COVID-19 Response Task Force
January 15, 2021
Happy New Year!
State of Illinois Begins to Lift COVID Restrictions

Since late November, all Illinois regions have been in Tier 3, the most stringent mitigations in response to COVID surging statewide. If good metrics continue, on January 15, many regions (check yours) can begin moving to less restrictions.

If things continue to improve in a region, Illinois Department of Public Health will reclassify accordingly to Tier 2, Tier 1 and back to Phase 4. If we continue mask wearing and social distancing, and get vaccinated when it’s time, we'll experience the recovery will continue.

Now is not the time to let your guard down! Until we receive further guidance from the state, we continue to urge church leaders to offer on-line worship and make careful plans for in-person worship. We will continue to monitor guidance and communicate what we learn.

Frequently Asked Questions from the IDPH

Q. When can I get a COVID-19 vaccine?
Q. Where can I get the vaccine?
Q. Do I need a vaccine if I have already had COVID-19?

Email Scams Continue

Please do not open emails that look suspicious from scammers pretending to be General Presbyter, Rev. Eric Heinekamp. If you have not already, add his correct email address, to your contact list so you can be on the lookout for fraudulent attempts to fool you.

He will never ask you to buy gift cards or make odd requests such as: "Do you have a moment I have a request I need you to handle discreetly. I am in a meeting no calls so just reply my email".
Lenten Plans are Simmering

We devoted some time at this week's Pastors Cares and Shares to talking about plans for a virtual Ash Wednesday and a live-streamed Lent. If you have ideas to share, please join the Cares and Shares group next week (Wednesday at 2:00, Thursday at 9:00) or send them to the office.

Ash Wednesday substitutes for imposition of ashes can be distributed ahead of a service or suggested to people. During a service (virtual or in person), people can mark themselves or others in their household with:
  • Stickers or temporary tattoo (e.g. a cross)
  • Marker - watercolor is best
  • Moistened dirt from outside or a potted plant
  • Encourage people to mix their own ash with cooking oil (WARNING: Do not mix ash and water to apply to skin - it is caustic)
  • Use plain cooking oil or water to have people make the sign of the cross at home
  • The end of a burnt match
  • Q-tip dipped in ash and distributed in a baggie
  • The Vatican has told priests (masked) to sprinkle ashes on the head without speaking to each person individually, rather all at once to the gathered body

Several churches are planning to deliver Lenten "Kits" which may include ideas for meaningful observance of the 40 days: Bible study materials, prayer cards, crosses, coloring pages (for youth and adults - see Illustrated Ministry, Sanctified Art or Rotation), One Great Hour of Sharing materials (including Fish Bank).

You may urge your congregation to attend to their spiritual discipline by "giving up", "taking up" (a more gentle approach during the pandemic), or "eating intentionally" with tactile prompts such as a small bag of rice, a bean soup mix or a contributory joint art project. If you would like more specifics, please ask.
Paycheck Protection Program Round 2

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) initiated by the CARES Act has been extended by the government stimulus bill passed in December. The goal of the PPP is to help small businesses fund payroll and major operating expenses like mortgage interest, rent, and utilities. These PPP loans are also available to churches, many of whom are experiencing loss of financial support. On January 11, the SBA reopened the loan portal that local banks can use to process these loans. Borrowers may apply until March 31, 2021 but are encouraged to apply as soon as possible as funds are limited. There are two separate applications for the PPP based on whether the borrower received a previous loan.

First Draw Loan: If your congregation did not receive a loan in 2020, you would file an application for a First Draw Loan. An overview of the program and the application are on the Blackhawk website or The size of the loan is based on 2.5 times your average monthly payroll costs, including benefits. The loan does not have to be repaid if your church meets certain conditions. Employee levels must be maintained and 60% of the loan must be spent on payroll costs.

Second Draw Loans: Congregations that previously received a PPP loan will need to meet additional qualifications to apply again. Your prior loan must have been forgiven or repaid. Most importantly, you must show a 25% reduction in gross receipts between two comparable quarters in 2019 and 2020. If your member giving has remained steady through the pandemic you may be excluded from getting a second loan.

There are many serious considerations to review if your congregation is considering a PPP loan. Do you qualify? How do ideas regarding separation of church and state impact your decision? Will getting a loan affect member giving? Many of our congregations received PPP loans, as did the Presbytery of Blackhawk. For some churches, the funds were key to making payroll and keeping their church going. Please talk with your banker, your session and feel free to contact the presbytery with questions. Please note that presbytery approval is not required on these loans.
Congregational Meetings in COVID-Time

Many have asked how to hold their annual called meeting to elect officers, approve the 2021 budget, and other business. Here are some tips from your Stated Clerk:

  • Check your by-laws to determine if they specifically say you must meet in person (most don't). If your by-laws don’t require you meet in person, you should be OK to meet via Zoom. 
  • If your by-laws require you meet in person, hold a minimal-quorum, socially distanced gathering and vote to change the by-laws and then schedule a subsequent on-line meeting.
  • Or ask your session vote to approve an emergency suspension of the by-laws in order to hold a virtual congregational meeting. When it is safe to gather again, hold a duly-called congregational meeting to ratify all votes from at the 'emergency' meeting.
  • When meeting via Zoom, be sure to include people who can only join by telephone (land lines too). Make sure they can hear what is going on and include them when voting, by calling on them one at a time.
  • If you do not want to Zoom, set up a conference call ( works well). You would probably want to take attendance to be able to do roll call votes.
  • When approving nominations for new officers be sure to call for nominations from the floor. If you get more nominations than open positions, you will need to go to a ballot. This is nearly impossible on-line. You may postpone the election to a later date.
  • You can do the ordination and installation of officers with an on-line meeting.

Do your best, but there is room for considerable grace here. Contact Eric Heinekamp at any time with questions.
What Exactly is Average Worship Attendance in 2020??

In completing the Annual Statistical Report for 2020 (due by February 18), many clerks and sessions are struggling with how to report numbers related to worship attendance and Christian education. Since each church is different, our stated clerk suggests your church devise a reasonable way to count attendees and then stick with that system for the year (and into 2021). If you choose to only sample January and February of 2020, that would be fine too. Alternatively, you can leave these questions blank or make a guess.

Do your best, but DO NOT leave your final membership number blank!
Contact the office with your questions.
Please continue to monitor the COVID metrics for your region of Illinois:

Blackhawk Presbytery COVID-19 page - information from past COVID updates is added regularly

Please email the Presbytery office with your questions, concerns or suggestions. We are working from home and not monitoring the office phone.