GOD’S CONTINUED BLESSINGS: through the pandemic and beyond
We sat down with Carolina Conference officers President Leslie Louis, Vice President for Administration Gary Moyer, Vice President for Finance Rick Russell, and Undertreasurer Chad Grundy to have a candid discussion on how the pandemic has affected the Carolina Conference and the challenges and blessings that have come from it, especially as it relates
to the generosity of our members.
Interviewer: What were your feelings when this pandemic started, and how have you seen it affect us as a Conference?
Louis: I think it is only natural for us to have human feelings of being anxious, concerned. I am reminded of King Jehoshaphat. When he was facing a massive coalition that was coming together…that was his COVID-19 crisis. He didn’t know what to do. And when we looked at the possibility of all of our churches shutting down and how that would affect involvement and engagement with the mission at the local church and the local church community, there was concern about how all of this would play out. Yes, there are areas of concern, but there are also things that we can just look at and thank God for. All of the projections we were told to expect with this crisis, none of them have come true. With cutting expenditures on events and travel, and a reduction in our workforce due to retirement and transition, we have been able to adjust our budget to meet the drop in tithe. Are we where we want to be? No. But are we better off than what we expected? Absolutely. And I thank God for our faithful members who have said, you know, God has blessed me and blessed my life with a job—with a means to support my family—I am going to be faithful to the Lord.
Louis (cont.): We have not once had to dip into our (financial) reserves. In fact, we have come up in our reserves, which is mind-boggling. Just as Jesus said the harvest is plentiful out there
but the laborers are few. I think the more that we can get engaged in the workforce—and I am so thankful for our volunteer lay leaders and lay pastors that are doing an amazing job in many of our smaller, rural communities where we have groups and companies present—everyone will pull together through this. God is carrying us through. It would be good for more laborers to be in the field (pastors), but we wait on the provision of the Lord for that. Until then we will endeavor to manage the resources He’s given us to the very best of our ability, and in the most responsible manner; above all else, giving care and thought to all of those who have
dedicated their lives to serving Him.
Russell: It is tempting from my perspective as the treasurer to quantify this crisis in terms of dollars and cents, and then just look at it from that angle. But this is much more than a financial crisis. This is a health crisis; it strikes to the core of how we do ministry. Although the money part of it seemed primary in my mind as we’ve gone through it, I see how God has walked us through all of the elements of this crisis in such a marvelous way. I’ve seen members—even though none of us like to wear masks—I’ve seen them generously putting them on because they respect other people’s concern. They have been generous in that respect. They’ve been generous in innovating and finding new ways to do ministry, using technology, visitation, other creative ways to get through this crisis. All I can say is praise God for the generosity of His people.
Russell (cont.): As for the money, yeah, that was a devastating announcement when we heard from our parent organizations that we ought to be putting plans in place to absorb a 15% drop in income, mainly the tithe. That was…well, how do you do that? That’s measured in millions of dollars. We began to look for ways to make reductions without stopping ministry in its tracks. And now, 10 months into the pandemic, we’ve seen that tithe has only gone down 2-3 percent. There are many who have suffered the economic impact of this crisis or lost their jobs or who have had their work cut back with reduction of hours. But there are others who have not, and, recognizing that this is one of the signs, perhaps, of the culmination of our time here on this planet, they want to be even more faithful than they have been. They are stepping up to the plate to take the place of those who have lost their income. I’ve just been so gratified to see and hear the testimonies of those individuals and see the results of their giving, that have gotten us through this in such a marvelous way.
Interviewer: Being the chair of the Emergency Response Team for the Conference, and dealing with the churches and pastors who are struggling with decisions about reopening, how do you see the blessings God has given us through dealing with the details of the shutdown of the pandemic?
Moyer: I am really thankful for the Emergency Response Team. Because this—as we have all been saying—no one has dealt with before. The team has been very cohesive in working through everything, being able to discuss, have differences of opinion, looking at the data, and coming to a consensus. And then our churches overall have been very cooperative in working with us and understanding. They have told us, “We pray for you guys. We know this is like…how do you deal with something like this?” So that’s been very encouraging, to see that support.
Moyer (cont.): I’m also pleased to see our churches finding ways to continue to connect with one another. We have our pastors and our leaders coming up with creative ways to actually over-connect with people to compensate for the fact that they are hurting that they can’t meet in person. They are doing drive by visits, Facetime and extra phone calls...that’s real generosity. It is very encouraging to see the churches working together during this difficult time. They love God—they love His movement, His mission—and they just do what needs to be done until this thing is over. We are blessed to have that type of people in this Conference.
Louis: There are not too many things that inspire me on the news, but once in a while there are certain things that do. I see people that are scared of going hungry, and hundreds—literally hundreds—of volunteers giving their time to prepare boxes of food. It touched my heart the other day when I heard of a nurse who was in tears because, she said, every day when she comes to work, she has to say goodbye to somebody. She said, ‘I am just pleading with people about wearing a mask. I would rather you wear a mask and go through the inconvenience of wearing a mask than my having to put a tube down your throat.’ There were just tears streaming down her face as she was saying this. These are people who are putting their lives on the line to carry us through this.
Interviewer: Can you speak a little bit about how you have seen the pandemic affect the ministries from the conference and how the office personnel and directors have dealt with the pandemic?
Grundy: It has been interesting seeing first-hand how different changes that we have made over the last couple of years have gotten us ready as a conference to meet the challenges required by the pandemic. For example, our Conference Clerk membership software has been moved online, so it could be done remotely—similar to our accounting software—so we don’t have to be inside our Conference office every day to be able to continue the work. Many of our forms and documents have been digitized through Laserfiche; we’re implementing new software for our youth department that makes Club Ministries a paperless process; we have transitioned from desktops to laptops for our office personnel. God has truly blessed. These things were not prepared with such a disaster in mind, but we were ready. As we are getting closer to the last day events, I believe the Lord is looking over His church and saying this is God’s church and I am going to take care of my church.
Interviewer: There are probably a lot of our members wondering what the future holds. What do we see as the future of the conference?
Louis: You know, as we live with an open, generous heart, we’re not going to need to fear what the future holds and running out of what we need. None of us can say, ‘Well, God has just never blessed my life.’ That would be a very difficult thing to say. Just seeing how all of heaven has bankrupted itself for us is an inspiration to recognize that we do not need to fear the future, because God will provide for us. He always has and He always will. The Bible tells us that in our compassionate generosity we are taking hold of the true life. Godly, genuine living means loosening our hold of the things that we tend to hold on to by giving freely to others.
Moyer: I truly believe that the future of the Carolina Conference is very bright, because of the things we’ve learned through this. I really think we’re going to be more effective in the long run in reaching people. This pandemic is helping us to focus on personally reaching people, because we’ve seen what it’s like when we can’t. It’s helping us see the value of a personal touch in ministry.
Russell: The watchword for the future is going to be “change.” There are some people who are saying now, ‘I can’t wait to get back to normal’. The second group says, ‘Well forget that, there will be a new normal’. But the most visionary people are saying, ‘We are never going to be normal again. We will be always changing and adapting.’ That change is going to demand a new kind of generosity. Generosity of heart and spirit, not just of law keeping. This kind of generosity will result in great blessing for the church and for the givers, in the way God promised.