Dear Members and Friends of the Penn Central Conference,
Peace to each of you as we move into the next week of our shared separation in light of Covid-19. My prayer remains that each of you feels surrounded by the peace and presence of God. Please continue to connect with each other in whatever ways you can safely find – especially those who live alone. We must share the light and hope of Christ now more than ever.
I have several items to share with you. Please read through and feel free to contact the Conference with any questions.
Governmental Responses to Covid-19 and the Church
Daily there are developments regarding responses to the virus and what these may mean for the church, especially financially. Here’s a brief update:
1.      Regulations for the implementation of the $2 Trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act from Congress are being formulated now. Many clergy will qualify for aid. Some churches may qualify for forgivable loans for the purposes of payroll and other expenses. Our General Counsel of the UCC will share details with all conferences as she learns them this week. I will pass these on to you. Please, practice patience as we see how this will affect the church. There is a great deal of anxiety around the financial state of our congregations – use good judgment, watch for scams, and listen to reputable exerts.
2.     Some churches may also be affected by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act that goes into effect April 1 st. The Act includes emergency Paid Sick Leave and Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansions that include coverage of partial pay for employees of organizations affected by the virus. This act does apply to organizations with fewer than 50 employees, with some exceptions. I will have details of the implementation this week from General Counsel and will share those with you. Please watch for them.
3.      The Governor’s actions regarding stay-at-home orders and closure of essential businesses should be heeded, including Holy Week and Easter . The Commonwealth cannot restrict church meetings. However, it is the position of the Conference that we should cease all in-person group gatherings. Filming church services is acceptable, but should be conducted at the discretion of local leadership. Please keep in mind safety practices.
Penn Central Conference Board Meeting
 Your Board of Directors will meet this coming Saturday at 9:30 AM via zoom . There are several items up for discussion: Change-of-date for the Annual Meeting; Hartman Center Summer Camp Status; Clergy financial support during Covid-19; current staffing arrangements; Conference financial concerns and projections; and the election of the Settled Conference Minister. Board Moderator Rev. Ann Graves will provide a full report of the meeting in the E-news on April 8 th .
Council of Conference Ministers (CCM)
This past week I attended a full meeting of the Council of Conference Ministers via zoom. I am part of a new task force responding to the Covid-19 pandemic . This group is seeking to create a “template for response” that will be adaptable to each of our conferences. The task force will address financial support of churches and where to find resources, along with the possibility that some of our churches may face dissolution as a result of the pandemic. The task force includes 5 conference minsters, 3 executives from our financial ministries (Pension Board, United Church Funds, and Cornerstone Fund), Rev. John Dorhauer (General Minister and President) and Rev. Traci Blackmon (Associate General Minister for Justice and Local Church Ministries). This is difficult yet necessary work in the face of this financial and health crisis.
UCC National Board Meeting
I also attended a semi-annual meeting of the UCC Board of Directors via zoom this past week. The national staff members of the UCC are all working remotely. Progress and plans continue for Synod next year in Kansas City. The theme, “Rooted in Love”, was announced alongside a beautiful logo. We heard updates regarding the postponement of National Youth Event until 2022. There will be some National Youth activities this spring on-line, however. We will share those as we receive more information. The Board will also continue discussion of responses to Resolution 8 from Synod last year (on Stewardship of Display Space) as well as explore questions regarding the length and frequency of Synod. The Board heard the description and composition of the Council of Conference Ministers’ Task Force on Covid-19 and approved its work moving forward.
Search and Call
There are no hard and fast rules regarding search and call at this time. Instead, the process remains fluid. Some search committees are meeting via zoom, while others have taken a break from the process. Clergy profiles continue to come in to our office. Neutral pulpits and candidating weekends have been delayed until May, at the earliest. (These dates are subject to adjustment, depending on the course of the virus and government recommendations.) There will be a search and call zoom meeting this coming Wednesday, April 1 st , at 7:00 PM for search committee members. You will receive a direct email invitation to this meeting if your church is in the process of transition.
Zoom Calls this Week
Please join us for zoom gatherings weekly, whether for conversation, updates, ideas, prayer or fellowship. Tuesday morning you will receive the weekly listing of zoom calls for March 31-April 7.
All of your staff at Penn Central are healthy and working from home. We are acutely aware of the anxiety, frustration and fears that have arisen in these weeks. We are also, happily, aware of some great blessings as well. We trust that we shall all see one another face-to-face soon. Keep the faith and lift up one another. Please hold the Conference and all of our churches and clergy in prayer.
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)