Days after some churches resumed indoor services following a federal court ruling that lifted statewide restrictions on worship gatherings, members of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s (BSCNC) executive committee heard updates on how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted missions giving and other ministries.
The reports came during the executive committee’s regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, May 19 that took place via a Zoom video conference call due to continued limits on public gatherings related to the coronavirus.
State convention officials reported that through the end of April, Cooperative Program (CP) receipts from N.C. Baptist churches totaled more than $8.5 million, which is about 19% behind budget and a 12.4% decline on a year-over-year basis.
Officials noted, however, that the overall budget deficit only grew by about 1.6% from March to April and the decline in year-over-year giving wasn’t as significant as previously anticipated.
“In light of all that’s happening, we are so grateful for the churches that have been able to continue to give to missions through the Cooperative Program,” said Beverly Volz, the state convention’s director of accounting services.
With numerous cost-saving measures in place and convention staff operating at a lower percentage of their allocated budgets, Volz reported that the convention finished April operating in the black.
Convention adapts to remote work
Pamela Bills, BSCNC director of human resources, reported that the majority of state convention staff are working remotely and utilizing various forms of technology to stay connected with coworkers and conduct online events and trainings with N.C. Baptist church leaders.
The convention is continuing to reach out to pastors all across North Carolina through the pastor outreach project, which is a concerted effort by all BSCNC staff members to call senior pastors at each of the approximately 4,300 churches that affiliate with the state convention.
Through the effort, convention staff have been able to pray with and encourage pastors, while also providing assistance in meeting several practical and tangible needs.
“This has been a great opportunity for us to minister to pastors and let them know we care about them and are here for them,” said BSCNC Executive Director-Treasurer Milton A. Hollifield Jr.
PPP loan update
John Butler, BSCNC executive leader for business services, said convention officials are making preparations to apply for forgiveness of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan it received through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Under current SBA guidelines, loan proceeds are eligible for forgiveness if they are used for approved purposes including payroll costs, rent, mortgage interest and utilities during the eight-week period following the receipt of the funds. Butler added that the forgiveness application requires that at least 75% of the loan proceeds must be used for payroll costs, which includes employee benefits.
In order to ensure that the convention meets that 75% threshold, Butler asked the committee to authorize a “pandemic relief contribution” to the GuideStone retirement accounts of full-time convention employees. The additional retirement contribution would be calculated near the end of the loan forgiveness eligibility period (currently eight weeks) so that the total payroll costs exceed the 75% requirement but do not exceed the total loan proceeds after adding eligible utility expenses to the calculations. The committee unanimously approved the request.
The committee also discussed the recent decision by LifeWay Christian Resources to explore the sale of Ridgecrest Conference Center and Summer Camps in western North Carolina.
While acknowledging that many North Carolina Baptists have strong emotional and spiritual connections to Ridgecrest, committee members also noted that the state convention already owns three conference centers and camps across the state.
Following discussion, the committee took no action after several members said they believed exploring the purchase of another conference center would not help the state convention advance its mission.
Hollifield announces retirement plans
Near the conclusion of the meeting, Hollifield announced his plans to retire as executive director-treasurer effective Feb. 28, 2021. Hollifield was elected as executive director-treasurer in April 2006 and has served in the role for the past 14 years. He has served at the state convention for 27 years overall.
“Just as clearly as I sensed God’s leadership in His calling upon my life to accept the position as your executive director in 2006, now I am confident that He is leading me to move toward retirement effective Feb. 28 of next year,” Hollifield said.
Hollifield said he is making his announcement now in order to give convention leaders ample time to search for the next executive director-treasurer.
Several members of the committee expressed their appreciation to Hollifield for his leadership and concluded the meeting by praying for him.
The committee also opted to reschedule the May meeting of the full board of directors to Thursday, July 16 at Caraway Conference Center near Asheboro, if conditions permit an in-person gathering. The May board meeting had been postponed due to concerns over COVID-19 and limits on public gatherings amid stay-at-home orders by state government officials.