A quick search of the PPP databases suggests that hundreds of local PCA churches received relief funds as well. One large PCA church with an associated school was approved for almost $3.2 million. Others, such as Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, AL, never applied for funds.
The agencies, institutions, and committees of the Presbyterian Church in America were approved for at least $13.5 million in relief from the U.S. Small Business Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) in 2020. All the loans appear to have been forgiven according to publicly-available information.
A few mentions of the loans were made in last year’s General Assembly minutes and reports, but a complete picture is not yet available. Also unknown is how many (if any) of the loans were repaid or returned in part or in full.
According to the U.S Department of the Treasury website:
The Paycheck Protection Program established by the CARES Act, is implemented by the Small Business Administration with support from the Department of the Treasury. This program provides small businesses with funds to pay up to 8 weeks of payroll costs including benefits. Funds can also be used to pay interest on mortgages, rent, and utilities.
The ProPublica website, one of many tracking the PPP loans, reported that 11.5 million loans were approved and $714 billion out of $793 billion approved were forgiven.
A quick search of the PPP databases suggests that hundreds of local PCA churches received relief funds as well. One large PCA church with an associated school was approved for almost $3.2 million. Others, such as Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, AL, never applied for funds, and Briarwood pastor Dr. Harry Reeder wrote forcefully against taking the Federal funds in April of 2020.
Discussion of the ethics, advisability, and wisdom of churches or church institutions, agencies, or committees receiving Federal funds of this type has been scant. Decisions to apply were taken quickly, lest the funds run out. There is anecdotal evidence of churches receiving funds and quickly returning them for reasons of conscience or as it became obvious that funds would not be necessary for the continued operation of churches during Covid.
Doubtless, some churches suffered greatly in 2020 and 2021, but there are many stories of churches whose giving stayed constant or increased in the same period. The non-effect of Covid on finances was also evident in the case of the PCA Administrative Committee, according to a report included in this year’s General Assembly Commissioners’ Handbook. And the PPP funds were part of the reason for an increase in “income.” After noting strong contributions, the report said:
The higher Earned Income was, of course, driven by the largest General Assembly in our brief history. All of this was enhanced by the “Below the Line” income (the earnings from investments and the PPP Grant) of $367,374, enabling Total Net Income for the year to reach $418,918.
The Stated Clerk’s report to this year’s General Assembly suggests the PCA was more generally blessed:
Remarkably, despite some early pandemic shudders, (local) church giving has been strong overall. Total PCA disbursements were up $25 million, approaching $1 billion. Total contributions were down $43 million last year due to some unusually large gifts in 2020 but are still trending up significantly for the 5-year period. Despite the downturn in church attendance due to Covid, giving in most of our local churches has stayed strong. Those always faithful have seen the necessity of their generosity in a tenuous time, and have continued faithful, particularly to local church efforts. Per capita giving has actually risen during the Covid years.
The question may seem like Monday-morning quarterbacking, but it must be asked: Did most PCA churches, agencies, committees, and institutions who took the PPP funds even need them? As many have noted, those public funds were not “free money.” Public funds are more properly thought of as the taxes our neighbors have paid if not the public debt our grandchildren will inherit.
The PCA’s 49th General Assembly will meet next week in Birmingham (June 20-24, 2022), and though the exact disposition of PPP funds received is unclear, there are a host of committees of commissioners who will examine minutes of the denomination’s agencies, committees, and institutions and question their officials and leaders. Faithfully fulfilling this duty of oversight may help prepare the denomination for the next crisis.
Here are the amounts of the PPP funds approved and “forgiven” by the Federal government for PCA entities:
- Two loans of $270,684 and $116,289 for the “Presbyterian Church in America” and “Presbyterian Church in America, Inc.” in Lawrenceville, GA, assumedly for the Administrative Committee (and possibly another committee) totaling $386,953
- Committee on Discipleship Ministries – $108,063
- Reformed University Fellowship – $5,325,019
- Mission to North America – $877,000
- Mission to the World – $1,918,630
- PCA Retirement and Benefits, Inc. – $351,601
- Covenant College, Inc, – $3,240,522
- Covenant Theological Seminary – $1,102,300
- Ridge Haven (camp and conference center) – $196,700
- Denominational total: $13,506,788