COVID-19 Furlough Q & A

Questions and Answers, regarding the decision to furlough Some Staff and Pastors during the COVID-19 Lockdown.

Why did the South England Conference decide to furlough some of its staff and Pastors?

Realising that this pandemic might go on for some time, which will have a financial impact on our members and Church, it is only prudent to avail ourselves of the finances made available on the government's Job Retention Scheme.  We do not know how long this pandemic will last, but we would hope that our schools will continue to function when the pandemic is over and that we would not need to make any of our staff redundant due to lack of funds.

How can a few weeks of a shutdown and diminished tithe cause a financial crisis?

These steps are being taken so that we do not end up in a crisis, especially as we do not know how long the pandemic will last.

What sort of consultations did the Conference make before deciding to go ahead with the decision?

All staff being furloughed were consulted before any decision was taken.  The SEC Administration met and consulted with the BUC Officers, the School Headteachers, the Directors, the Area Coordinators, and the Pastors before making any decisions.  We have continued our meeting with all Area Coordinators and Elders of that particular Area to dialogue and share the strategy going forward.

Why were Pastors placed on furlough at a time that they will be needed most? 

We have sought to ensure that the safety and pastoral care of our members are met, while the Conference remains financially solvent.   To ensure that the spiritual needs of our members during this time are met, we have rolled out our strategy where the Area Coordinators, Elders, and the active Pastors work together to achieve this goal. We have sought to maximise the returns to the Conference, by placing a few Pastors from each Area on furlough. However, there is a pastoral cover for every local congregation.

Are there implications for receiving money from the UK Government?

No implications we know of at this juncture.  The Seventh-day Adventist Church in the UK has received funds over the years and been a beneficiary of charity status from the government.  And thus, it is exempted from business rates in taxation.  Besides, annually under the auspices of the UK government, the church goes out ingathering money for its outreach humanitarian endeavour.

As a registered charity we are subject to British law and regulation.  The charity sector in the UK is probably one of the most regulated in the world.  As a charity, we are subject to the Charities Acts and the Trustee Act 2000 and the Companies Act 2006.  We are obligated to manage our funds and resources in line with our constitution and for charitable purposes for public benefit.  As such we are subject to the Charity Commission, Companies House, and HMRC to ensure we meet these obligations.  There are mutually beneficial relationships that help guide the smooth running of the Charity and which gives us access to funds that allow us to further our purpose as the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the South of England.

As part of this process, we prepare annual audited accounts and trustees report which is available online on the Charity Commission website.  Gift Aid records and payroll are subject to periodic HMRC audits.

It’s worthwhile mentioning that it’s not all about money.  We are subject to other regulators in the UK; OfCom for Radio licenses; Ofsted and the Independent Schools Inspectorate for our Schools; Information Commissioners Office for all things about data protection; Planning authorities for planning application etc.

Do we currently receive funding from the Government? 

As a registered charity we receive direct and indirect funding from both local and central government.  The biggest refund, as it were, that we receive is Gift Aid.  Gift Aid is a government scheme that is managed by HMRC for registered Charities which has been worth millions to the South England Conference over the years.  In 2019 we received more than £2.7 million in Gift Aid.  Nearly £200,000 was as a result of backdating for new Gift Aid applications.  There is a formula in place in which 45% is returned to the local congregation, 15% is returned to the Area and finally, 40% is used to fund the acquisition and refurbishment of our church buildings.

As a charity, we can apply for grants from local and central government for church programmes and many of our congregations receive funding and assistance for running health programmes and shelters for the homeless to give two examples.

Indirectly, we receive local support in exemptions from business rates on our properties and are currently applying for VAT exemption.  We have three schools which have nurseries which many of the children receive vouchers, that fund those places.  Also, educational support from local authorities to meet certain needs within the school.

Finally, ADRA UK receives much of its financial support from both the UK and EU governments.

Can we not ask the GC to pay the salaries for all our employees during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The purpose of the GC is to further the Mission of the Church and they use most of its funding for this purpose. In any given year, around 85% (2019 and 2018 financial statements) of all available funding is used for programmes (including appropriations to fields, ISE/Missionaries, etc.) with remaining funds used for the operation of the GC office. What this means is that the GC does not build/hold cash reserves above the required level and last year they had only 5% above what is required to cover liabilities.  The same applies to Divisions – which are branch offices of the GC.   In other words, although the GC and Divisions are there to support the Church organisations, COVID-19 affects all the Church entities, therefore there are just not enough funds available to cover salaries for all employees during the crisis.

Furthermore, the GC Working Policy S 24 10 stipulates minimum required Working Capital, to ensure that adequate financial resources are available for sound and effective operation of all organisations and that includes appropriate reserves for a crisis like this one. Therefore, instead of GC holding reserves for each organisation, the reserves should be maintained at a local level.

The NAD gave counsel on receiving funds from the state, is this not applicable to the British Union, more specifically the SEC?

There are different laws and regulations in different countries. Furthermore, we do not know specific terms and conditions and eligibility for government grants in the US.

The counsel of the NAD is good. and while it was given for the countries and territories that comprise the NAD, its counsel has and will be considered by the BUC and its entities in our application. It is important to note that the NAD stated: "…we issue no mandate, the North America Division (NAD) offers this document as a recommendation.” The NAD’s recommendation was not to take state assistance so as to maintain distance between the church and state.

In the BUC we wrestled with our context and in considering the issue of separation of church and state, we are also mindful of counsel from Ellen White on receiving aid. She wrote "We should become acquainted with men in high places, and by exercising the wisdom of the serpent, and the harmlessness of the dove, we might obtain advantage from them, for God would move upon their minds to do many things in behalf of His people. If proper persons would set before those who have means and influence, the needs of the work of God in a proper light, these men might do much to advance the cause of God in our world. We have put away from us privileges and advantages that we might have had the benefit of because we chose to stand independent of the world. But we need not sacrifice one principle of truth while taking advantage of every opportunity to advance the cause of God.Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 197, 198.

I share this statement, not as the definitive counsel that Ellen White said that we should take government aid, but rather to highlight the principles that we have sought to employ in our decision namely, the exercise of both wisdom and harmlessness and in whatever decision we come to we must not “sacrifice one principle of truth”.

Along with the NAD, we believe that God is our supreme authority as He is above both church and state. Some of our entities (BUC, SEC & NEC) have decided to avail themselves of the UK government's offer to assist the church, but only as long as our faith is not compromised.

In the UK countries of the BUC territory, we have been receiving government money by way of "gift aid" reversions since we became registered charities in 1995. Before this, the Seventh-day Adventist church in the UK was receiving money from a scheme known as "deed of covenant." Both gift aid and deed of covenant have served as a benefit to our congregations and their mission across our territory.  

In our Adventist church history, this tension and discussion were alive in the time of Ellen White. I would counsel our membership to read Ellen G. White: The Australian Years: 1891-1900 (vol. 4) “Government Favors and Grants.

Here is a fascinating story that serves to highlight the tension and debate that surrounded the offer of a donation of land to the church by the government in the country which we know as Zimbabwe today.  Ellen White's counsel in this particular case is both fascinating and enlightening and worthy of our prayerful consideration.

While I understand that members may be understandably concerned about receiving government aid, I would like to reassure our members that the principle that underlies this and any subsequent decision is that no spiritual compromise should be required from the government in return for their assistance.

What are the differences between the constitution of the USA and the United Kingdom when it comes to Religious Liberty?

First, we note that both the USA and UK have a semblance of stable democracies among other things.  However, there is a marked difference between the Constitutions.  For instance, the USA has a Written Constitution, the UK does not.

Religious Liberty in the USA is primarily based on ‘Separation of Church and State’ derived from the First Amendment to the USA Constitution namely “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The ‘Wall of Separation of Church and State’ is not mentioned in the amendment text. The nation’s founders and subsequent political and religious leaders have debated the interpretation and application of the clause “establishment of religion’ to mean ‘Separation of Church and State. The debate continues to this day, suffice to say, Thomas Jefferson [3rd USA President] in 1802, in a letter to the Danbury Baptist/Association coined the concept to argue that “government was not to interfere with religion as an essential part of Religious Liberty.” I wholeheartedly concur with the principle, however, I would like to sound a word of caution that what and how the USA Congress applies its laws must not be automatically seen to apply the same way in the UK Westminster Parliament.  The UK is Monarchical and the USA Republican in its approach.  The Religious Liberty related matters ought from time to time be considered, interpreted and applied in the context of each jurisdiction, the USA Constitution and UK Constitution to avoid reaching erroneous conclusions. 

Are there religious liberty implications for receiving funds from the Government?

Ellen G White provides guidance on this question, she wrote:

“The Lord still moves upon the hearts of kings and rulers in behalf of his people, and it becomes those who are so deeply interested in the religious liberty question not to cut off any favours, or withdraw themselves from the help that God has moved men to give for the advancement of his cause. We find examples in the Word of God concerning this very matter. – {RH March 23, 1911, Par. 11}

The servant of the Lord cited as her Biblical examples, Ezra 1:2 and 3; Also, Chapter 6.  I encourage you to read these passages prayerfully and carefully.  And for further EG White commentary and perspective on this matter. Click the link below.

You may also want to read an article in the Adventist Review on Religious Liberty in a time of crisis. See the link below.

What support are we offering to our members and community during the lockdown?

Some of our Local churches are partnering with ADRA to create community hubs for delivering needed services to those who will most benefit from it: See details of the support facilitated by the church and ADRA in the links below: