NATIONAL, CONFERENCE, AND DISTRICT NEWS
No Services Through Easter
Bishop Carter and the Conference Cabinet met to prayerfully discern their collective guidance to churches regarding public worship after April 1st. We recommend that churches do not hold any public worship through Easter Sunday (April 12th). This decision is based on the current CDC guidelines around public gatherings and the action of many local authorities to enact shelter at home restrictions. We encourage churches to continue to worship virtually and connect with people through other creative means.
We continue to affirm and support the live-streaming of worship by local churches across our conferences. We are making mini-grants for technology to make this possible and offering coaching on how to begin offering worship in this way. This is an act of loving our neighbor, an attempt to flatten the curve, to care for the most vulnerable and to protect health care professionals working on the front lines. We are praying for all of those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and especially for our health care professionals.
We encourage churches to continue to reach out to their neighbors and find ways to show the love of Christ during this time. We will revisit public worship after April 13th in the coming weeks and we look forward to the day when we can celebrate the resurrection of Christ together!
General Conference Postponed until 2021
Subsequent to the announcement by the Executive Committee of the Commission on the General Conference that the 2020 General Conference will be postponed, the full Commission met March 21, 2020 to determine next steps to take in setting a new date.
After hearing recommendations from Sara Hotchkiss, Business Manager of the General Conference, and discussion of possible alternatives, the Commission made a determination that the General Conference will not meet in 2020 as originally planned and elected to work toward setting a date in 2021.
“As we looked at the complex issues that we will need to navigate to reschedule the event and the lack of options available, it does not appear feasible to plan for 2020,” said Kim Simpson, chair of the Commission. “These issues include the undetermined length of the pandemic, uncertainty around travel bans in different areas of the world, delays in processing visas due to government and business closures and other questions.”
Churches Rely Increasingly Upon Online Giving
As the coronavirus (COVID-19) sweeps through America, temporarily changing our way of life, the nation’s key institutions continue to churn. That includes the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church.
But at a time when most congregations are prevented from meeting in person, when technology offers streaming services to meet everyone’s spiritual needs virtually, there are sobering business concerns to accompany the new normal.
“No matter how much things are changing, no matter what we’re dealing with, there are fixed expenses that do not change,’’ Conference Treasurer Mickey Wilson said. So online giving has taken on a new importance.
Most of the conference’s 600 churches have some element of online giving — a modern way to tithe through electronic donations or automatic debits — although some smaller churches don’t have that capability. And some church members hesitate to break from the tradition of stuffing a check or cash into an envelope.
“But the bottom line is even though we are being thrown a lot of curveballs and people can’t physically go to their church at this moment, it is crucial to have a steady stream of payments and maintain a consistent cash flow,’’ Wilson said. “The (financial) health of each church and the entire conference depends on that.’’
Principles for a Future of Struggle
The Conference is attempting to support continued church operations in a time of social distancing, curfews, and stay at home orders across Florida. The Conference’s Finance Team held a conference call involving 500 of the Florida United Methodist churches Finance Committee Chairpersons and Treasurers.
On that call we discussed the guiding values around church finances during this time of tribulation.
- Assess reality and do not be reactive.
- Begin with generosity—appeal to the generosity of members and friends of your churches. Give people clear steps about how they can give online. And clearly stress the need for continued giving.
- Look for beginning ways to steward more limited resources, and communicate to your congregation how you are doing that.
- Assess the big picture—look at any “rainy day” fund. Have funds been designated for ministries that are no longer occurring? If so, redirect those funds to areas of greatest need.
- Be generous at the personal level. Contribute more beyond a tithe to mission. Clergy or staff should start contributing more rather than reducing clergy or staff salary. Generosity leads to generosity. Reducing leads to reducing. Assume the best about each other.
- Try to make decisions that do not harm people. It is often easier to raise money than to cut staff. Again, state the need.
- We will get to a better place. We are taking life one day at a time. The recovery community teaches us this, as does Jesus in the sermon on the mount. Today, God provides. And tomorrow, when we live in that day, God will provide. Today we focus on today.
To be of assistance in these times, the Board of Pensions and Health Benefits has agreed to absorb 50% of the monthly pension expense of every church for April, May and June. The cost of paying half of the pension bill is approximately $700,000 and is to be totally funded from the Board of Pensions and Health Benefits. These savings are available to every church, both large and small. This will save RUMC about $1100 over the next three months.