out really good, but you just need that fellowship and your fellow Christians,” she said. “To be with your friends and family and hear Nathan preach—it’s just not the same on TV or Facetime. I’m glad Nathan was energetic and said, ‘let’s try this.’”

BigCreek2-FireEscapeDespite what seemed like an outlandish idea for their small congregation, Markley researched what it would take.

“A house in our little community of about 200 people has Christmas decorations with music tuned to it—you drive by and they have signs to tune your radio to a certain station to hear the music. I thought that if a house can do that, surely a church can do it.”

For about $100, Markley purchased an FCC-compliant transmitter that sends a low-power signal throughout the church property.

“I am not a technical person at all. We don’t have a sound guy, and it’s not like I could call people in to help either,” he said. “I very nearly dismissed this as an option, but I found this device online and literally plugged it in to our sound system and turned it on. That was it. I almost bypassed this because I didn’t think we could figure it out, and it was easier than I ever imagined.”

Big Creek launched their drive-in service on Palm Sunday.

“It wasn’t like a huge, super-packed out, hyped event,” Markley said with a laugh. “We also didn’t do it for Holy Week. It just worked out that way because Palm Sunday was the first Sunday that we had it set up.”

Markley estimated that 50-100 people showed up.

“I knew some people from the other churches in town were joining us, because we were the only ones doing this,” he said. “But I couldn’t see everything, and I couldn’t see in all the cars either.”

But he knew they were there, which was the whole idea.

“Our goal was that we could gather in a way that was safe and healthy, but still gather to worship,” Markley said. “Home worship in the weeks prior was good. There is a spiritual union—if I could call it that—in that, but it’s not the same. We want to worship as a body if possible.”

Markley said the morning had some challenges, including being so windy that he had to stand inside the window leading to the fire escape instead of outside.

BigCreek3-Window“I could hear myself through the church speakers and I could hear the wind, so I preached from just inside the window,” he said. “I’m sure many of the people only saw my arms and hands.”

Taylor laughed that her brother-in-law was one of those with a somewhat restricted view. “He told me. ‘I never realized Nathan talks with his hands so much!’”

But the act of gathering together was worth it.

“One of our members told me last week that she knew it wouldn’t feel the same as a regular Sunday, but she told me after that it was ‘a lot more like a regular Sunday than I expected,’” Markley said. “She said, ‘I need that,’ and to be honest, so did I. To have them see their church family was really beautiful, even though they were in the car with the windows up. I saw some people holding their babies up to the car windows and people were waving. To see one another was just…good.”

Taylor agreed.

“One lady I talked to said she couldn’t see Nathan but told me, ‘I felt that I was at church,’” she said. “You can’t hug them, but you’re still in fellowship with them. Especially during this time and Holy Week. I can’t express what a feeling it was. It felt like a true Sunday.”

Markley noted that as a pastor, “I want to shepherd them as best I can, and to have some semblance of that was so very important. The whole time I thought this would be helpful for the people in the congregation, but I didn’t realize how much I needed to see them also. It’s been fine talking to them through the screen and the phone, but I realized that I needed them in person. Watching the cars pull in before we started, I was just in tears. But then I had to pull myself together so I could lead us through a service.”

At the conclusion of the morning, those who attended were encouraged to honk their car horns following the benediction.

“It was a chorus of car horns,” Marley said. “I know they were singing and praying with me during the service, but I couldn’t hear them. But when I heard the horns, it was like ‘this is the Lord’s church.’ And it was stunning.”

April Jeremiah Journal previews Good Friday Call to Prayer and Fasting

 

In the April 2020 edition of The Jeremiah Journal, EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah previews the Good Friday day of prayer and fasting on April 10.

The Jeremiah Journal is a monthly video blog hosted on the EPC’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/EPChurch80. Each month’s update also is posted to EPConnection and the EPC’s Facebook page and Twitter feed

For a transcript of this month’s edition in printable pdf format, click here

 

EPC hospital chaplain’s ministry during pandemic featured on Denver news outlet

 

On April 3, KDVR News in Denver, Colo., featured EPC Chaplain Michael Guthrie’s ministry to patients and staff of Presbyterian St. Luke’s Medical center in Denver. The story is part of the Fox affiliate’s ongoing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. Guthrie is a Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of the West.

NBC “Today” show honors Second Presbyterian Church choir’s ministry to Kathe Russell

 

On the April 4 edition of the “Today” show on NBC, host Willie Geist began the “Highs and Lows” segment with a tribute to the choir of Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis. The church’s Chancel Choir sang hymns outside Kathe Russell’s home on April 1. Her husband, Tim, died on March 30 following a two-week hospitalization from COVID-19. He served as the church’s Assistant Pastor for Middle Adults.

Small Business Administration clarifies participation of faith-based organizations in Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program

 

SBA-FaithBasedFAQ20200403On April 4, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) clarified that all faith-based organizations are eligible to participate in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program (EIDL) without restrictions based on their religious identity or activities. These organizations must meet the eligibility criteria outlined in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act.

Click here to download this information in printable, PDF format as provided by the SBA.

1. Are faith-based organizations, including houses of worship, eligible to receive SBA loans under the PPP and EIDL programs?

Yes, and we additionally clarify that faith-based organizations are eligible to receive SBA loans regardless of whether they provide secular social services. That is, no otherwise eligible organization will be disqualified from receiving a loan because of the religious nature, religious identity, or religious speech of the organization. The requirements in certain SBA regulations—13 C.F.R. §§ 120.110(k) and 123.301(g)—impermissibly exclude some religious entities. Because those regulations bar the participation of a class of potential recipients based solely on their religious status, SBA will decline to enforce these subsections and will propose amendments to conform those regulations to the Constitution. Although 13 C.F.R. § 120.110(a) states that nonprofit entities are ineligible for SBA business loans (which includes the PPP program), the CARES Act explicitly makes nonprofit entities eligible for the PPP program and it does so without regard to whether nonprofit entities provide secular social services.

2. Are there any limitations on how faith-based organizations can use the PPP and EIDL loan money they receive?

Only the same limitations that apply to all other recipients of these loans (such as that loan forgiveness will cover non-payroll costs only to a maximum of 25% of the total loan to a recipient). The PPP and EIDL loan programs are neutral, generally applicable loan programs that provide support for nonprofit organizations without regard to whether they are religious or secular. The CARES Act has provided those program funds as part of the efforts to respond to the economic dislocation threatened by the COVID-19 public health emergency. Under these circumstances, the Establishment Clause does not place any additional restrictions on how faith-based organizations may use the loan proceeds received through either the PPP or the EIDL loan program. See, e.g., Religious Restrictions on Capital Financing for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, 43 Op. O.L.C. , *7–15 (Aug. 15, 2019); Authority of FEMA to Provide Disaster Assistance to Seattle Hebrew Academy, 26 Op. O.L.C. 114, 122–32 (2002). In addition, the CARES Act does not impose unique burdens or limitations on faith-based organizations. In particular, loans under the program can be used to pay the salaries of ministers and other staff engaged in the religious mission of institutions.

3. How will churches qualify if have not been informed of tax-exempt status by the IRS? Do organizations have to request and receive tax exempt status or just meet the requirements of 501(c)(3) status to be eligible?

Churches (including temples, mosques, synagogues, and other houses of worship), integrated auxiliaries of churches, and conventions or associations of churches qualify for PPP and EIDL loans as long as they meet the requirements of Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and all other PPP and EIDL requirements. Such organizations are not required to apply to the IRS to receive tax-exempt status. See 26 U.S.C. § 508(c)(1)(A).

4. Will my organization be sacrificing its autonomy or its First Amendment or statutory rights if it requests and receives a loan?

No. Receipt of a loan through any SBA program does not (1) limit the authority of religious organizations to define the standards, responsibilities, and duties of membership; (2) limit the freedom of religious organizations to select individuals to perform work connected to that organization’s religious exercise; nor (3) constitute waiver of any rights under federal law, including rights protecting religious autonomy and exercise under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000b et seq., Section 702 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-1(a), or the First Amendment.

Simply put, a faith-based organization that receives a loan will retain its independence, autonomy, right of expression, religious character, and authority over its governance, and no faith-based organization will be excluded from receiving funding because leadership with, membership in, or employment by that organization is limited to persons who share its religious faith and practice.

5. What legal requirements will be imposed on my organization as a result of our receipt of this federal financial assistance? Will those requirements cease to apply when the loan is either repaid in full or forgiven?

Receipt of a loan through any SBA program constitutes Federal financial assistance and carries with it the application of certain nondiscrimination obligations. Any legal obligations that you incur through your receipt of this loan are not permanent, and once the loan is paid or forgiven, those nondiscrimination obligations will no longer apply.

Consistent with certain federal nondiscrimination laws, SBA regulations provide that the recipient may not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, age, or national origin with regard to goods, services, or accommodations offered. 13 C.F.R. § 113.3(a). But SBA regulations also make clear that these nondiscrimination requirements do not limit a faith-based entity’s autonomy with respect to membership or employment decisions connected to its religious exercise. 13 CFR § 113.3-1(h). And as discussed in Question 4, SBA recognizes the various protections for religious freedom enshrined in the Constitution and federal law that are not altered or waived by receipt of Federal financial assistance.

SBA therefore clarifies that its regulations apply with respect to goods, services, or accommodations offered generally to the public by recipients of these loans, but not to a faith- based organization’s ministry activities within its own faith community. For example, SBA’s regulations will require a faith-based organization that operates a restaurant or thrift store open to the public to serve the public without regard to the protected traits listed above. But SBA’s regulations do not apply to limit a faith-based organization’s ability to distribute food or clothing exclusively to its own members or co-religionists. Indeed, SBA will not apply its nondiscrimination regulations in a way that imposes substantial burdens on the religious exercise of faith-based loan recipients, such as by applying those regulations to the performance of church ordinances, sacraments, or religious practices, unless such application is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest. Congress enacted the CARES Act to afford swift and sweeping stopgap relief to Americans who might otherwise lose their jobs or businesses because of the economic hardships wrought by the response to the COVID-19 public health emergency, and SBA has a compelling interest in fulfilling that mandate to provide assistance broadly.

6. Is my faith-based organization disqualified from any SBA loan programs because it is affiliated with other faith-based organizations, such as a local diocese?

Not necessarily. Under SBA’s regulations, an affiliation may arise among entities in various ways, including from common ownership, common management, or identity of interest. 13 C.F.R. §§ 121.103 and 121.301. These regulations are applicable to applicants for PPP loans. (They also apply to the EIDL program when determining certain loan terms, although aggregating the number of employees of affiliated organizations does not affect eligibility for EIDL loans.) Some faith-based organizations likely would qualify as “affiliated” with other entities under the applicable affiliation rules. Entities that are affiliated according to SBA’s affiliation rules must add up their employee numbers in determining whether they have 500 or fewer employees.

But regulations must be applied consistent with constitutional and statutory religious freedom protections. If the connection between your organization and another entity that would constitute an affiliation is based on a religious teaching or belief or is otherwise a part of the exercise of religion, your organization qualifies for an exemption from the affiliation rules. For example, if your faith-based organization affiliates with another organization because of your organization’s religious beliefs about church authority or internal constitution, or because the legal, financial, or other structural relationships between your organization and other organizations reflect an expression of such beliefs, your organization would qualify for the exemption. If, however, your faith-based organization is affiliated with other organizations solely for non-religious reasons, such as administrative convenience, then your organization would be subject to the affiliation rules. SBA will not assess, and will not permit participating lenders to assess, the reasonableness of the faith-based organization’s good-faith determination that this exception applies.

7. Does my faith-based organization need to apply for this exemption or include any documentation of its religious beliefs or practices to fall within this affiliation exemption?

No specific process or detailed filing is necessary to claim the benefit of this exemption. If you believe that your organization qualifies for this exemption to the affiliation rules, you should submit with your loan application a separate sheet stating as much. That sheet may be identified as Addendum A, and no further listing of the other organizations with which your organization is affiliated, or description of the relationship to those organizations, is required. You are not required to describe your religious beliefs.

A sample “Addendum” is at the end this document, but you may choose to write your own. Your statement can be very simple.

8. How do I know where my organization fits in SBA’s size standards table? Should I use the table to determine whether my organization is a small business that is eligible to participate in the PPP program?

SBA’s size standards can be found at 13 CFR § 121.201. Under the CARES Act, a non-profit organization qualifies as small, and is eligible for assistance, if (1) it has no more than 500 employees or (2) the NAICS code associated with its primary industry has a higher employee- based size standard. Some industries—including “religious organizations”—are currently listed in the size standards table with a monetary cap on annual receipts rather than an employee-based size standards cap. For nonprofit organizations whose primary industry is listed with a monetary cap on annual receipts, the size standards table therefore cannot be used to determine eligibility for the PPP program. Faith-based nonprofit organizations that do not fall under a primary industry that is listed with an employee-based size standard must have 500 employees or fewer to be considered small.

ADDENDUM

The Applicant claims an exemption from all SBA affiliation rules applicable to Paycheck Protection Program loan eligibility because the Applicant has made a reasonable, good faith determination that the Applicant qualifies for a religious exemption under 13 C.F.R. 121.103(b)(10), which says that “[t]he relationship of a faith-based organization to another organization is not considered an affiliation with the other organization…if the relationship is based on a religious teaching or belief or otherwise constitutes a part of the exercise of religion.”

Good Friday prayer and fasting emphasis adds NAE, ARP, ECO, CRC, others

 

GoodFridayPrayerFastingOn March 31, the EPC announced an ecumenical Call to Prayer and Fasting for Good Friday, April 10. Other participant denominations included the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA).

As the event has gained traction in the evangelical community, additional groups are providing resources for a Good Friday prayer and fasting emphasis. These include the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, the Christian Reformed Church in North America, the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, the Converge network of churches, and the National Association of Evangelicals.

“When the leaders of the PCA and ACNA and I first discussed this, we had hoped that many of our 550,000 total church members would take part,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “Between one and two million people are now involved through their denominations and networks. It’s almost hard to imagine that many people humbling themselves and earnestly seeking the Lord.”

A variety of resources to help churches prepare and participate are available on the EPC website at www.epc.org/goodfridayprayerfastingresources.

GoodFridayPrayerFastingResources

Heaven’s bells: First EPC Roanoke (Va.) rings carillon bells to support local healthcare workers

 

Churches in Roanoke, Va., are showing their support for our healthcare workers in the most vocal way they know how—ringing bells. The local effort to bless and affirm medical professionals began with Carilion Clinic, a non-profit health care organization based in Roanoke, and its Carilion Community Outreach and Healing Arts program.

RobertSmith

Robert Smith

First Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Roanoke is one of its first partners. Pastor Robert Smith said it was an easy decision when the hospital asked if they would ring their bell towers during 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. shift changes to honor those caring for the community during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are the closest church to the hospital, so we immediately agreed.” Smith said. “Our bell tower has the original bells from when the church building was built in 1929. Simply changing the schedule of our bells for a period of time, it’s a very small thing for us to do.”

“I think we have a few neighbors who might be praying harder for a cure than the rest of us because of the early schedule,” he quipped.

Katie Biddle, Director of Carilion’s Keely Healing Arts Program, was seeking creative ways to cheer on their hospital workers. In Europe and elsewhere, cathedrals and churches began ringing their bells several weeks ago as a show of support for health care workers in their communities. Biddle brought the idea to the Roanoke valley.

“What we’d really like to do is offer a show of support throughout Southwest Virginia, throughout our local community hospitals, as well as long-term care facilities,” she said.

Smith’s wife, Julie, is a bereavement specialist at Carilion, so the church bells have taken on more personal tone than ever before. The church is supporting the community in other ways as well. On March 23, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam order all schools in the state closed for the rest of the school year. First EPC operates a preschool, which they also closed as a precaution.

“Because of that, we have offered our parking lot to Carilion as a drive-through rapid testing site should that become necessary. So far it hasn’t,” Smith said. “The Lord has been gracious to us. None of our members are hospitalized, and as of yesterday (April 1) Carilion only reported 34 positive tests out of the 657 they have conducted.”

Several members of the congregation live in nursing homes, which Smith said he has not been allowed to visit.

“Thankfully we are doing well, though it’s frustrating not being able to meet together—as it is for everybody. But we are participating in the prayer and fasting on Good Friday and expect that to be a blessing to our congregation.”

with additional reporting from Lindsay Cayne, WDBJ-7 News in Roanoke. Video courtesy of Carilion Clinic.

EPC churches using technology, intentionality to minister during coronavirus crisis

 
StowPres

Bob Stanley, Pastor of Stow Presbyterian Church in Stow, Ohio, took advantage of a beautiful spring day in northeast Ohio to deliver his Sunday morning message on March 29 to the church’s website from his back yard.

While the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis has dramatically impacted businesses, state and local governments, the healthcare industry, and the daily lives of all Americans, EPC churches are meeting the challenge of ministering to their congregations and communities in unprecedented circumstances.

Stephen Morefield, pastor of Christ Covenant EPC in Leoti, Kan., wrote that the church is seeing “quite a bit of fruit” from reaching out to its small, rural community of about 100 in a county with a population of 1,500.

StephenMorefield

Stephen Morefield

“Because we are an agriculture-based community, all of our farmers and ranchers are as busy, if not busier, than ever,” Morefield wrote. “We have a few non-essential businesses so while there’s no one out unless they need to be, nearly all businesses are continuing to function. The food supply is as important as it ever will be during times like this.”

He said Christ Covenant has seen an explosion of Facebook use during the crisis.

“We’ve never seen so many people watch Bible devotions or local sermons online,” wrote Morefield. “It’s quite remarkable and we’re praying that it leads to more unchurched visitors after all of this has settled down.”

Engagement on the church’s website and social media platforms has been its largest ever, according to Morefield.

“When your church page has 350 percent more views in a week, reaches 235 percent more people, has 425 percent more engagement and 18,000 more video views, something notable is happening,” Morefield said. “The challenge is using the opportunity faithfully with real biblical context and gospel hope, and then translating this into not more couch-sitting church-goers, but more actual church-goers.”

Bob Stanley, pastor of Stow Presbyterian Church in Stow, Ohio, said he was on vacation when the crisis erupted, and knew he and his staff had to work quickly to respond.

BobStanley

Bob Stanley

“In less than 48 hours we launched a new barebones website and went to a guided worship experience via prerecorded video,” he said. “The plus of all of this is that I can record my message on Thursday and upload it, and have our discipleship guys have it all set to trigger and go live at midnight on the weekend.”

While he considers himself tech-savvy, Stanley said he is amazed at the quality of video tools and resources available—he said the church started broadcasting its services using an iPhone XR.

“We literally did this with everything that we already had,” he said.

Stanley added the community has applauded the way the church has handled the crisis and efforts to stay connected while not gathering in person.

“We’ve received multiple emails or messages to social media thanking us that we have been clear, and that we have been hopeful,” he said. “Our church theme this year is to be servants, the idea that Christ is a servant and came to serve. So the Lord prepared us for that concept. We’ve received a lot of feedback that people appreciate that we have a servant’s heart in how we are approaching this.”

Thousands of miles from northeastern Ohio in downtown San Francisco, Troy Wilson, Pastor at The Table, said the small, “highly relational,” international, and multicultural church is finding ways to keep connected and meet needs. He emphasized that having the entire city and state on mandatory lockdown has presented unique challenges for the church’s congregants—comprised largely of artists, musicians, medical workers, and other professionals.

TroyWilson

Troy Wilson

“We’ve just resorted to using Facebook Live for worship. It’s nothing fancy,” he said. “Our small groups are using Google Hangouts. We can get 12 to 15 folks on there.”

He added that most of the congregation is younger adults.

“I’m one of the older people at the church,” he said. “They are definitely more tech-savvy and social media savvy. But this is all new for us as a church, because we have never relied on the social media platform—good or bad—it’s just not who we are. We’ve wanted people to come and experience us in person.”

Wilson said one of the upsides has been that those who attend The Table are sharing the link with friends who don’t go to church, as well as increased interaction.

“We really do see our community reaching out to one another,” Wilson said, adding another positive is that people not connected with the church are “looking for answers.”

For example, Wilson, who also is a realtor, shared that a real estate colleague recently reached out to him about some challenges going on in his life.

“He wants to talk because he wants to know the faith piece that he’s missing,” Wilson said. “He’s not a Christian and he’s not a person of faith, and he just wants my perspective on what Christianity is, and if the Christian message has anything to say about what he is going through.”

DougResler

Doug Resler

Doug Resler, Senior Pastor of Parker Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Parker, Colo., said keeping the congregation “relationally engaged” is essential.

“The biggest takeaway so far is that people are looking for connection and not content,” Resler said by email.

“The most impactful program we’re running is keeping our Early Learning Center open. We are in conversation and coordination with our county health partners, as well as state and local leaders, to provide childcare for up to 12 years of age for the families of those who work in the most critical sectors.”

At Memorial Park Presbyterian Church in Allison Park, Pa., pastoral and volunteer teams have mobilized to care for congregants.

KevinGourley

Kevin Gourley

“We have divided up a list of 170 members over the age of 80 to call within the next week. Next we will divide up those between 70-80 years of age to call,” Kevin Gourley, Minister of Congregational Care, said by email. “The rest of our 1,300-member congregation will be divided up by family units to be called by the six pastors, 15 elders, 36 deacons, and 30 Stephen Ministers on an every-other-week basis until the virus subsides.”

Gourley wrote that a prototypical call includes four questions: 1) How are you and your family doing? 2) Is there anything physically we can do for you? 3) Are you aware of our online services and daily devotions that we are offering and how to access them online? and 4) How can we pray for you?

“Even if we leave messages, all the congregation will know that their church leadership is caring and praying for them in this time of crisis,” he said.

Nadia Stropich, Transitional Pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church in Angier, N.C., said the absence of face-to-face contact is a challenge and an opportunity for the Church.

NadiaStropich

Nadia Stropich

“It’s a beautiful time as well,” she said, “because while we many times see the negative side of cyberbullying with people thinking, ‘I can say anything because I’m not there face-to-face.’ On a positive note, we can also say things because we are not there face-to-face, so that intimidation of sharing the gospel goes away—because I just post it on Facebook.”

Stropich recounted a chapel service during her seminary studies at Princeton Theological Seminary the day after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. She said a message from the Book of Ester by the late Thomas W. Gillespie had a deep and lasting impact on her ministry.

“He said, ‘For who knows for such a time you have been called.’ Those in that class didn’t realize the ramifications of what he was saying,” she said. “As an encouragement to pastors right now and even the flock, ‘Who knows for such a time as this you have been chosen.’ God knows what the outcome is. God knew this was coming, and we are to be strong and courageous because we have an opportunity that we have never had before to share the gospel in new ways that are taking everybody out of their comfort zone.”

by Tim Yarbrough
EPConnection correspondent

EPC joins ecumenical Call to Prayer and Fasting for Good Friday, provides resources

 

GoodFridayPrayerFastingThe EPC and its 143,000 members are uniting in prayer and fasting with the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) on Good Friday, April 10. The historic, ecumenical effort is a response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic sweeping North America.

“I am thrilled that our three denominations have united for the first time to pray for God’s mercy and healing,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “In Matthew 11:28 Jesus says, ‘Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.’ On April 10, we are going to humble ourselves and pray to almighty God for His grace, mercy, and love to heal us, restore us, and relieve us from this crushing burden of disease.”

The Call to Prayer and Fasting is “for all believers in Christ in the PCA, EPC, and ACNA to set aside Good Friday, April 10, as a day of prayer and fasting to cry out for God’s help in addition to a day of worship,” Jeremiah said.

“Our goal is for all 550,000 members of these three churches to have the opportunity to participate,” he added. “Other denominations are aware of the planning for this event and have asked to be invited. Among these are the National Association of Evangelicals and ECO. Should these groups participate, we could have millions of Christians joining their hearts in prayer.”

The EPC is providing three resources to help churches prepare and participate:

“We are sending these resources ten days in advance of the event to give our pastors and church leaders time to review and consider their use,” Jeremiah noted. “Of course, churches are free to use other materials that would be helpful to their congregation. Whatever resources are used, the leadership of the PCA and ACNA join me in hoping that we will all unite in prayer to God on Good Friday.”

These resources also are available at www.epc.org/goodfridayprayerfastingresources.

GoodFridayPrayerFastingResources

TE Timothy Russell succumbs to COVID-19

 
TimRussell

Tim Russell

Dear EPC family,

It is with a heavy heart that I inform you of the death late Monday night (March 30) of TE Tim Russell. He had been hospitalized with COVID-19 for about two weeks. He served as Assistant Pastor for Middle Adults at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis and was a member of the EPC’s Revelation 7:9 Task Force.

Please pray for his wife, Kathe, and the entire Second Pres family. I am reminded once again during this time of crisis of Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 4:13, that we do not grieve as others do, who have no hope. Our hope is in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Tim has seen His face!

I’ve known Tim since 2006, when I met him while on a trip to Memphis. We spent an afternoon together as he showed me and talked about the Memphis College of Urban and Theological Studies (MCUTS), where he was the President at the time. He was passionate about the opportunity to provide theological education to urban pastors. Tim made an indelible impact for Jesus Christ in Memphis and beyond, and will be missed tremendously.

Jeff Jeremiah
EPC Stated Clerk

CARES Act provides benefits for churches during coronavirus crisis

 

CaresActCapitolOn March 27, President Donald Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The legislation provides many benefits to individuals and churches. The purpose of this article is to provide information solely about how EPC churches may apply for federally guaranteed loans during the COVID-19 crisis. A subsequent article will address individual benefits.

“Please note that this is our best understanding of the CARES Act on March 30,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “The implementation of this program hasn’t been finalized yet, so we will continue to monitor developments related to the CARES Act as they occur and provide updates as quickly as possible.”

Q: How can my church benefit from the CARES Act?

A: The CARES Act allows for any 501(c)(3) organization with 500 or fewer employees that has been substantially affected by COVID-19 to borrow under the Small Business Administration (SBA) 7(a) program—the Paycheck Protection Program Loan. The EPC is a 501(c)(3) organization, which means all EPC churches enjoy this status.

Q: Why are EPC churches eligible for this loan program?

A: The purpose of these loans is to help small businesses to keep their workers employed and compensated through the COVID-19 crisis. This program incentivizes employers to keep their employees instead of laying them off and shutting down their businesses.

Q: When will the SBA begin taking applications for Paycheck Protection Program loans?

A: On March 29, Larry Kudlow, Director of the United States National Economic Council, announced that the SBA would begin taking applications on Friday, April 3. This date may change given the fluidity of the impact of COVID-19.

Q: What is the duration of the Paycheck Protection Program?

A: The Paycheck Protection Program covers the period beginning February 15, 2020 and ending on June 30, 2020 (the “Covered Period”).

Q: What is the loan amount a church may apply for?

A: That amount is determined by the church’s payroll and related employee expenses for the period February 15 through June 30, 2020.

Q: How much can a church or ministry borrow?

A: The amount that may be borrowed is the total average monthly payroll costs for the preceding 12 months (March 2019 through February 2020), multiplied by a factor of 2.5. For example, if the average payroll costs for the preceding twelve months were $20,000, the maximum amount of the loan would be $20,000 times 2.5 for a total of $50,000. The maximum amount available for a Payroll Protection Loan is $10,000,000.

Q: What costs are considered payroll costs?

A: Salary or wages, payments of a cash tip, vacation, parental, family, medical, or sick leave, health benefits, retirement benefits, and state and local taxes.

Q: Is there a salary maximum that the loan can cover?

A: Yes. Salary expenses above $100,000 per employee are not eligible for consideration as payroll costs. Loan proceeds may not be used to pay salaries above $100,000 per employee.

Q: Is the pastor’s housing allowance included in the computation of payroll costs?

A: The SBA needs to issue guidance on how housing allowance will factor into the payroll cost calculations.

Q: Are there any other ways in which this loan may be used?

A: The loan proceeds may also be used to pay mortgage interest (not principal) payments, rent payments, utilities, or interest on other loans outstanding at the time of the pandemic. As stated above, the total amount of the loan can be up to 2.5 times the average monthly payroll costs for the one-year period preceding the date of the loan. However, the only amount eligible for forgiveness is the total spent during the eight-week period beginning on the date of the loan on payroll costs including benefits (except for staff with salaries over $100,000), mortgage interest payments (not principal), rent, and utilities.

Q: How will the church need to document how its Paycheck Protection Program loan is used?

A: The church is required to make a “good faith certification” that the loan is necessary due to economic conditions caused by COVID-19. The church will need to demonstrate that the loan was used to retain employees, maintain payroll, and pay rent and utilities.

Q: How soon must the church, ministry, or pastor repay the loan?

A: A Paycheck Protection Program loan may include a term of up to 10 years from the date of application.

Q: What is the interest rate for a Paycheck Protection Program loan?

A: The maximum interest rate for this loan is 4 percent per year.

Q: May payments under the loan be deferred?

A: Yes, for a period not less than six months but not to exceed more than one year from the date of the loan.

Q: May all or part of the Paycheck Protection Program loan be forgiven?

A: Yes, the program is designed to encourage employers to retain employees and loan forgiveness is a key feature of these loans. A church under a covered loan can have all or a portion of the principal of the loan forgiven in an amount equal to payroll costs, mortgage interest, rent, or utility costs during the eight-week period following the origination of the loan. The forgiven amount, however, may be reduced based on a formula that compares the ministry’s employment in prior pre-COVID periods with the number of employees and each employee’s wage or salary in the eight-week period following the origination of the loan.

Q: How does my church apply for a Paycheck Protection Program loan?

A: Churches will apply for this loan through an approved SBA lender, which includes most local banks.

Q: What can the church do immediately to prepare to apply for a loan?

  • Confirm the church’s bank is an approved SBA lender. If it is, inform it that the church wants to apply for a Paycheck Protection Program loan ASAP. Ask the bank to provide the church with loan document documentation requirements. The bank will assist the church in completing the application.
  • Take whatever action is required for the church to apply for a Paycheck Protection Program loan (Session and/or congregational approval). Depending on local social distancing or meeting limitation regulations, this meeting may need to be virtual.
  • Ensure the church’s 2019 financial statements are complete and first quarter 2020 financial statements are prepared ASAP.

 

Information is gleaned with appreciation from Batts, Morrison, Wales & Lee (the audit firm of the EPC), the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), Horizons Stewardship, and Baptist Press of the Southern Baptist Convention, which utilized a Q&A approach in its report.