Several congregations have reached out to the Christian Reformed Church in North America offices to ask the following question:
"In the face of COVID19, our government is offering several grants and other financial supports for businesses and charitable organizations. Technically, our church or classis would qualify. Is it ethical for us to apply for these funds? Wouldn't it be better for us to leave those government supports for food banks or other charities who need it more? Does applying for these funds cross any boundaries between an appropriate separation of church and state? And might it discourage our members from expressing their thankfulness to God through their own offerings?"
Peter Elgersma, from Community CRC in Richmond Hill, Ont., answers this question in this way:
Like many other Churches across the country, Community CRC in Richmond Hill, Ontario, was caught off guard by the required closing of our church building. With the lack of people in our building, the lack of an offering plate being passed around, how would the money come in?
Our pastors, admin staff, utilities, mortgage, and ministry shares contributions are all on an important list of essential services from our small congregation’s perspective. After dealing with the important issue of moving our church service to a YouTube live setting, we began to realize our financial issues had not been addressed.
We determined that our March income was down by more than 20%, which means that we qualified for the Canadian government’s CEWS (Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy) program for March and April. This program provides a subsidy of 75% of a business or non-profit’s payroll if the organization can demonstrate that they are dealing with at least a 15% loss of revenue in March, and a 30% loss in April and/or May.
By applying for CEWS, we anticipate receiving approximately $7,000 each month for March and April. If our donations remain below 70% of last year, we may qualify for an additional $7,000 for each of the next two periods. Additionally, we have applied for the $40,000 CEBA program, with the anticipation of repaying it by December 2022, resulting in a $10,000 grant.
While we remain in uncertain times, we anticipate this assistance will cover off most of the gap in our reduced donations received.
While some may wonder about the appropriateness of a church applying for government funds, we took the position that keeping our congregation financially stable was important for us at this time in order to allow our ministry to continue. The funds we are applying for, are paid for by our taxes and will mean that we can continue being a presence for God in our community during this time.
What will we do if this assistance doesn’t cover the gap in our reduced donations? Make some tough choices, but likely pay less ministry shares.
What should we do if it exceeds our expectations? We plan on sending funds to each of our missed second offerings for an amount we’d have expected to receive. We should likely put some money towards the easiest source that a deficit comes from (ministry shares), and empower our denomination to act across the world in concert with us.
And Rev. Darren Roorda, Canadian Ministries Director for the CRCNA, adds this response:
First, according to Romans 13, “there is no governing authority except that which God has established.” And the purpose of the one in authority is [to be] God’s servant for your good.” As such, I encourage you to think of the good value that your government is meaning to provide by offering these funds during this difficult time. By offering it, they are actually living up to God’s desire of Romans 13 whether they know it or not.
Second, please understand that this is your money they are providing back to you. In a country like Canada where we pay taxes so that it would be distributed for a broad, common good, the money we have been giving all along is now being used for the good of all.
Third, the money that is available to you by the government is meant to cover your operational finances. This is where you would think about “who is affected by my changing operational finances in ministry?” The answer can extend from local community partners, to classis, and also to denominational ministries. By saying “No” to supportive funding and making a choice to squeak by and only cover the basic costs of paying your pastor and leaving the lights on, you may be forgetting about other ministry front lines.
For example, as a CRCNA church you are part of a broad family of ministries that depend on a covenantal approach to your operational finances. Your reception of government funds would allow the vibrant ministries that have impact throughout Canada to continue operating without ever having to cut their costs. Ministry efforts such as:
- Your church’s partnership with a neighborhood program that can maintain support and relationships in this time of separation.
- Or, if your church provides classis ministry shares for a local campus chaplain to impact young people for Christ, the government funding might be the difference between your maintaining that commitment by supporting the chaplain or the classis needing to lay them off.
- Or, ministries like the Urban Indigenous Ministry Centres in places like Winnipeg, Regina and Edmonton that are considered an ‘essential service’ while they help vulnerable populations during the Covid-19 pandemic. They are supported through Ministry Shares, one of the operational costs and shared expressions of ministry in your budgets.
Considering the above, I hope you will give due consideration to applying for federal assistance if there is a changing financial reality in your church due to Covid-19. If there are ways we can help you through this, please do not hesitate to reach out. A vast amount of support is available to you from your ministry staff of the CRCNA agencies/ministries.
How is your church responding to this question? Do you have advice to offer to others?