Beyond attendance; survival!
CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - October 14, 2020 - 12:00am

When confronted by extended periods of trials like COVID-19, physical and financial restrictions, we cannot help but focus on our situation to the exclusion of others. Once it became clear that the pandemic was going to redefine and challenge our very way of life, many of us were forced to make difficult choices. As painful and convicting as it may have been, many felt that our responsibility and priority was to protect those nearest and dearest to us. We did not love employees or associates any less, we simply had to think long-term survival with short-term resources on hand. By God’s grace the worst nightmare did not come for many us. Yes, some unfortunately lost loved ones, lost jobs, parted with prized possessions alongside our sense of security, yet we have survived and stand on firm ground.

In all this, what occurred to me is that in the past, many of us often had someone of the cloth or a church leader to turn to. In the moments of painful decisions many of us could enter into the solitude of a church, go on bended knees and commune with GOD. But much of that has been denied us because of COVID-19. More often we read about challenges for worshippers, protests regarding the unequal number of persons allowed in venues and the cancellation of “traditional” holidays.

But what’s not in the news is that many churches and religious denominations all over the Philippines are suffering serious financial and operational setbacks. As attendance drastically dropped in the last seven months, many churches had to cut back on services such as weddings, baptisms and activities, all of which were in one form or another income generating that in turn covered rentals, salaries, utilities and employee benefits. “Evangelical or Protestant churches” pay rent for cinemas and halls that they use for services. But now none of those services are allowed or so restricted. Unfortunately even with as much as a 50 percent discount, the rent for spaces in malls is just so stiff.  Not many realize that churches and religious organizations employ quite a number of people on-staff to perform non-religious work. With almost no attendance in churches, it follows that even the offerings or tithes that are given on Sundays have drastically dropped, partly because people are cutting costs and feel no leading to give the tithe via electronic payments. According to one source, even before COVID-19, only about a quarter of churchgoers gave tithes, but with recent developments they now only collect about 20 percent of what they used to receive.

I learned that many churches have initiated voluntary retirement, mandatory retirement, cutback in working hours/days, shutdown of certain venues while many church leaders are being directed to seek part-time work or income outside their church. Some senior pastors have stepped down sacrificially for the benefit of younger pastors. These people are friends, counselors, pastors. We know them by name and face; they are not strangers or data. Reflecting on all of this, we are clearly at the crossroads. Some of us have to sacrificially step up to help our churches or church workers, especially those who were there for us when we needed wisdom and guidance or comforted us in the past. Some of us must now volunteer to be ministry partners or “Friends of the Church” in its time of financial need. Many of us have to step out and step up in faith to be good Samaritans, if need be the woman with two copper coins or faithful servants to whom GOD gave talents. If you belong to a church, find out how things are and do something. Don’t wait because it’s now our turn to minister to the church. Just as a reminder, I’m including St. Paul’s admonition to believers about being one body from 1 Corinthians 12: 14 to 27:

14Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.15Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

21The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

27Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

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