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Frequently asked questions regarding church operations during this period.
LITURGY, WORSHIP & FORMATION:
All non-essential public worship and public gatherings are suspended until further notice. We will re-evaluate the situation well ahead of Palm Sunday (April 5) and issue updated guidance at that time.
What, if any, public worship services are considered “essential”?
Until further notice, only funerals will be considered essential public worship services and should not include celebration of the Eucharist. Attendance should be limited to as small a group as possible. Proper hygiene guidelines must be followed, and the church must be thoroughly disinfected following the service. Weddings, vow renewals, memorial services, baptisms, etc. are to be postponed and will be re-evaluated after March 29.
Should clergy do emergency pastoral calls such as prayers for the dying or hospital calls to those facing life-threatening surgeries or illness?
Yes. Clergy have a pastoral responsibility to tend to the critically ill and the dying. Clergy called to such circumstances should take every precaution to safeguard themselves and the person to whom they are ministering, including wearing hospital gowns, masks, and rubber gloves where necessary and available. Clergy who are themselves ill should ask a clergy colleague to cover for them if an emergency situation arises. Clergy should also recognize that hospital authorities may impose quarantines that prevent them from visiting persons with contagious diseases. You may wish to call ahead to be sure you will be admitted.
How can we live into God’s call to us to be Church while maintaining “social distance”?
Episcopal Relief & Development has excellent resources for this, found on the section of its website called “Connection in the Midst of an Epidemic.”
What options do we have for online worship?
Bishop Stokes is encouraging online worship as a way to maintain some normalcy. Live streaming is not difficult. Our website has a great set of resources to help, including a list of all known online worship in the diocese. We also have a “support group” in our diocese for those who want to help one another with live streaming. You may also contact Steve Welch (email@example.com) for more information and coaching help.
How do we record suspended or online worship in our congregational registers?
For suspended Sunday worship, simply note this in your register and do not include the affected week(s) in your calculation of average Sunday attendance. For online worship, to the extent that your online platform allows you to know the number of participants you have, use that number. Otherwise, simply note “Online – number unknown” and, if this relates to regular Sunday service(s), do not include the affected week(s) in your calculations of average Sunday attendance.
Canon Michael Barlowe, Executive Officer of the General Convention, has issued a statement on which subject, which reads in part::
“Senior church leadership is aware that there may be some anxiety about how to document attendance at such digital worship services, but our message is ‘Do not worry about this.’ Most congregations and dioceses will record the number and kind of worship (Morning Prayer, streamed Eucharist, etc.); and list the virtual attendance separately as ‘virtual attendance’ or a similar designation, using whatever counting their digital media allows.”
Only to the extent necessary for basic operational needs – e.g. processing the mail, performing other clerical, communications, and building oversight functions for which physical presence is necessary. This will obviously vary depending upon each church’s level of activity. Consider what clerical and communications functions can be accomplished by your employees just as well from home.
Can we continue our food pantry/feeding ministry/soup kitchen?
Many of our churches have essential feeding programs for people living with homelessness or for other marginalized people. Keep these points in mind:
- Make sure that those leading and participating in the programs are trained in proper CDC and NJ Dept. of Health procedures and protocols specifically related to COVID-19
- Consider distributing pre-packaged “take-out” meals rather than gathering people at serving counters and tables.
- Consider limiting numbers of volunteers distributing food and restrict the area from which food is being distributed.
- Wear gloves to hand out non-perishable food and other items.
- If you need to serve food, please ban self-service buffets and have all food served in individual containers, or by food servers wearing gloves. Do not allow other people to handle the serving pieces.
- Wash all dishes in a dishwasher rather than by hand, as the water heats to higher temperatures and the dishwasher cleans more thoroughly.
- Use paper goods if you do not have a dishwasher in the church.
What about the 12-Step programs that meet at our church?
These meetings should be suspended until further notice. While we all acknowledge the critical importance of these meetings for those in recovery, meeting in person is not “essential.” We recommend meetings take place virtually, using a web conferencing software such as Zoom or Google Hangouts. Alternatively, a Google search of “online 12-step meetings” will quickly show how many online resources are available to the recovery community virtually 24/7 to help us safeguard people by keeping “social distance” as they continue to be supported through this time.
How do we handle tenants or other groups who rent or use our space – including other congregations?
We strongly urge that all public gatherings in our buildings be suspended until further notice so they do not contribute to continuing the community spread of COVID-19. Until testing is much more comprehensive, we truly have no way to know who is carrying this infection in communicable form. Private schools, day-cares, and pre-schools should follow guidance from their local school districts. They (and you) should be aware that they (and you) may be at risk legally if they continue operations when local schools have been directed to close and one of their group either gets sick or is identified as a transmitter of the virus. Congregations should be aware that any public gathering held on their premises carries with it a responsibility on their part to ensure that proper disinfection procedures and protocols are followed before and after the gathering.
Is Diocesan House open?
The offices and meeting rooms at Diocesan House are closed to the public until further notice. All diocesan staff are working from home to the greatest extent possible, and may be reached during regular business hours by phone or email as usual. Snail mail will be picked up daily as well.
Is the Finance Office open?
Yes, with the understanding that as much of this work as can be done electronically is being done offsite. Phyllis, Tanya, and Manny will continue processing financial transactions and providing reports as usual.
If we need to make withdrawals from our DIT Account to cover expenses, will we able to?
Yes, that process remains unchanged. Please contact Tanya Rainey (firstname.lastname@example.org) as usual via email to process withdrawal requests, being sure to include documentation showing vestry/mission committee authorization for the withdrawal, also as usual.
Will meetings of Diocesan committees, commissions, and governing bodies still take place?
Yes. Many of our committees, commissions, and governing bodies have already been making use of the Zoom videoconference platform to mitigate travel for many of their members. Until further notice, all diocesan meetings will now be held exclusively by Zoom.
What about events at Trinity Cathedral?
Diocesan events at Trinity Cathedral are also postponed until further notice.
Electronic/online giving has long been recommended as an effective way to sustain smoother cash flow and make it easier for your pledgers and regular givers to maintain steady giving even when they can’t attend church. Now is an opportune time to establish and promote your capacity to accept electronic and/or online donations for the long-term, not just as a short-term measure. And while there are always fees associated with online giving, consider also the money you leave on the table when you don’t accept eGiving in today’s culture. Here are some recommendations:
- Congregation members can go online or by phone to their banks to set up recurring payments to your church by check or by direct transfer if you give them your bank account information.
- PayPal is a simple payment processing company. Accounts are simple to set up and use, and will allow you to accept e-checks as well as credit card payments. Credit/debit card payment processing fees for charitable organizations are currently 2.2% + $0.30 per transaction.
- Vanco Payment Solutions is an excellent and highly recommended resource for comprehensive eGiving solutions – especially for churches. They are the vendor we use for diocesan purposes and can handle all types of electronic transactions from website donation campaigns to mobile app donations to text donations and more. Their “Start” plan has a monthly fee of $10, and credit/debit card payment processing fees are currently 2.75% + $0.45 per transaction.
There are any number of other eGiving solution apps out there – Fundly, Qgiv, FirstGiving, DonateNow, etc. Most have very similar features but widely varying price structures. The two solutions listed above are among the most competitive and secure. There are also many digital wallets out there to facilitate electronic payments – Venmo, Zelle, AmazonPay, GooglePay, ApplePay, etc. Great care should be taken with security should you decide to set up an account with any of these apps, which typically charge around 3% to process credit card transactions.
We’re a small church without permanent clergy. Are we obliged to pay our staff while we’re not having onsite services and our buildings are closed?
Certainly anyone working under a Letter of Agreement or an employment contract should continue to be paid in accordance with the terms of their agreement. Moreover, the behind-the-scenes aspects of what your staff does may very well become increasingly important. They may be coping with schedule changes, increased communications, creative adaptations to worship, formation and outreach, and dealing with more rigorous building cleaning requirements. Pastoral care and spiritual support of your congregation during this period of time may also be more demanding. They are a critical investment in the long-term continuity of your ministry.
We’re a small church and our cash flow has been significantly crippled by the suspension of worship services. We don’t have enough cash on hand to pay our priest or cover our bills. What should we do?
Contact Canon Phyllis Jones at email@example.com immediately to discuss options for relief and/or temporary support.
What are my obligations regarding sick leave?
We are subject to the NJ Dept. of Labor & Workforce Development’s sick leave laws. A timely, user-friendly explanation of those can be found here. Consider also the ministry aspect of your employment relationship in the wider context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Episcopal Relief & Development includes these guidelines related to vulnerable, low-income hourly church workers in its Faith-Based Response to Epidemics:
- Bolster outreach ministries to prepare to help low-income hourly workers who call out of work. Encourage those who may consider going to work for the sake of income to stay home because you can offer assistance.
- Sick leave policies should be flexible, non-punitive and consistent with public health guidance. And employees should be made aware of the policies, realizing that employees may need to take time off for themselves or to care for loved ones in their household.
- Do not require a healthcare provider’s note for employees who are sick with acute respiratory illness to validate their illness or to return to work–healthcare provider offices are extremely busy and may recommend that people only come in if absolutely necessary.
Do we still have to pay our Marks of Mission Giving?
We will certainly understand if your monthly Marks of Mission Giving payment needs to be delayed due to the short-term financial impact of the suspension of public worship and public gatherings in your buildings. As we get nearer to year-end, if you determine that the overall impact has been severe enough to impair your ability to fulfill your pledge, please contact Canon Phyllis Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your situation.
Does my health insurance cover testing for COVID-19?
Yes. The Church Medical Trust will waive all co-pays, deductibles, and co-insurance related to the evaluation and testing for COVID-19.
Will COVID-19 treatment be covered if I need it?
Yes. For those enrolled in Church Medical Trust health plans for active employees, deductibles, co-pays and coinsurance will also be waived for COVID-19 treatment. For those enrolled in a Medicare Supplement plan through the Church Pension Group, Medicare rules will apply, as will deductibles, co-pays and coinsurance.
My provider is offering virtual appointments. Will these be covered?
Typically, telehealth services (virtual appointments) are limited to those accessed through approved telehealth platforms (LiveHealth Online for Anthem, and AmWell or MDLive for Cigna). However, effective immediately, the Medical Trust will allow claims for virtual provider appointments (deductibles, co-pays and coinsurance will apply) and they will waive costs for telehealth services utilizing your carrier’s platform for the rest of the year. See the notice from Church Pension Group here.
What should I do if I have a dental emergency?
If your dentist’s office is closed, they should be able to refer you to an emergency dentist. Delta Dental will cover virtual emergency examinations to validate the nature of your emergency and review your current medical status prior to treatment.
I have other questions or need help with my benefits. Who can help me find the answers?
Email our Diocesan Benefits Administrator, Pat Hawkins at email@example.com.
My question isn’t answered here. What do I do?
Email Steve Welch, Canon for Communications, for more information.