FT. MYERS–Without a doubt churches, pastors and their families have shouldered an impossible task and weighty burden since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March. These difficult days have stretched pastors and staff to think outside the box to enable their churches to gather and ensure a sustainable budget for ministry and missions to continue across the state and world.
However, for most pastors, not only do they have the incredible privilege of shepherding their flock, they are also called to shepherd and provide for their homes.
A local Baptist association has developed plans to respond to needs of its pastors and their families during this crisis.
With offices tucked away in Ft. Myers, the Royal Palm Baptist Association, established in 1957, encompasses more than 100 ethnically diverse southwest Florida Baptist churches. With a mission “to strengthen, plant and activate churches to have a heart to bless Southwest Florida together in the name and with the gospel of Jesus Christ,” associational leaders knew a plan to assist local pastors was needed.
Feeling a burden to help ease their anxieties and respond to the requests that were rolling into their offices weekly, the local association created the Royal Palm Pastoral Assistance Fund. Mark Gonzales, executive director of the Royal Palm Baptist Association since July 2014, said it all started with a handful of “humble requests and prayer.”
The Pastoral Assistance Fund “began four weeks ago with a prayer time, two humble pastoral requests, and a general appeal,” said Gonzales. “We have had seven fellow pastors and families that had almost $18,000 in time-sensitive bills and needs due to COVID-19 spawned loss of bi-vocational jobs, cut salaries, church giving slumps, illness and other unexpected events,” said Gonzales.
With the requests quickly growing from two to seven, Gonzales and the association sprang into action contacting a call list of Southwest Florida churches waiting to help local pastors when asked.
Gonzales said developing a specific call list, with churches that are willing to help as needs continue to arise, the association has been able to meet needs quickly and within their local association. Within mere days, $18,000 was raised from individual families, nine associational churches and the Florida Baptist Convention.
“I sent out a specific appeal to our churches on Friday morning and by the end of the day we had a total of nine churches, three individuals, and the Florida Baptist Convention responding to cover the needs with a $2,000 gift,” said Gonzales. “All $18,000 of it has been raised and already sent to all seven pastors in need.”
“The response was so amazingly fast and generous, we were able to ask the three churches who contacted me after the need was already met if they would be willing to be on our call list for the next wave of requests,” said Gonzales.
New Hope Church in Cape Coral was among the nine local churches that readily gave to the newly established pastoral assistance fund. Experiencing a steady increase in attendance and giving over the past year, New Hope wanted to share with others in need.
“We feel very blessed as a church,” said David Acton, lead pastor at New Hope Church. “When we received news of the need of some of our sister churches, we spontaneously wanted to be involved in sharing the blessings we have been receiving from God.”
Gonzales said COVID-19 has provided an unbelievable opportunity for the local association to come alongside churches and pastors and show them support and love.
“God has a way of working these things out,” said Gonzales. “And since He is generous, we should be as well!”