One of the signatures of Baptist polity is that we believe in the autonomy of the local church. In our congregation, there is no Bishop to appoint pastors or dictate to us how we operate as a community of faith. Instead, the Baptist tradition believes that each church is responsible to make decisions according to the best interest of the Gospel as it is lived out in their particular context. The way those decisions are traditionally made is by calling a church in conference. Each and every member of the Baptist church gets to vote and decide how decisions are made, and to some extent, what the priorities of their church will be as they move into the future. In that respect, Baptist churches are the ultimate democratic institution. One person makes one vote and every single one of them counts! It can be a painstakingly slow process to live in, but I continue to believe that it is the most faithful way to be the church.
However, our way of making church-wide decisions is in part why the COVID-19 virus has been such a stressful time for me as the Pastor. In normal circumstances, when I have a question about a particular topic, I am able to ask at a deaconsmeeting or seek a common sentiment through our quarterly church in conference. But each of those events are not possible according to the recommendations of the Center for Disease Control or the Executive Order recently issued by Governor Brian Kemp. You see, church in conference and deaconsmeetings bring together more than ten people and certainly puts them in closer proximity than six feet! Honestly, there was a moment a few weeks ago when I wondered how in the world our church would continue to function and make decisions during these strange weeks and, possibly, months.
Luckily for me, I am standing on the shoulders of all of those giants who have come before me. While I sat wonderinghow our congregation would make decisions in times like these, our church had already addressed this topic in our constitution and by-laws. According to that wonderful guide, the Moderator has the authority to call together a committee that would help to guide the decision-making process on behalf of the First Baptist Church of Augusta. With full authority from the constitution and by-laws, our Moderator, Beth Becton recently appointed an ad-hoc committee that consists of the following people that represent major committees in our church, Wilson Haynes (Trustees), Bobby Turner (Personnel), Ed O’Neil (MAC), Beth Morrison (Finance), Steve McPherson (Moderator), Nan Schaefer (Moderator), Jim Walls (Associate Pastor), Kelly Rose (Administrator), and Will Dyer (Senior Pastor). The parliamentarian, Paul Elkin, has also served as a key advisor to this committee.
Over the past three weeks, this committee has met, virtually, of course, on two occasions to discuss topics related to the ongoing health of our congregation. Each meeting has been incredibly fruitful and continues to affirm that this church is full of people that take seriously the primary command of Jesus to “love God and love your neighbor as yourself”. After every conversation, I am further convinced that I am in the greatest role imaginable, because I am surrounded by wonderful and faithful human beings. I am sending you this letter to inform you of one recommendation that was made by this committee to the Trustees of the First Baptist Church.
As many of you are aware, the Small Business Administration recently opened up applications for the Paycheck Protection Program. While the details of this program are far too dense to go into great detail, the heart of the PPP is aimed at keeping Americans employed during the COVID-19 crisis. One of the ways the SBA is doing that is by offering eight weeks of payroll to organizations who are able to provide adequate data from the 2019 year. If an organization, and churches are very much included, use this loan to continue paying their employees, then the vast majority of the loan is forgiven by the Federal Government. I need to be clear that applying for and receiving this loan does not violate the separation clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. I have been in touch with leaders from the Southern Baptist Convention as well as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and they are both in agreement on this particular point.
After considering the terms of the loan and believing that we certainly meet the criteria for the loan’s forgiveness, it was the recommendation of this committee that our church strongly consider applying for the Payroll Protection Program. As directed by the Constitution and By-Laws, this committee then made a recommendation to the Trustees, who serve as the legal representatives of our church and are the group that would make a final decision on the issue. It was unanimously agreed by the Trustees that our church apply for the Payroll Protection Program and use those funds to continue the employment of our wonderful staff. This program applies to employees of every level of our organization.
These are unprecedented times in our world. Like many of you, I never imagined that I would deal with a pandemic, especially here in Augusta, Georgia. We are learning on the fly how we are going to continue being the church during these unsettled times. I cannot begin to tell you how grateful I was to discover that our church already had mechanisms in place to, at the very least, help our church to continue functioning over the coming weeks. Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t express personal gratitude to each member of this committee who has served selflessly to ensure the well-being of the church that we all love dearly.
If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me, Beth Becton, or Wilson Haynes. We are more than happy to answer any questions that you might have pertaining to this situation. I am proud to be your pastor. I hope to be with you in person once again in the near future.
Grace and Peace,