12 May 2020
It is hard to believe that it has been nearly nine weeks since we last gathered and began physical distancing. Let me begin by saying that I miss your smiling faces, sharing coffee hour with you and mostly worshiping at your side. With that said, the Vestry still needed to get down to business, dig in and keep the work of the church moving forward. So today, I would like to offer a few updates to the congregation and hopefully answer some questions that you may have about where we are as a faith community.
In April, under more usual circumstances, we would have found ourselves at the Semi-Annual Congregational Meeting. Without the opportunity to gather, we had to consider alternatives for constitutionally required activities such as the election of Vestry officers and Directors. After exploring several options, we felt a mail-in voting process allowed for greatest member participation. The slate of candidates has been officially published in the Olive Branch. Please watch for upcoming communication regarding the voting process.
As a result of the Executive Order from Governor Walz, a small Vestry committee was formed to create the Mount Olive Covid-19 Preparedness Plan. In short, the plan minimizes the opportunity for the Coronavirus to unwittingly infect our staff while conducting business in the church building. Since the implementation of the plan, James Wilkes has returned to work full time, remaining staff is able to work in the building as needed (Organ practice, some administrative functions, recording music, etc.). All staff members, except for our Sexton, will continue to work from home where possible. Here is the crucial part: Until further notice, only Staff, Vestry and essential volunteers may enter the building. Essential volunteers are counters, technical and video support, accounting, payroll, etc. Only those that have been notified by a Vestry member and provided training should enter the building. For the plan to be effective, we are asking all of you to honor these restrictions. If you feel you need to physically enter the building for essential business, you should first contact Cha at firstname.lastname@example.org and she will forward your request to the appropriate Vestry member. To enter the building, every Staff member, Vestry member and essential volunteer is required to pass a health screen, sign in, wear masks, maintain constant hand hygiene, mind areas marked as staff only and practice physical distancing.
As you are all acutely aware, this pandemic has created a tremendous amount financial hardship and uncertainly for so many around the world and in our community. With many jobs in limbo or lost altogether, and no historic precedence to rely on, it is impossible to see the economic future. However, the Vestry remains focused on its fiduciary responsibilities, while recognizing the reality that many among us may experience substantial changes in their own financial position. You may be anxious to know more about the financial status of Mount Olive. To be blunt, giving is down significantly. Doug Parish, our Treasurer, has been actively engaged in ways to help balance out some of the shortfalls. You can help by remaining attentive to future Olive Branch communications for updates from Doug and our Stewardship Director, Consuelo Gutierrez-Crosby, as they provide updates and ideas for creative ways to give, if you are able.
There have been regular reminders in the Olive Branch about ways to shift to electronic giving. If you currently give by mail, please consider changing over to an electronic method of giving, as it is more important the ever. The counting process for mailed giving is labor intensive and requires several volunteer counters to be near each other. Ultimately, we would like to minimize risk and exposure to our counting teams as they process your gifts to Mount Olive.
In March, the US Congress passed the CARES Act creating the Paycheck Protection Program. To provide additional budgetary support, we have secured a Paycheck Protection Program loan through Thrivent. While all the details of the program are pending dissemination, the equivalent of eight weeks of payroll will be forgivable. The Vestry will continue to focus on our budget, income, and expenses as we move to continue God’s work.
The Mount Olive Lutheran Church Foundation has also provided Mount Olive with the annual Foundation grant. The 2020 grant was $49,453.00, with a total of $566,764.92 given by the Foundation to date. The Foundation has graciously waived their usual preference for support of non-budgetary projects or programs to stand in support of the Vestry to utilize the funds to support our budgetary needs, as necessary. We are deeply grateful to the Foundation for their flexibility and support during this uncertain time.
I cannot imagine anything in our Pastor’s or Cantors’ experiences that could have prepared them for this moment in time. However, we have seen our Sunday Worship liturgy evolve, the music and learning from Cantor’s Corner come to life and Tuesday Virtual Bible Study grow. Our called leaders and Vicar Reading have wholeheartedly risen to this new challenge. They continue to deliver the Word and music as tools to guide us in our spiritual gardens. The Worship Committee has been diligent and thoughtful, providing support as our journey continues through this time of fasting from our customary liturgy.
Education, Youth & Family, Evangelism and Congregational Life directors have recruited a group of volunteers to call members of our congregation. Through their loving calls, they are checking in with each of us to ensure we stay connected and care for our needs. A simple phone call, a Mount Olive voice breaking through the loneliness that may loom large, cannot be undervalued. Additionally, many eager volunteers are available for shopping or running errands for anyone at Mount Olive who cannot or feel too vulnerable to go out. Please do not hesitate to ask if you have an errand or shopping need- there so are many who would be honored to be of service to you, it truly is a blessing to those who serve. I would encourage each of you to look to The Olive Branch for opportunities to call others or volunteer for errands and/or shopping.
While I realize that this is a lot of information, it only scratches the surface of the work done in the last nine weeks by the Staff, the Vestry and many of you. Much of this work has been difficult emotionally and spiritually simply because it represents our continued physical separation from each other. However, with love and dedication, we persevere with God’s help.
I wish I had a way to adequately express my gratitude to the Vestry and the entire staff as they have embraced new technologies, forced themselves to think outside the box, kindly tolerated my insistence on weekly Vestry meetings, and most importantly, moved expeditiously to continue God’s work. For all these things, I am humbled and honor to serve.
Your Sister in Christ,
Mount Olive Lutheran Church, President