In response, ministry leaders are creating new ways of reaching out and asking church members and others to give online or to mail in checks.
“Churches are going to suffer. If Christians stop giving during this time of not being able to go to the actual physical building, then many churches will have to close their doors,” said the Rev. Ronnie Collins, senior pastor at Out of the Box United Methodist United Methodist Church in Hillsville, Virginia.
On March 18, Holston staff created an online giving link to help local churches who still depend heavily on passing the offering plate for income.
At Holston.org/churchoffering, people will find an easy way to give directly online to any local church in Holston Conference. The 3% cost for the transaction will be paid by Holston Conference, while 100 percent of the gift will be forwarded to the designated local church.
“We’re here to support the local church, and this is one way of doing that,” said Rick Cherry, Holston director of finance and administration. “This is to help the smaller churches that don’t already have online giving set up.”
Cherry said the Council on Finance and Administration (CFA) is "very aware" that giving may suffer as church members practice “social distancing” to slow down rates of virus infection.
On March 11, the World Health Organization identified COVID-19 as a pandemic. On March 19, Bishop Dindy Taylor extended an initial two-week cessation of public worship services to an indefinite closure of Holston Conference’s 864 churches -- “until further notice.”
Currently, Holston Conference is in the midst of a 2020 budget of $9.1 million, Cherry said. Recently, the CFA voted to propose a 2021 budget of $8.7 million.
The CFA is prepared to “make adjustments as needed” to immediate and future budgets if income from local-church tithes drops, Cherry said. “The CFA knows this is subject to change because these are unprecedented times.”
Camps assess impactHolston Conference Camp and Retreat Ministries have already realized financial losses during these early days of the coronavirus pandemic, said Mary Thompson, executive director.
As groups have canceled their spring retreats and events at Dickenson, Bays Mountain, Wesley Woods and Lookout, the camps have lost $200,000 in expected income during March, April and May, she said.
At least one church has withdrawn from hosting Camp in the Community during the summer due to their own income loss, and “some others are questioning,” Thompson said.
If the camps are prevented from hosting the summer season due to safety concerns or government shutdown, Holston Conference Camp and Retreat Ministries will experience a $475,000 loss in income, she said.
In summer 2019, Holston camps hosted 3,308 summer campers.
“We’re still going ahead as if we’re still having summer camp,” Thompson said, “but we know there’s a good chance we won’t be able to host it safely.”
On March 17, President Donald Trump said the coronavirus outbreak could last into the summer, perhaps as long as August.
In the meantime, camp staff are preparing to help former campers and other children with videos of camp activities such as crafts, cooking songs, and devotions. Thompson said the videos will be prepared for families to enjoy especially on the weekend, after children have spent the weekdays home-schooling and must still remain home.
“We hope to still be in ministry with people through that contact,” Thompson said. “People need that pastoral presence.”
For example, Director Don Washburn is working on a video with his grandson as they make Camp Lookout’s famous chocolate gravy in the camp kitchen.
“We will shift our doomsday thinking to sharing fun stuff online for campers and parents,” Washburn said. “This is an opportunity, in a strange landscape, to continue in our mission of sharing the love of Christ in the glory of God’s creation. Even via digital sharing, we hope to do this.”
“Everyone is going to be hurting for a while,” Thompson said. “We’re not focused on how we hurt. We’re focused on other people and and also asking how we can be present and move on from that.”
Visit the camp websites and camp Facebook pages to see the videos and to support the camps financially:
CampBaysMountain.com / Facebook
CampDickenson.com / Facebook
CampLookout.com / Facebook
CampWesleyWoods.com / Facebook
CampintheCommunity.org / Facebook
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.
A week ago, Holstonians were incredulous that worship services in church buildings could be canceled due to a virus, even for a two-week period. As news of the coronavirus pandemic grows more alarming, pastors and members of Holston’s 864 churches ...
March 18 update: Bishop Dindy Taylor has closed Holston churches until further notice. "The good news is medical experts know social distancing is helping slow the spread of the virus. The bad news is it is still spreading," she said. "Like you, we ...