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Synodwide Holy Week messages

Brothers and sisters in Christ,

Many congregations throughout the synod have been, or soon will be, forced to find alternative ways to gather around God’s Word. My wife and I have already spent two Sundays worshiping at home via the online worship provided by my congregation. I’m gratified that so many congregations have moved so quickly to continue to serve their members with the comfort and guidance of the Scriptures.

This Sunday evening, Palm Sunday, I will be delivering a brief message to the members of our synod in an online video broadcast. The message will be broadcast live at 6:00 p.m. (central). I invite you to access that message live online. I look forward to speaking with you. If you are not able to view the video when it is broadcast live, it will be archived online.

A week later, we will be celebrating our Savior’s resurrection on Easter Sunday. Our Easter Sunday worship will be different than any we have ever experienced. Most likely you will gather “virtually” with members of your congregation (or that of another congregation) to gaze at the empty tomb and praise God for what he has done for us.

Not to replace your Easter morning worship, but to supplement it, we will be offering an opportunity for our entire synod to gather online for a special Easter Sunday evening service to be broadcast from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary at 6 p.m. (central). We will gather as one family of believers, from across the country and around the world, not only to celebrate our Savior’s Easter victory but also to express our unity of faith and mission as members of the Wisconsin Synod. The theme of the service will be, “Together at the Empty Tomb.” Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary President Earle Treptow will deliver the Easter message. A small choir, along with a few instruments, will enhance the worship with music and songs of praise. I’m thankful to Pastor Jon Hein, coordinator of WELS Congregational Services, for planning and coordinating this event. I look forward to being with you for this special Easter celebration. You can watch it live online. Stay online after the service for a live Q&A session hosted by President Treptow and Rev. Hein, where viewers can ask questions.

Elsewhere in this issue of Together, you will find information and resources that we have gathered to help congregations begin to make use of the CARES Act. This information, as well as the information provided on the synod website, will be continuously updated whenever anything new develops.

One other important item: President Mark Zarling of Martin Luther College has been diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus and has been hospitalized in Mankato, Minn. Please join me in approaching the throne of grace, fervently asking God to keep President Zarling and all those afflicted by this worldwide pandemic in his loving care and to grant them a full recovery. Our times, as well as President Zarling’s, are in God’s hands—no better place to be.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

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MLC continues distance learning through end of school year

Martin Luther College (MLC), New Ulm, Minn., has decided to extend its alternative/distance learning plans to the end of the 2019–20 school year.

According to Dr. Jeff Wiechman, MLC’s vice president for academics, this decision was made taking into account the directive made by the state of Minnesota last week that all Minnesota public school districts and charter schools will implement a distance learning period through May 4.

“Taking into consideration this directive; the COVID-19 ordinances of other states; and the safety of MLC students, faculty, and staff, the administrative council extended MLC’s alternative/distance learning plans to the end of the spring 2020 semester,” says Wiechman. “This is a responsible decision for the same reasons many states have put their movement restrictions and teaching/learning ordinances in place. And yet, I hate to see it happen.”

MLC students began distance learning on March 23, after a one-week extension of MLC’s spring break to allow professors time to prepare.

The administrative council will make an announcement about end-of-year commencement events in April.

The remaining three ministerial education schools—Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis.; Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis.; and Michigan Lutheran Seminary, Saginaw, Mich.—also are teaching students through distance learning due to COVID-19 restrictions.

At this time, Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary and Luther Preparatory School are planning for online learning through April 24. Michigan Lutheran Seminary’s current plan runs through April 14. The prayer is that students will be able to return to the campuses after those dates.

“We thank God for the resilience of faculty, students, and staff, as online classes were quickly established and new routines were put into place,” says Rev. Paul Prange, administrator for WELS Ministerial Education. “The blessing of stable financial situations at our schools is allowing them the flexibility to make sound decisions during this uncertain time.”

 

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2020 WELS International Youth Rally canceled

WELS has decided to cancel the 2020 WELS International Youth Rally, scheduled for June 23-26 in Knoxville, Tenn. As it’s unknown how long and significant the impact of COVID-19 will be along with the financial toll this crisis is taking on families and congregations, it was decided, in the best interest of our congregations and families, to postpone the event until the next scheduled rally in 2022. An e-mail was sent to all who had already registered regarding a refund of the rally fees.

The WELS Commission on Discipleship is exploring options to make resources available online from the key presentations that were scheduled for the rally for youth groups and members to use.

“Seeing Christ Clearly. Serving Christ Boldly” was the theme for the rally. This theme for Christian living is more relevant now than ever. Through resources, Bible studies, and community service ideas the Commission on Discipleship hopes to make available this summer, WELS youth will still be able to receive this important message and use it as motivation and inspiration to share the light of Christ at home and in their communities.

“We know this opportunity is important for our youth as a way to get and stay connected to God’s Word. It is unfortunate that in such unprecedented times we must make these difficult decisions,” says Rev. Donn Dobberstein, director of WELS Commission on Discipleship. “Praise God that we know he is in control of all things in heaven and on earth. ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28).”

 

An additional note: The Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society will announce by mid-May its plans regarding its annual convention this summer.

 

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How the stimulus package applies to churches

As we work through the challenges presented by the Coronavirus pandemic, our government has passed legislation to assist employers in caring for their workers. This information is offered as a guide in response to some of the more common inquiries on the topic of compensation. You are encouraged to prayerfully make your decisions with compassion and understanding for your workers. Please understand the situation is fluid, and updates will be provided as new information is made available.

Families First Coronavirus Response Act

Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) enacted on March 18, 2020, and effective through December 31, 2020, congregations who may not have previously been considered “covered employers” under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) because they had fewer than the required 50 workers, now fall within the parameters of both the Paid Sick Leave and Paid Expanded Family and Medical Leave provisions applicable to organizations with fewer than 500 workers. Here is some detailed information on employer paid leave.

A “Question and Answer” section is available on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act website.

Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act

Under the CARES Act Relief program enacted on March 27, 2020, and effective through December 31, 2020, many congregations will have new programs available to assist with unexpected financial needs such as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Loans. The U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship has provided a guide to help understand what is now available.

Also available under the CARES Act is the Employee Retention Credit which can provide for a refundable payroll tax credit of 50% of qualifying wages paid by eligible employers during the COVID-19 crisis. Additional information as provided by Michael Best can be found online.

Unemployment Compensation

Under the CARES Act Relief program, workers of religious non-profit organizations who do not pay into their state’s Unemployment Compensation Insurance program, meaning their workers were previously not able to collect unemployment compensation if employment ended, may now be eligible. Please be aware however that eligibility for VEBA (or other employer provided health care plans) and Pension participation requires a worker be an “active worker.” The ability to continue with VEBA coverage for any worker whose divine call has been terminated or lay worker who is laid off would fall under COBRA continuation.

Each state administers a separate unemployment insurance program, but all states follow the same guidelines established by federal law. More information regarding the updated rules in your state can be accessed here.

Common questions associated with filing for unemployment. 

Additional resources on these and other topics are available from a multitude of sources. Those sources include:

Church Mutual Insurance

Michael Best

Gallagher

CLA

Congregations are urged to contact tax and/or legal professionals to guide you through this process.

Note: The links provided in this article were selected because they may provide helpful information for you during this crisis. WELS does not own these sites and is not responsible for the information and opinions expressed on them.

 

 

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