Advisory Statement from the Presbytery Council
March 23, 2020

“Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” – Isaiah 40:31

Dear Friends in Christ,

On March 13, we issued an advisory letter urging our congregations to take responsible and proactive responses to the rapidly evolving coronavirus pandemic. We are grateful that so many of you have taken our advice to heart and have responded in faithful and creative ways for your congregations and communities. Many of these responses have been spotlighted on our Presbytery Facebook page. We are writing you again to update our previous letter and to make you aware of new resources and opportunities for your congregation.

Congregational Worship

As you are aware, cases of COVID-19 are rapidly increasing in our state. They are expected to continue to escalate for several weeks. On March 15, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) advised that gatherings of 50 or more people be suspended for eight weeks (until May 10) to control the spread of the virus. While more than half of our congregations have fewer than 50 in attendance, they should also take into consideration that persons over 60 years of age are in a “high-risk” category that should not meet in groups larger than 10. It is possible that stricter state requirements will come into effect requiring an extended period of “lockdown.” Today, Governor Whitmer has issued a “stay-at-home” order effective through April 13; and while she has clarified that churches are exempt from public meeting restrictions, gatherings of any size are likely to expose vulnerable people to infection.

Accordingly, the Presbytery Council advises that churches plan to extend suspending face-to-face meetings until May 10 . This will help to reduce the incidence of infections that are already testing the capacity of our health care system in some areas. It is the best, most efficient way for us to love our neighbors in this health crisis. This advice is subject to change as the extent of the pandemic becomes clearer. Please check with your own Session and congregational leadership for plans for your church.
Assistance to Congregations in Need

Because this will undoubtedly cause a financial hardship to many congregations, the Council and the Trustees have authorized grants and zero-percent interest loans for congregations experiencing financial stress. The initial limit for the grants and loans will be $4000 ($2000 grant + $2000 loan), but that limit can be revisited as the extent of the need becomes known. The loans will be repayable without interest for up to 20 months, beginning six months from the issuing of the loan. Look for the application form on the coronavirus resource page of our presbytery website .

In addition, the Council and Trustees are postponing payments by churches who have presbytery loans, for a period of six months beginning immediately. Normal payments will resume in September. Additional accommodation for congregations, such as postponing unpaid per capita assessments or mission pledges, will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Both the Board of Pensions and the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program (PILP) have asked congregations experiencing temporary financial distress to contact them regarding outstanding or ongoing obligations.

Grants from both the presbytery and the Board of Pensions are available to pastoral leaders who are experiencing financial difficulties due to the pandemic. For more information, they should contact Executive Presbyter Dan Saperstein.
Communication and Information

Communication is vital during our time of social distancing. Accordingly, the Council has authorized the Presbytery to assist congregations in obtaining and using electronic meeting services from Zoom meeting services. The Presbytery will pay for congregations that so wish to obtain a basic Zoom license for two months ($15/mo.). This level allows meetings for up to 100 persons by video, smart phone, or voice with no time limit as to meeting length. It allows for documents and even videos to be shared by any member of the group. If a church wishes instead to get an annual license, the Presbytery will provide half the cost of a one-year group license for up to 9 congregations through Tech Soup, which gives a discounted Zoom rate of $75/year (one-half the usual rate). If more than 9 congregations are interested, we will contact you regarding arrangements. Reliable broadband internet service may be required. Please send an email of your session’s interest in such a license by April 1 to Staci Percy at the address below.

To assist with peer-to-peer communication, the Presbytery has set up two weekly Zoom meetings: one for Presbytery leadership and larger church pastors, and one for smaller church pastors or clerks of session (if there is no pastor). Information on these meetings can be obtained from Executive Presbyter Dan Saperstein.

Communications Manager Staci Percy continues to develop the coronavirus resource page, with links to helpful information and suggestions for addressing the pandemic and its impact on your ministry and mission. It can be reached by clicking the banner on our presbytery website. In addition to our Facebook page, which includes information updates for the Presbytery, an additional Facebook group for Presbytery Leaders to exchange information and ideas has been started. It can be publicly viewed; posting rights are limited to pastoral leaders of the presbytery. For an invitation, email Staci.
Presbytery Update

Meanwhile the Presbytery Office will be closed for all but essential business until further notice. Staff will ordinarily work from home but will be available by email to respond to your needs. Voice mail messages left on the office phones might take longer for reply. The staff emails are:

Dan Saperstein, Executive Presbyter
Ted McCulloch, Stated Clerk
Staci Percy, Communications Mgr/Recording Clerk
Rose Onan, Office Administrator
Tracy Carr, Financial Secretary

The Presbytery will continue to cancel all face-to-face meetings for the duration of the crisis. Committees and Groups that wish to meet electronically may contact their Presbytery staff resource person for assistance.

“So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.”  - Galatians 6:10

These are unexpected challenges. But God is bigger and more powerful than any virus and empowers us through the Spirit to serve God and our neighbors with Christ’s love. But we don’t serve alone – so take time for your own physical, spiritual, and mental health. As you care for others, let others also care for you. Know that the Council and Presbytery staff are praying for all our congregations and pastoral leaders. With God’s help, we will get through this.

In Christ’s Fellowship,

The Presbytery Council