Leading through difficult choices
by Clyde G. Kratz
Jesus instructed the blind man to go to the pool of Siloam to receive his sight (John 9). Not knowing what to expect, he stumbled and made his way to the pool, and received his sight. Blindness is a relevant metaphor for the circumstances many leaders have experienced. They are moving forward into the unknown, believing that their destination will provide them with a viable outcome. Leaders are making decisions without a “play book,” trusting their leadership instincts and the counsel of their inner circle. Please continue to pray for our pastors, chaplains, faculty, and administrators during this very difficult time.
Not-for-profit organizations rely on donations to meet their financial obligations. This includes congregations, the Conference, the denomination, Conference Ministries and Conference Endorsed Ministries. I want to encourage you, as members of Virginia Mennonite Conference, to continue to financially support your local congregation as your first priority and continue to support the many important ministries associated with our faith community as you have the opportunity. Give online or write your personal check in order to sustain the ministries that you value.
The federal government has allocated financial assistance to families as early as April 2020. This is an opportunity for you to consider how best to utilize this financial resource in ways that support your local congregation and other important ministries. There are many families that have no financial need. For these families, this may be an opportunity to engage in mutual aid with brothers and sisters within our faith community. For families dealing with the loss of wages due to layoffs, the government financial assistance will be inadequate. For these families, they should speak to their pastor about their financial needs sooner rather than later. Congregations are encouraged to pay attention to the financial needs of their members and engage in generous mutual aid in these very difficult times.
Many of our business and not-for-profit leaders are being faced with difficult choices. Many business leaders have needed to shutter their businesses and make difficult choices about layoffs and benefits for employees. Not-for-profit leaders are making similar decisions. The economic realities we are now experiencing will have impact not only this week, but months to come. Please pray for our business and organization leaders as they make these difficult decisions.
I want to provide a number of updates to you about some aspects of our life together.
Pastors and Congregational Ministries
Pastors are demonstrating a high level of creative imagination in the face of adversity. They are innovating with technology, sorting out what is necessary and essential to their congregation, and seeking to remain in touch with their members and surrounding community. They are at the front line of meeting the needs of people to whom they are connected.
Most, if not all our congregational leaders have closed their buildings to public worship services. Many of our congregations are moving to online worship activities. Pastors continue to provide pastoral care, dream about planning a vibrant Easter service, and seek to maintain a healthy congregational life in the midst of the pandemic. Some congregations are beginning to struggle with the financial realities of sustainability. This is especially true in our immigrant congregations, but is not limited to them.
Virginia Mennonite Conference
In my role as the Executive Conference Minister, I am continuing to seek ways to resource credentialed leaders and leaders of Conference Ministries and Endorsed Ministries. Here are some of the things that have been done:
- The VMC office is closed to visitors. However, I come to the office during the week.
- Oversight Leader resourcing via Zoom meetings are occurring regularly
- The leaders of Conference Endorsed Ministries met via Zoom with David Brubaker as facilitator and resource person this week
- I participated in a Zoom meeting with MC USA Executive Conference Ministers
- We are developing Zoom meetings to resource pastors on pastoral care themes
Recognizing the significance financial challenge associated with local congregations and pastors, the Finance Committee of Virginia Mennonite Conference has approved the creation of a COVID-19 Benevolence Fund. This fund is established to assist a congregation with pastoral financial support, mortgage payments, or normal facility expenses that cannot be met during this time of crisis.
Oversight leaders will be given information on the application process. Virginia Mennonite Conference welcomes donations from congregations and individuals in order to brought mutual aid to some of the struggling congregations within our Conference. Checks can be made out to Virginia Mennonite Conference, with COVID-19 Benevolence Fund indicated.
Report from Conference Ministries and Conference Endorsed Ministries
I have invited leaders of Conference Related Ministries to provide an update about their ministry for this pastoral letter. The following leaders responded to share information that can be shared with your congregation.
VMMissions’ Response to COVID-19
Virginia Mennonite Missions is committed to responding to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic with wisdom, courage, compassion, and trust in God. Our Crisis Response Team convenes regularly to keep up with developments and respond accordingly. We closed our offices to the public on March 16 and will keep them closed through at least April 24. Most staff now work from home and those in the office practice social distancing. We have not mandated the evacuation of international workers, but we have empowered them to make that decision in consultation with their directors and local partners. Five international worker families or individuals chose to evacuate. Two accelerated their scheduled home leaves by a few days or weeks. The rest have remained in their assignment locations. All workers, domestic or international, are needing to adapt their ministry to increasing limits on travel or in-person gatherings. We are waiting to make any decisions about our summer E3Collectives (short-term teams) until April 6. We have opened up a Coronavirus Immigrant Care Fund to help our immigrant churches meet needs in their communities. So far, $5,400 has been distributed to 19 families. If you would like to contribute, go to vmmissions.org/cicfund/. Other creative ways to give or grow as disciples of Jesus are in the works, so stay tuned. Thank you for your prayers and support!
New Bridges Immigrant Resource Center
Peace and wisdom be with you during this unexpected and challenging season! The five staff members of NewBridges Immigrant Resource Center are working remotely and maintaining our normal schedule. We meet daily by video and are maintaining communication with community immigrants who are navigating a myriad of office closures in their health and immigration journeys. For example, how does one meet a document renewal deadline when the sole fingerprinting office in Alexandria is closed?
Our main challenge (in addition to coaching clients who are now learning new technologies) was the postponement of our yearly fundraiser Taste of the World, originally scheduled for March 21. Our main office phone number is still available for messages at (540) 438-8295 and we welcome hearing from you.
For such a time,
Alicia R. Horst
Mennonite Disaster Service
Mennonite Disaster Service (Bi-National) has cancelled both their spring and summer projects due to COVID-19. Here in Virginia, the EASTERN VA. MDS UNIT was planning to build a Partnership Home (PHP) in West Va. That is presently postponed, until the current health implications have changed and agreement is reached by all parties concerned, to begin construction.
Mennonite Disaster Service-Shen Valley/Va.
Pleasant View, Inc. response to Coronavirus – March 26, 2020
With increasing news about the Coronavirus, Nancy Hopkins-Garriss decided to be proactive. Thursday March 12, 2020, Pleasant View, Inc. suspended all community activities and outside visitation, including family and friends, at our residential programs. As we did from the beginning, we continue to encourage people to keep in touch using the telephone or social media such as FaceTime or Skype. At the end of Friday March 13, 2020, we closed our community day programs.
Pleasant View continues to support the individuals who live in our houses during this difficult time. The individuals are staying home and working together with our wonderful direct support professionals (DSP) and other staff members to have enjoyable days at home. We are practicing social distancing as we can, as well as using universal precautions to help everyone continue to be healthy. Governor Northam’s directives are being followed, updated, and obeyed. Our staff members are essential health care workers and are doing a wonderful job while being flexible through this crisis. We all miss our normal routines, friends in the community, businesses we frequented, and the many activities we enjoyed.
The impact the Coronavirus is having on our agency may not be known for some time. We are currently staying ahead of our needs for personal protective equipment (PPE), but have recently had to pay higher prices for these items. The financial impact with the loss of our day support services during this time is unknown. With the need for additional staff members in our residential programs and no additional funding, we may be hit hard. We have reassigned direct support professionals from our day programs to open residential positions hoping to avoid layoffs. Our largest grossing fundraiser, the Annual Golf Tournament, has been postponed this year. We will, however, be participating in the Great Community Give on April 22, 2020. Anyone interested in giving and/or becoming a peer-to-peer fundraiser may contact Pam Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org or 540-560-1134 for more information. We are posting any updates to Pleasant View policy on our website homepage and Facebook. Please keep us in your prayers and stay in touch.
Family Life Resource Center
Family Life Resource Center remains open to our clients. The agency is taking necessary precautions to protect our clients. We are also offering teletherapy to clients who are seniors, immunocompromised, or are just unsettled about coming in the office. We find that the counselors here at FLRC are needed as much as ever as anxiety and depression are at all time highs. People are worried about how they are going to pay for sessions as more clients are experiencing financial hardships due to Covid-19. The scholarship program is continuing to allow clients to receive the services that they otherwise would not be able to afford. The agency also feels the crisis as scholarship funds are limited and the counselors are getting paid less. The agency will stay true to our name and promote hope, health and healing. If anyone would like to help the agency during this time, please feel free to donate to the scholarship fund.
Let me add one comment to the Conference Endorsed Ministry report. Mennonite camps including Highland Retreat and Williamsburg Christian Retreat Center are some of the hardest hit financially of our not-for-profit organizations. Camps rely on groups and individuals utilizing their retreat centers. Complying with the federal mandates to shutter businesses many of their groups and individuals that use their facilities have cancelled and are cancelling their planned events. One camp director reported that over half of their revenue comes from retreats and individuals coming to the camp. Please keep our camps in your prayers and in your mind as you consider sharing your charitable gifts.
It is my belief and commitment not to become frustrated by the COVID-19 pandemic experience, but to utilize this time to rediscover God’s call and movement among us. In these moments of crisis, we have the calm assurance of God’s providential care, wisdom and courage that comes from the Holy Spirit and the counsel of others, and we seek to respond with compassion like Jesus demonstrated. May we continue to see the unfolding plan of God bear fruit in ways that surprise and excite us for generations.
Blessings in your service,
Clyde G. Kratz
Executive Conference Minister