As may be expected, divergent and critical viewpoints are aired in the story, and the whole thing should be read to catch their true flavor. The most illuminating bit, however, in my view is the final portion:
No income coming inFull disclosure: The writer serves both on the board and finance committees of a small (under 150 member) independent protestant church, and has some familiarity with church budgets, exclusive of the mega and mainstream varieties. This type of use is exactly why the church is there. The churches on this continent, and probably the world, could no more turn down a request from a public entity for this kind of emergency aid than they could promote a professional tractor-pulling contest - OK, they probably could do that in North Dakota or Saskatchewan - but you get the picture.
For some individual churches, however, reimbursement is very appealing. At Christus Victor Lutheran Church in Ocean Springs, Miss., as many as 200 evacuees and volunteer workers have been sleeping each night in the sanctuary and Sunday school classrooms. The church's entrance hall is a Red Cross reception area and medical clinic. As many as 400 people a day are eating in the fellowship hall.
Suzie Harvey, the parish administrator, said the church was asked by the Red Cross and local officials to serve as a shelter. The church's leadership agreed immediately, without anticipating that nearly a quarter of its 650 members would be rendered homeless and in no position to contribute funds. "This was just something we had to do," she said. "Later we realized we have no income coming in."
Harvey said the electric bill has skyrocketed, water is being used around the clock and there's been "20 years of wear on the carpet in one month." If FEMA makes money available, she said, the church definitely will apply.
Almost no churches are so well-off they have enough funds available to live without regular giving (income) from their members for more than a short period, probably one to four months. Beyond that, to be prudent they would need to restructure their long-term debt, cash in CD's, adjust their payroll (cut people or hours back) and/or make other adjustments to their outgo. Just the fact they still have a facility to use for worship and service is truly a blessing.
That said, I would caution churches to be extremely careful if they decide to request any degree of reimbursement. Things like extra ministry or payroll support costs should be scrutinized, and only costs associated with specific line items or services requested in writing by the public entities, such as excessive janitorial, maintenance, utility and security expenditures - all clearly over and above like periods from previous years - should be submitted. The expense to replace fixtures or items accidently destroyed due to excessive or careless public use should be clearly prorated to reduce the amount sought by the extent of the known previous wear and tear.
Absolutely no storm damage or ministry opportunity costs or supplies should be included, no matter the amount. The occasion is simply a gift from God of an opportunity to serve others. What more could a church seek? Why else would we exist?
One other thing. Likely all requests will be classified as public records, meaning any unabridged financial records included could become fodder for every self-styled investigative anti-religious crackpot to travel down the pike for years to come. Figure out a way to comply with requests for cost or expense verifications that do not include submitting an intact annual financial statement. Or else refuse to submit the request.
Churches should gratefully use this opportunity to serve, care and demonstrate selfless love for their neighbors and community members without regard to financial gain. To do otherwise is to shame the name of the Lord we serve.