Parish Support

by | Mar 25, 2020

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“God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble.” 
Psalm 46:1

Dear Congregational Leaders of the Diocese of Washington,

In the midst of a pandemic that requires faith, stamina and creativity from you as spiritual leaders, you’re also facing uncertainty about the significant financial challenges in efforts to maintain your ministry. May God give you wisdom, strength, and courage in this time. We, your diocesan leaders, recognize the challenges before you. We are praying for you daily and seek to offer relief and assistance. 

We understand the priority of congregational ministry. This is a unique moment and opportunity for your ministry as more people are coming toward our congregations in their time of need. As you take stock of your financial situation, please know that we do not expect you to forgo critical parish needs in order to meet your financial pledge to the diocese. If you are in a position to continue your support, we would receive it gratefully, but we want you to focus on your congregation first. We’re aggressively scaling back diocesan-level spending in light of this crisis and also determining what resources we can make available to you. 

None of us knows how long this crisis will last. In the next two months, our focus is to ensure that all congregations have sufficient cash on hand to make payroll and pay health insurance premiums for their staff. At a special meeting, the Diocesan Council approved a process for applying for financial assistance. See below for a letter from Andrew Walter and Don Crane describing that process.  

The Church Pension Fund has also offered assistance for financially stressed congregations that are struggling to pay pension payments for their clergy. The application process for a two-month waiver involves contacting the diocesan office. Please be in touch with Kathleen Hall for assistance. 

We realize that every congregation is most likely experiencing a significant drop in income, perhaps most dramatically from those whose rental income has been sharply curtailed. Given the number of congregations whose budgets are balanced with rental income (totally over 6.2 million dollars annually across the diocese), we aren’t in a position to provide financial relief to offset that loss. We are here, however, to assist in the needed work of budget evaluation and reprioritization, with an eye toward weathering this storm and preserving the capacity for future ministry. 

While long-term implications for all our ministries are not clear, we are clear that the mission, vision and goals of our diocesan-wide strategic plan provide a framework for making decisions in a ministry context none of us anticipated. We also rely daily on prayer and collective discernment, as together we ask God to guide us, Jesus to abide with us, and the Holy Spirit to strengthen us. May God grant us all wisdom and courage for the living of this hour.

Faithfully in Christ,

Bishop Mariann

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To:  Congregational leaders

From: Andrew Walter, Canon for Strategic Collaboration
Donald Crane, Chief Operating Officer and Senior Counsel to the Bishop

Dear Friends, 

As Bishop Mariann said in her letter, we are here to provide support during this challenging time, with an immediate focus on the short term impacts of this crisis. To assist all our congregations, our financial team has developed a program for supporting our congregations, working with the Finance Committee and approved by the Diocesan Council: 

Parish Financial Evaluation and Reprioritization
All parish leaders are wise to evaluate their parish financial situation with the priority of addressing short term liquidity. We emphasize the following immediate steps for church leaders:

  • Examine the budget for planned expenditures that are not essential and that can be postponed or eliminated
  • Manage for immediate cash flow and liquidity – consider whether any endowment funds would be available, subject to restrictions or need to liquidate investments at a loss given market conditions
  • Encourage parishioners who typically pay their pledges with one payment or over the year to consider whether their situation allows them to pay the pledge in full at this time  
  • Make plans for alternate giving (Linda Baily of the Financial Resources Committee and Peter Turner will offer Stewardship and Giving in the Time of COVID-19, a free webinar on Thursday, March 26 at 1:00 p.m. Register here

Financial Support for Parish Employees and Regular Contractors
Diocesan staff and financial leaders have identified a limited amount of funds to be used to assist parishes that need financial assistance in order to pay salary and health benefits for church employees and contract staff for a period of two months, including:

  • Clergy
  • Church musicians
  • Administrators 
  • Sextons
  • Others who are paid for their services during normal church operations 

This support would not be extended to supply clergy or those who provide contractual services on an intermittent basis.

Applying for and Determining Support
Our support will be based on cash flow needs. Though we may not be able to meet all needs, we will do the best we can. Parishes should contact Andrew Walter to discuss their situation and have the following information ready to share:

  • 2019 year end and monthly financial statements to date, including cash balance and projections; availability of endowment funds which could be utilized to the extent unrestricted and available (cash or short terms)
  • Description of the impact to date from the suspension of operations, including school or other user payments lost and percentage of overall budget attributable to user income
  • Identification of steps to encourage alternative giving methods
  • Staff compensation, including clergy, lay staff and part-time or regular contract staff
  • Steps taken to reevaluate budget expenses for deferral or cancelling
  • Identification of amount and timing of funds needed to cover payroll (compensation and health benefits) shortfall 

Application Review and Dispersal of Funds
The Finance Committee, on the recommendation of the Diocesan staff, will review each application and approve any funding to parishes. 

  • Funds will be provided as a loan or grant, to be determined on a case by case basis
  • Funds will be allocated based on the most urgent needs of Diocese of Washington congregations, and will be disbursed as needed, not in a lump sum single payment 

Encouraging Congregational Giving
We realize that many of our people are worried about their own finances, which will certainly affect their ability to give. Yet we are confident that they understand the value of your ministry in a time of crisis and the need for continued for financial support. It’s appropriate for you to pastorally remind them to support the church and your ministries as best they can. 

In this time of great uncertainty, please be assured that your diocesan staff and members from our leadership bodies are working diligently to help all of our parishes come through this crisis in the best financial health possible. We will continue to reprioritize diocesan funds as needed, just as we ask of you, and we will remain in regular communication with you as circumstances unfold. May God be our compass as we navigate these troubled waters together. 

Friends in Christ, 

Andrew Walter
Canon for Strategic Collaboration

Don Crane
Chief Operating Officer and Senior Counsel to the Bishop