March 30, 2020
Dear Beloved in Christ:
Greetings in the precious name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Like most of you, I am drawing my spiritual energy from the Word of God, writings of spiritual leaders, prayers, and hymns as we experience a global health crisis.
In Sabine LaPlane's, 15 Days of Prayer with Brother Roger of Taizé,* we are reminded:
"A woman in the Hebrew Scriptures pointed the way, a widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:7-16). In a time
of drought and famine, with a son to feed, her supply of food was nearly exhausted. Nevertheless she answered the request for food [for] Elijah, the man whom God had sent to her, and shared her bare minimum with him. 'She pushes her trust to the utmost limits, at which point, in a flash, God intervenes. The flour and the oil will never give out.'"
Beloved, I am deeply touched by the response of some of the key leaders of our Conference who agreed to discuss how we might help our churches and our camping and retreat ministries as we face this crisis together. Like the widow Zarephath in the story, there is a deep desire to meet the present needs of the people, clergy and laity, through our love, compassion, and the spirit of our connection.
The Extended Cabinet, Conference Board of Trustees, Board of Pensions, Council on Finance and Administration (CFA), the United Methodist Foundation of New England (UMFNE), and the Preachers’ Aid Society are happy to share the following:
Emergency relief fund
The Extended Cabinet is establishing an emergency fund, called the “Zarephath Fund for Pandemic Relief and Recovery” to support churches and pastors in need during this pandemic. Full details will be explained next week, but we invite all clergy making above minimum compensation (and any laity who wish to donate) to contribute toward this fund as a sign of our covenant together.
Property insurance relief
While encouraging those churches that can continue to make payments to do so, the CFA and the Board of Trustees will waive payments of property insurance for up to two months. They have agreed to use up to $300,000 from the former Troy Conference reserves (undesignated funds transferred to NEAC in the 2010 merger), and $400,000 from additional funds invested with the UMFNE.
The Board of Pensions will waive payments of the churches’ portion of pastoral pension and death and disability benefits during the second quarter of this year (April to June) with no expectation of repayment. They will borrow internally up to $550,000 for this relief. Again, we encourage those churches that can continue paying to do so.
Additionally, if churches need to suspend automatic payments of pension and health insurance, the Board of Pensions will waive the additional fee. For churches currently receiving a discount for using ACH, that rate will continue through 2020.
Health insurance arrearage policy
Finally, the Board of Pensions will suspend the rule that churches with health insurance arrearages for the period March-June 2020 are not eligible for the conference health insurance program. This is not a suspension of payment; as always, there is the expectation that health insurance payments will be paid going forward.
Financial stewardship support
The UMFNE is providing a number of measures to assist congregations and individuals including: offering webinars on electronic giving, allowing borrowers in the loan program the opportunity to forbear monthly payments on their loans for 90 days, and providing, in cooperation with the Annual Conference, a line of credit for pre-sale expenses associated with an upcoming property sale. The UMFNE and the Preachers’ Aid Society are counseling active and retired pastors on their financial decision-making, and offering referrals to other advisors as appropriate.
If you have financial concerns that are not addressed in this letter or by the FAQ, we encourage you to contact your District Superintendent to discuss resources and options available to you.
Friends, we do not know how long the crisis will last, but there is one thing we do know: "that [our] Redeemer lives!” (Job 19:25). May we seize these moments, not as defeat, but as witness to the world through our actions and deeds that we glorify our Creator God, filled with the love of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.
In Christ’s Love,
Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar
*page 66; New City Press, Hyde Park, NY, 2010. Translation by Judith Bruder