Community Life Church (CLC), Gulf Breeze UMC, Navarre UMC and St. Paul UMC have collectively pooled their resources to supplement what other agencies are doing. “The local school systems are doing an outstanding job of feeding families, but transportation is required to pick up those meals,” stated Rev. Jenn Lusher, CLC director of care ministry. “United Methodists in the Gulf Breeze and Navarre areas are meeting families where they are. Some children are home alone because parents are working and some families do not own cars. By delivering food we can fill in the gaps that other programs do not cover. We are also meeting the needs of families who do not have school-aged students. The power of our connection is phenomenal.”
A food request starts with Gulf Breeze UMC, who registers the student’s family and helps to access the need. CLC then receives the request and handles the delivery. Navarre UMC already had their “We Care Ministry” in place so some of the knowledge and expertise on this ministry existed. Rev. Christina Shaver at St. Paul UMC also assess the needs of her congregation and assists with publicizing this service. Gulf Breeze UMC, under the leadership of Dr. Dan Morris, is also assisting the elderly with their Methodist Meals program by continuing to deliver food to them while also taking on this additional food delivery service partnership. By churches using their existing structures, the program has been able to quickly take off.
Lusher noted that there is no guidebook for this. “The gulf coast is constantly training and preparing for hurricanes but nobody has a manual on how to safely feed thousands in a global health pandemic,” she said. To be compliant, all volunteer workers are not only practicing social distancing, they are taking temperatures each day; ensuring background and license checks are up to date; and ensuring stringent safety measures are in place to provide sanitary meals. “It is essential that we stay above board in all that we do to protect those we serve,” stated Rev. Scott Veroneau, CLC lead pastor. “We do not want to cut any corners just because we are responding to an emergency situation. To meet people where they are, we are loading up church buses full of food and therefore, we want those receiving these groceries
to know our volunteers can be trusted.”
The group has been classified as an essential service because of the amount of groceries they are providing to the underserved community. Lusher continued, “We have Piggly Wiggly, Panera Bread and other national food distributors backing trucks up to our church to help with our mission. When the shelter-in-place order was announced, we thought our services would end but instead, the local authorities realized how necessary our work was and has partnered with us to continue our ministry.” The volunteers provide food to make three meals a day for five days with no person-to-person contact.
In addition to grocery delivery, these trained and committed United Methodists have helped provide mental health phone and online counseling; home repairs; financial assistance; 24-hour phone prayer line; childcare resources, delivery and supply replenishment for elderly persons; diapers and clothing for children; foster care support and intentional mentoring and resourcing of single parents who have been laid off, to name a few.
Veroneau also referenced the AWF apportionment reduction and benefit exemption as a gift to this ministry. “The recent announcement by the conference has allowed us to immediately put more money into community ministry,” he said. “The leadership of our conference has made historic decisions that enable us to better serve those around us and I’m extremely grateful for this good news in an otherwise challenging time. This area relies heavily on the tourism industry and right now, it is all on hold. We have an opportunity to walk alongside people and help them through this crisis while doing everything possible to demonstrate and connect them to the love of Jesus.”
It is unknown how long this food delivery service will continue. “We sprang into action so fast we don’t even have a creative name for ourselves,” said Lusher. “But those are unimportant details at this time. Simply knowing we are spending our days serving others is all that matters in this pandemic. God’s faithfulness continues to sustain us and we will run on that energy and commitment as long as we are able.”
Alabama-West Florida Conference Releases Updates on In-person Worship and 2020 Annual Conference Session
The Alabama-West Florida Conference has released a revised date for all conference- and district-related gatherings in the bounds of the conference. To comply with the recommendation of President Trump, all in-person worship and church meetings are not to be held through April 30, 2020. The bishop, cabinet and leadership team will continue to assess when churches may gather again. Should you have any questions on this new date, please contact your district superintendent.
The 2020 session of Annual Conference, scheduled for June 7-9 in Montgomery, AL, at Frazer Memorial UMC, has been postponed due to the coronavirus. A new date has not been set but conference leadership is hoping to reschedule for late summer or early fall. “Although meeting capacity guidance has not yet been provided past April 30, it is evident that large groups will not be able to safely gather anytime soon,” stated Bishop David Graves. “We are in unprecedented times and are all assessing rapidly changing information by the hour. The length of annual conference will be significantly reduced in order to be good stewards of our limited funds. Many ministries and agencies who usually give reports will need to be prepared to provide a written update for our annual Book of Reports. We know this is unlike any previous annual conference and appreciate the grace we will all need to move forward in a different way. What I look forward to most is seeing our clergy and laity in person, who have lived into being adaptive leaders during this global crisis.”
Information such as a revised working agenda; previously scheduled health screenings; and details on specific celebration and remembrance services will be released when alternative plans are made.
Clergy appointments will continue to follow the previously announced timeline and are still effective July 1. Should moving restrictions or complications occur in a specific case, the district superintendent will advise the pastors and churches based on the situation.
“My prayers continue with you daily,” said Bishop Graves. “In my lifetime I have never encountered an illness that was as far reaching and life changing as COVID-19. Together, we will get through this with God’s help and care for one another.”
Up-to-date information may be found at www.awfumc.org.
In the midst of COVID-19, important information is rapidly changing and evolving. There are several urgent actions you or your church might need to take to maximize your potential financial assistance.
1) The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act information page on the AWF Website has been published. Please be aware it is being frequently updated and edited. We encourage you to check it often. The easy URL is www.awfumc.org/cares. There are some immediate things you can do to better prepare your church, which are listed on this page, as this act continues to be evaluated.
2) The Alabama Small Business Development Center Network (SBDC) is hosting three webinars this week regarding the updated process for applying for the SBDC Economic Injury Disaster Loan, the $10k forgivable advance, and the new Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Each webinar is limited to the first 1,000 participants. There is not a similar option for Florida churches but conference leadership continues to research this option. Resources specifically for Florida may be found click here. The SBDC Webinars are as follows:
3) The Alabama-West Florida Conference Fiscal Office is providing an online giving platform to local churches who do not have their own as a way for members to give to their churches during the COVID-19 period of isolation. Church members may access the giving form via this online link. Churches who wish to take advantage of this service should please complete an ACH/direct deposit form, print, sign and return to Suzanne Krejcar at firstname.lastname@example.org. The name, email and telephone number of the signer must be included and must be an established financial contact for the church. The fiscal office will contact the pastor as a secondary validation measure before any funds are sent. Once the ACH information is validated by the pastor, the funds will be transmitted electronically every second Tuesday to the local church along with an e-mail confirmation and donor file. This e-mail will be sent both to the financial contact and the pastor.
4) As a reminder, an important announcement was made yesterday to inform churches of the 1/12th apportionment reduction and the two-month benefit exemption. Click here for release. In order to allow churches that may be applying for the Paycheck Protection Program (that will cover payroll, health insurance and certain other costs until June 30th), we will structure the health insurance holiday (April/May) as a simple two month credit that the church can elect to take either when designated or at any point until end of year. In this way, those churches that are applying for the PPP can delay taking the credit and get a “double” benefit while other churches who may not apply, can proceed with taking the credit.
The Alabama-West Florida Conference will continue to provide necessary guidance on fiscal matters as it relates to COVID-19. If I can be of assistance to you, please reach out to me through email: email@example.com. My prayers are with each of you daily and together, we will make it through this uncertain time.
Bishop David Graves, conference leadership, AWF Council on Finance and Administration (CFA) and the AWF Board of Pension and Health Benefits (BOPH) acknowledge the potential financial challenge all churches face. With that in mind, there are three ways in which the conference can partner with your church:
- The AWF Council on Finance and Administration has approved a 1/12 apportionment reduction for all churches in the Alabama-West Florida Conference for the fiscal year 2020. This one-month reduction may be taken at any point during the year or be spread over multiple months in 2020, at the discretion of the local church. Alternatively, those churches that have already paid at least 100% of their 2020 apportionments may request a rebate (not to exceed 1/12 of their annual apportionments) to assist with immediate financial needs within the local church.
- The AWF Board of Pension and Health has granted local churches a two-month health insurance billing exemption for all clergy and lay employees. (Clergy dependent care and lay dependent care coverage are excluded from this exemption). This holiday will be reflected in April and May billing statements.
- Guidance and Recommendations on the recent Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
“We acknowledge the critical financial situation of some of our churches,” stated Bishop David Graves. “I am grateful to our conference CFA and Board of Pension and Health for showing outstanding leadership and compassion to our churches. The local church is the heartbeat of our conference and we exist to resource them in every way. Historic times call for historic sacrificial measures and I fully support what could be a once-in-a-lifetime decision.”
The 1/12th apportionment reduction translates to $800,000 while the health insurance billing exemption sum is $464,000; for a total of $1.3 million. These funds will come from annual conference unrestricted reserves, which are used for extraordinary emergency situations such as COVID-19. Many more details will be released about the aforementioned three partnerships in the coming days and weeks. For more information, please contact Suzanne Krejcar, AWF Treasurer and Director of Administrative Services, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are several important clergy-related announcements pertaining to COVID-19.
1) First, Bishop Graves has stated that all in-person worship services and church meetings should not occur before April 15. He is closely monitoring what state and national officials recommend. In order to honor our social distancing, healthy-living commitments and to protect those at risk, we ask that all Alabama-West Florida churches comply with this request.
2) The weekly clergy Zoom gathering called, "How is it with your soul?" with Bishop Graves has a new time. It will now be on Mondays at 4:00pm CST. This adjusted time will enable families to better coordinate their evenings. Click here for updated Zoom link.
3) The AWF Conference has created an online short-term form for your local church members to utilize if your church does not have online giving established. The money will come to the conference fiscal office and 100% of the gift will be sent to the local church. The conference will absorb all fees related to the transaction. Click here to access form. You may promote this link in your communication pieces to your church members.
4) The AWF Youth Ministry Roundtable, coordinated by Rev. Jeremy Steele, will have an online forum to help process youth ministry in a time of social distancing and trade best practices. The group will spend time processing how we are approaching teaching lessons, offering pastoral support, doing relational ministry and safe sanctuaries in the virtual space. The event will be held April 2 from 12:30-2:30pm. Registration is free but required. Click here for registration (a Zoom link will be sent upon confirmation).
5) A comprehensive online AWF Easter worship service is in production. Many of you will find creative ways to minister to your congregations. However, if social distancing is preventing you from organizing a full service, this will be a wonderful resource to use in place of your regular service or as an additional service. The link will be sent to all clergy on Saturday afternoon, April 11, so that it is not improperly distributed and detract from the efforts of our local churches. The service will have an organized order of worship and will have participants from all eight districts, including a sermon from Bishop David Graves. If your local church will not be live streaming or producing an Easter morning worship service, you are welcome to post this video link on your social media pages or share it with your congregation via email anytime after 9:00am Easter morning. It will be released to the annual conference through email and social media at noon on Easter.
The COVID-19 resource page continues to be updated as needed and offers a host of links related to worship, communications, online giving, and preaching, to name a few.
We encourage you to reach out to the AWF conference staff should you need any assistance with navigating this new normal. Our prayers are with each of you and we acknowledge your outstanding effort to continue ministry in this uncertain time.