(RNS) — The coronavirus pandemic hit pastor Kato Hart’s Detroit storefront church hard.
Finances dwindled to almost nothing. Rent and utility bills went unpaid. All the while, neighbors were losing jobs and seeking unemployment.
His church, Hold the Light Ministries Church of God in Christ, prides itself on "being a servant in our community," so not being able to help their people was difficult to process, Hart said.
But then they got some unexpected help.
Hold the Light is one of more than 100 small churches that have each been awarded $3,000 grants.
Through the Churches Helping Churches initiative, a relief fund was set up to provide $3,000 grants to churches at risk of closing due to a decrease in financial giving during the pandemic. The initiative is led by the AND Campaign, with support from other organizations, like the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, Pinkston and the Pinetops Foundation. As part of this effort, national Christian groups have urged larger and more stable churches to contribute and help keep these small churches open.
"It was a real blessing to us," said Hart, pastor of Hold the Light. "That came just in time."
The initiative, which ends May 31, has raised a total of more than $689,000 and received over 1,300 applications for funding since early April. A May 15 benefit simulcast brought in more than 700 donors and raised over $150,000, said Pinkston Vice President D.J. Jordan.
Deliverance Missionary Baptist Church in Oakland, Plantando Iglesias in Minneapolis and Union Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago are among the churches that have been identified for funding.
For Hart, the grant helped his church pay rent and other bills. The funding also made it easier for the church to help families experiencing financial loss in the wake of COVID-19.
Before the pandemic, Hart's wife was planning to distribute used purses filled with hygienic products, toiletries, water and other necessities to give away around Mother's Day. Grant money will now be used to purchase the products inside the purses. They'll distribute them once it's safe to do so.
Hart said their church provides food and clothes for those in need. They also partner with local anti-violence efforts to promote community.
"We're there for ministry," Hart said.
This Churches Helping Churches initiative targeted congregations of 25 to 150 members in low-income urban communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 economic shutdown.
“We have seen that low-income Americans, especially in urban centers, have been more likely to lose their job during this coronavirus economic shutdown. This has greatly impacted the small churches in these communities, and many of them could be forced to close,” said Justin Giboney, president of the AND Campaign, in a statement.
Although the relief fund is wrapping up this month, the initiative will transition to regional, city and state-based efforts. The first big local campaign is underway in West Michigan where larger churches and philanthropic organizations have raised $500,000 to give grants to small, mostly minority churches, Jordan said.
As for the national relief fund, which is administered by the National Christian Foundation, it will accept donations and distribute funds through the end of the month.
Churches that have applied but haven’t received a grant will be referred to large churches and ministries across America in their same cities.
Larger ministries and churches that want to know about at-risk churches that have applied in their community can email the AND Campaign at [email protected]