A congregational relief fund has grown to $800,000 as more than 300 U.S. Anabaptist congregations have applied for assistance to weather financial challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Emphasizing the economic difficulty facing many small churches, a significant portion of support comes from Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS).
As of May 8, 320 congregations had applied for a maximum $5,000 grant to help with congregational financial needs or to assist families and individuals. A little more than $680,000 had been distributed through 141 approved grants.
The fund was created in April with $550,000 from MDS, Mennonite Central Committee U.S. and Everence.
On May 4, MDS increased its contribution with an additional $250,000 to help meet demand, growing the fund to $800,000. Combined with its initial amount, MDS has provided $600,000 to the fund.
“We were overwhelmed by the number of applications for assistance,” said MDS executive director Kevin King.
MDS Canada created a $100,000 fund to provide $1,000 grants to Mennonite churches in Canada.
Individuals have also donated to the fund. Everence vice president of marketing Madalyn Metzger said more than $12,000 was given by private donors.
“I’ve also heard anecdotally where a church’s members banded together to send in a contribution to help fund it,” she said. “There’s really a modern element of mutual aid baked into this.”
Roughly half of the requests specify the need to cover rent and food for families in the community.
“Many note the need to assist their pastors or to cover the rent and utilities of the church building itself,” Metzger said. “The needs of our racial and ethnic churches are particularly striking because many of their members have lost their jobs or had their hours cut.”
Although the denominational breakdown of applying congregations’ affiliation is not available, about 10 denominations are represented among applicants, including Mennonite- and Brethren-related denominations, as well as Friends (Quakers) and others.
In addition to the fund, Everence is offering assistance to customers in other ways as well, including free budget and debt counseling, 90 days of administrative forbearance for student loan borrowers experiencing hardship, and reduced payment or full payment deferral for congregations with an Everence church loan. Everence Federal Credit Union is processing federal Paycheck Protection Program loans for the Small Business Administration.
A 10% portion of the fund is supporting global partners through the Mennonite World Conference Global Sharing Fund. MWC has invited Anabaptist mission and service agencies to coordinate their financial response to under-resourced member churches.
Conditions in parts of Africa, Latin America and Asia (where 81% of MWC members live) compound virus challenges. Isolation is difficult in crowded living spaces. Water for hand-washing may be scarce. Informal economies cannot function in lockdown. Social safety nets can be nonexistent.
Participating with MWC are Virginia Mennonite Missions, Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission, Brethren In Christ World Mission, Council of International Anabaptist Ministries, Eastern Mennonite Missions, Evangelical Mennonite Conference Missions, Mennonite Central Committee, Mennonite Church Canada, Mennonite Mission Network, Multiply (formerly MB Mission) and Rosedale International of CMC, formerly Conservative Mennonite Conference. Gifts can be made at mwc-cmm.org/donate.