During this unprecedented season of forced physical isolation due to the coronavirus, God always brings comfort to those who have placed their faith in Him.
As Deuteronomy 31:8 reminds us, “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
Through every trial we face, we can know that God walks with us. We are called to remain in-step with His Spirit, and not let discouragement take over. We see this encouragement reflected in the work of our ministers, home missionaries and pastoral assistants as they have adapted to online services over recent weeks.
In an online survey conducted three weeks ago, we asked our ministers and home missionaries to provide us with feedback on whether their church had been able to establish church services online. Of the 164 congregations that replied to this question, 85 per cent (139 congregations) indicated that they had, and with 89 per cent of those indicating that they were “satisfied/very satisfied” with the online platform that they had adopted.
We also asked how well they felt their congregations were coping with the changes. It was positive and encouraging to see that, of the 158 congregations that replied to this question, 64 per cent (101 congregations) indicated that they felt that they were coping “well to very well”, and 26 per cent (41 congregations) indicated that they felt they were coping “moderately well”.
PCNSW/ACT currently has about 170 active churches, with about 14,000 adult members regularly attending weekly church services. Anecdotal feedback over the past three weeks is that most congregations have adapted well.
Of course, we all look forward to returning to fellowship together in Church in the future, but until that time, we give thanks to God for the innovation and technology that facilitates online fellowship during this difficult period.
Ministry and Mission Committee (M&M) Superintendent, Rev Matt Oates and his team are in constant contact with all ministers to provide support for sustainable, healthy ministry during this time.
The M&M team is also working with ministers to explore the values and priorities that have shaped their response to coronavirus, so that churches can emerge stronger once the crisis is over.
The government’s financial stimulus package
Our CFO, Jordan Perry, and General Manager, Jeof Falls, are still awaiting an answer from the ATO and Treasury on the submission last week to allow those Congregations in NSW/ACT that utilise the General Office to pay the salaries of their ministers, home missionaries and other pastoral employees, to participate in the Cashflow Boost and JobKeeper schemes.
We have kept all Ministers and Treasurers informed about this over the past three weeks and will continue to update our Congregations as we receive further information.
For those who may not be aware, the Presbyterian Church in NSW & ACT operates with a small centralised head office (the ‘General Office’) that supplies a limited range of services to individual Presbyterian Congregations and other NSW Presbyterian organisations. One service that has been established is the provision of a centralised pay office to process payroll functions on behalf of the Congregations. Over time more and more Congregations have taken up this service and transferred their payroll processing to the General Office.
When the General Office set up the centralised payroll system, the ATO reporting of these payroll payments shifted out of each Congregation and moved to being reported under a single General Office ABN.
As the Cashflow Boost and JobKeeper stimulus measures are linked to employment and therefore require employee reporting to the ATO at the Congregational level, we are seeking ATO and Treasury approval for each Congregation to report their own payroll data and, by doing so, to receive these benefits (where all other eligibility criteria are met).
We have provided documentation to the ATO that clearly evidences that the individual Congregation has always been the employer of the relevant persons and may be adversely affected by a fall in Congregational income. Jordan and his team have been establishing new payroll and reporting procedures that Congregations are expected to be required to follow once we hear from the ATO.
In the meantime, we ask those Congregations affected by this proposed change to bear with us as we continue to present our case to government. Those Congregations that have been paying their own payroll have not been impacted.
We should mention that there are other state-based churches affected as we are, and we are one of several submissions before the ATO and Treasury relating to this issue.
Some restrictions lifted today
From today, two adults can visit another person’s home to provide care or support. You will still need to practise social distancing and good personal hygiene and extra care is required when visiting vulnerable people. An outline of the updated restrictions are included below:
It is a blessing for ministers and chaplains to benefit from the slight lifting on the number of people who can visit congregational members in their homes.
Annual Congregational Meetings
Some congregations will have conducted their ACM before the lockdown. Many would have held the ACM afterwards online or by other means (like email resolutions) to ensure continued and proper management of property and financial matters. Thank you for giving suitable authority to your Committee of Management to serve you well.
If you have not already done so, we encourage all congregations to arrange their ACM via tele or video conference as soon as practicable. If your local situation is hindering your congregation from attending to this, the Clerk of Assembly, John Irvin, may be able to suggest some creative solutions. John would welcome your contact on email@example.com or 9690 9317.
Key websites and resources
- Frequently Asked Questions, including copies of all previous Updates, can be found on: https://pcnsw.org.au/covid19/
- Pulse eMag: https://pcnsw.org.au/the-pulse/. The May edition of the Pulse is out today. Please forward this link to all members in your congregation and invite them to catch up on all that is happening across our Church. We have received highly appreciative feedback from many congregational members for us continuing to produce the Pulse in the eMag format.
- The PCNSW/ACT Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/presbyterianchurchnsw/ captures posts from across various Presbyterian committee and congregation Facebook pages – check it out and please share it with family and friends.
- Ministry & Mission: https://mmpcnsw.org.au/covid19/ has a growing number of resources for healthy ministry and is available to receive requests for financial assistance.
- A range of Jericho Road COVID-19 resourcescan be found on: https://jerichoroad.org.au/.
- Gospel, Society and Culture Committee (GS&C) website for all relevant COVID-19 matters: http://gsandc.org.au/blog/.
- Presbyterian Youth (PY) for a range of children’s and youth ministry resources: https://pynsw.org.au/resources/.
- Youth leaders are also encouraged to join PY’s Facebook group as a great way to share ideas and to be encouraged at this time: https://www.facebook.com/groups/pynswyouthleaders/.
Grace and peace,
Rev Richard Keith, NSW Moderator
Jeoffrey R Falls, General Manager, Chief Executive Officer