Presbyterians Plan Payments for Pastors in Gulf Coast

Thousands of government-paid jobs in the Gulf Coast have been cut in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and many of the remaining workers have struggled to receive their pay. No people mean no taxes, and no taxes mean service workers, such as policemen and janitors, will suffer through the storm with little or no wage security.

This is no exception for the pastors and staff at local congregations who will not likely be passing collection plates anytime soon. However, at least for some pastors associated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), financial help is on the way.

According to the Presbyterian News Service, Presbyterians around the nation are organizing efforts to help pay the salaries of pastors and other church workers whose congregations are unable to support them.

The Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) service has created an account for pastoral and church-staff salaries as part of its $10 million disaster relief appeal, so the funds Presbyterians pay for Hurricane recovery will help keep the paychecks rolling in. Individual churches and presbyteries have also entered into partnerships with damaged churches to strengthen the effort.

“Presbyteries are sponsoring churches, churches are sponsoring churches, churches are taking on the responsibility for paying a pastor’s salary,” said the Rev. John Robinson, PDA’s national associate, to PNS. “We’re trying to get that coordinated, so the help going to the church is appropriate and sufficient for that need.”

According to PDA, some 45 PC(USA) related churches were damaged from the storms, and 30 of them will benefit from the pastor-support program.

In some cases, nearly half of a church’s congregants lost their homes, jobs, and family members.

“When that happens, when 40 percent of your congregation loses everything, you know your income is going to drop drastically,” said the Rev. David Snellgrove, interim executive of Mississippi Presbytery, to PNS. “It’s going to affect their pastor and their staff quite heavily, I’m sure.”

To date, the PDA appeal has received more than $5 million from individual gifts overall, making it one of the largest domestic disaster response in PC(USA) history. Parts of that money will be channeled to the salaries of church staff.

In the meantime, the Presbyterian Board of Pensions (BOP) has also provided emergency funding for pastors and church workers and has followed up with additional grant money. BOP provided $50,000 each to South Louisiana Presbytery and the Mississippi Presbytery for distribution to pastors and other workers in $1,000 increments.

“The way we view the funds we have (is as) a way to get in and fill a gap until other support can come in,” Peter Sime, Vice President of BOP, told PCN. “Our hope was that we could do that and with time … FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Administration) money and PDA money and other monies would come in to help sort out the longer-term, bigger issues.”

Many of the pastors who will be receiving help are also suffering directly from the storm. Some have lost their homes, and still others have separated from their family to take care of their flock.

Contributions for aid to pastors and church staff may be sent through normal mission-giving channels. Designate gifts for account DR000161 (pastoral and church staff salaries). Contributions can be made by credit card by calling PresbyTel at (800) 872-3283, or visiting the PDA Web site at Checks payable to the PC(USA) can be mailed to: Presbyterian Church (USA), Individual Remittance Processing, P.O. Box 643700, Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700.