April 4th: Hosanna!
I want to continue to highlight financial resources that are available for the churches during this crisis that is both economic and epidemic. Last week, I mentioned two kinds of assistance available through MMBB: Premium Continuance and Emergency Assistance. The first relieves the expense of the monthly premiums the churches pay for their employee’s plans and the second provides small grants ($3000-$4000) to help clergy in need.
This week I want to highlight the Payroll Protection Plan of the federal Small Business Administration. The Payroll Protection Plan (PPP) is a part of the $2 trillion relief bill that was signed last week, called the CARES act. It provides for forgivable loans to be made to not-for-profit corporations including churches for the amount of two-weeks payroll cost. So long as the organization maintains 100% of its employees, the loans can be forgiven. Additional funds are also available without the forgiveness. There is more information about the plan at the denominational website https://www.abc-usa.org/2020/04/covid-19-related-assistance-update/ and through other resources linked on the ABCMC COVID-19 resources webpage, including a number of guides and webinar links.
Start your application by contacting your church’s bank and apply for the PPP loan with them. It will be important to work with a bank that you have a pre-existing relationship with in order to cut through the bureaucracy. The church must take the initiative — you have the relationship with the bank and the information about your finances that they will need. Please contact me if you need help documenting your 501(c)(3) or not for profit status. The brief application form is available below, and at the US Treasury Department website https://home.treasury.gov/CARES . The plan has been rolled out very quickly, and their bureaucracy is just getting set up. At the same time, there is only so much money budgeted for these loans, so please apply ASAP if you are interested in receiving one. Your bank can help you with the application information.
The CARES act also provides for Recovery Rebates, the $1200 payments most Americans will receive. This is intended to begin to soften the blow of this economic disruption on low income and working class families. Many will need this money to provide for themselves and their families. But for those who don’t, please consider donating them to your churches.
There will also grants available through One Great Hour of Sharing. The Home Mission Society and International Ministries, who share this offering, are working to make a coordinated plan for denomination wide giving and meeting denomination wide needs, including those in our region and churches. They have convened all the denominational stakeholders to survey our needs and resources. I will update you when they announce these grants.
It is becoming clear that this crisis is coming in waves as it spreads across the country. We do not know if our situation is not as serious in the Midwest as it is in New York, for example, because we are better off or simply because we are behind them, waiting for the tsunami to hit. If it is true that New York is, as their governor says, the “canary in the coal mine,” then we should brace ourselves for traumas to come, even as we hope and pray and work for the best.
As people in our churches and even our families may fall ill in greater numbers, our attention will turn from online worship planning and online meeting to online visitation and online pastoral care. We have provided some resources below for “telechaplaincy,” some thoughts about how to visit virtually. There is much we will lose, beginning with our celebrations of the Resurrection in our accustomed way. Think about how your churches can be together on Easter virtually. If we continue to honor the stay at home order, we can minimize the number of life-threatening illnesses. But we will need to come together in healing lamentation and grieving support as we walk together through this ordeal.
We are preparing for a pivot, both settling into new habits and preparing for what comes next. As we prepare, I urge you please to take care of yourself. I have seen much wise guidance that says, even when we are working from home, we shouldn’t expect to be “more productive.” The stresses of these times, the new life habits, the isolations and disruptions, are more than enough to eat up any extra energy or time we feel we may have. Our brains are not working as well under these conditions, and our capacities are diminished. And it has been proved over and over, if we do not take care of ourselves in terms of the basics — prayer, nutrition, exercise, and sleep — we will be more susceptible to stress, trauma, and even to this illness that stalks us. Please take care!
This week comes the Sunday when we celebrate the Procession of the Palms. Again, we are reminded of the community, the people. The Palm Sunday crowd expected Christ to be a War Time Messiah, riding a battle steed and leading an army of angels to throw off Caesar, Pilate, and the Roman authorities. Every age has its “magical thinking.” But there is another ancient Jewish concept that Jesus invoked instead, tikun olam, the repair of the world. Instead of militaristic messianism, he came as a humble teacher and healer, riding a donkey, with no trumpets beyond the raised voices of the people. Palm Sunday was then, as it is again for us today, an invitation. We are invited to participate in the healing of the world. A focus of this concept is on the healing of society, the people, the systems of caregiving and regulation we use to keep everyone healthy and safe. It is a concept of justice, not imposed by the conqueror but built up by the people.
As we sing Hosanna! in our own homes this week, rejoicing at the one who comes bringing salvation, healing, and life, we are participating in the repair of the world. Just by staying home, we are doing our part. And more need healing will come. Hosanna! also then becomes our prayer for the future and the intentions of our hearts. Blessed are we who will come in the name of the Lord. Hosanna!
Rev. David Gregg