Letter from Richard Coekin to the Dundonald Church family about our staff furlough arrangements
Dear Dundonald Church family,
Some will have heard that, with the encouragement of our Trustees, we have invited a number of our staff to accept a brief period (3-4 weeks) of furlough under the Government’s Employee retention scheme, as part of our response to the current Covid19 pandemic. We have taken this decision prayerfully and carefully after much consultation and deliberation, and I would like to explain some of our thinking behind the proposal – and to reassure anyone feeling concerned that Dundonald Church is well prepared to continue providing the best quality pastoral care, while also being prudent in our approach to current realities.
The Government has made it abundantly clear that we are heading for extremely challenging economic conditions. We don’t want to be naïve or ill-prepared for how this may affect our church. We are conscious that some in our church will have already lost jobs, had salaries reduced or are facing serious economic challenges in the coming months. While we expect our church members to try hard not to cut their giving for gospel ministry, and may well make this the last expense they cut, we feel very sympathetic towards church members facing worrying financial challenges. We don’t want to be presumptuous about the wonderfully generous and sacrificial support of our church family, nor be foolish about the possible impact of this crisis upon the giving capacity of our members. Our staff team are very aware we are employed by the grace of God through the generosity of his people, and we feel a moral responsibility to reduce our costs to our congregations wherever we can.
You will know the purpose of the Government scheme is to help small business and charities avoid having to lay off employees. Since our wonderful staff team is entirely funded from church giving, if there is a sustained drop in giving then cutting back our team would unfortunately be the main available way to cut costs. Since we don’t want to lose anyone from the team (especially at a time when we would love to be able to expand it for the potential opportunities arising from our new building) we want to do what we can sensibly now to avoid having to do that.
With the full support of the staff, we have proposed that most of them take the minimum furlough break of three weeks, to ensure that none of the ministries is particularly impacted – much as we don’t expect damage from a long summer holiday. Since we value enormously the ministry of all of our staff, one of our principles has been to spread the absences across the whole team to ensure no-one need is absent for too long. We have staggered the furloughs across the entire allowable period to ensure that in the absence of some staff there are others available who can carry their responsibility.
In particular, I want to reassure you there will be no time when Clayton (our Senior Assistant Pastor) and I (being Senior Pastor) will be absent at the same time: we want our senior leadership available during this season of heightened anxiety and potentially challenging decisions (and the strength of our preaching team means we can continue to have two preaching series running concurrently).
We are obviously concerned to ensure our church members are being well cared for in this challenging season. It is important to remember that the Bible understands all the members of a church are expected to ‘carry each other’s burdens’ (Gal.6:2) – the role of the staff is not to do all the caring but to teach and equip all the members of our church family for their ministry of caring. If we have done our jobs well, then the church will not be too adversely affected by anyone’s absence for a few weeks. But of course, if something unexpectedly challenging emerges, any of our senior staff will simply break furlough and return immediately to work. We have been planning to ensure that responsibilities normally carried by staff going on furlough have been carefully delegated to other competent staff. Our Ministry Trainees are, however, not taking furlough as they are the recipients of grants and so are not eligible as employees.
And we have asked our Safeguarding and Trust services people not to take a break from their ministries in this vulnerable season of church life.
Since the scheme allows for staff to receive training, we are encouraging them to use their furlough time well for the benefit of the church e.g. in study and on-line training. In general our staff are looking forward to this aspect of the scheme. They always appreciate our prayers.
In the end, none of our staff wants to give the impression we should somehow be exempted from the efforts being made by so many of the businesses in which our church members are involved to protect jobs; we want our church family to feel that we enormously appreciate their sacrificial support and will do everything we can not to be an unnecessary burden upon them.
If you have any anxieties about this proposal, please feel free to contact me via the church website. May I encourage you to keep reading the reassuring materials we are posting each weak – and above all to pray and read God’s word in the confidence that ‘God is our strength and refuge, an ever-present help in times of trouble’ (Psalm 46)!
Warmly in the loving protection of our heavenly Father,
Richard Coekin (Senior Pastor)