When New York City shut down during the height of the pandemic, churches felt the effects immediately. But even as capacity restrictions have eased up over the last few months, houses of worship are still struggling with membership and money.
In Nassau County, community events like fall festivals and holiday parties serve as major fundraisers for churches. But due to COVID-19, those festivals have been canceled and churches are finding it hard to keep the money flowing in. Now, in a scramble to stay fiscally sound, churches have had to adjust and figure out new ways to generate revenue.
“The first significant impact was when the governor’s shutdown went into effect during Holy Week. The doors were being shut to parishioners,” said Nick Papain, the president of the Parish Council at Archangel Michael Greek Orthodox Church in Port Washington, Long Island. “There was a significant loss of revenue,” he said. To recoup some of the funds, the church launched online donation links for parishioners to purchase candles.
Unfortunately, that didn’t help much. “As a consequence, we had to make cuts in salaries to the staff and priests,” said Papain.
In March, churches in Nassau County had to close their doors to parishioners, after Governor Cuomo enforced a statewide shutdown to prevent future outbreaks. In late June, Cuomo announced that churches in Nassau County could open at 50% capacity. But for fundraisers, limited capacity still stifles revenue and prohibits large events. Along with Archangel Michael Church, Holy Resurrection Greek Orthodox Church in Glen Head and Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St. Paul in Hempstead had to cancel their fall festivals.
The Greek Festival on the Harbor, Archangel Michael’s biggest source of revenue, which is usually held in September, had to be canceled. However, the church is still hosting its annual golf event, the 27th annual AMC Watsonian Golf Outing, in late October. It is usually held in June. Besides golf, the occasion will include an outdoor dinner in compliance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. There will also be a raffle with donated prizes. As this is the only fundraising event Archangel Michael can have all year, the church is hoping the event will generate enough revenue, said Papain.
Organizations affiliated with churches have taken a hit as well. The Greek Orthodox Ladies Philoptochos Society, a charitable organization that helps victims of disasters, has suffered a significant dip in membership since the pandemic, said Eleni Raptis, a former president of the Philoptochos chapter at Archangel Michael.
The Philoptochos has provided food for front line workers at St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn, coordinated food drives and other outreach during the pandemic, said Raptis. The group is doing fine with money for now, because “we’ve always saved for a rainy day,”said Raptis. “However, we only have one fundraiser a year, around Christmas, and that has been postponed until further notice.”
Theana Iordanou, a parishioner at Archangel Michael, is weary of going back to church in-person. She would be uncomfortable indoors, she said, and would prefer outdoor liturgies. “I was a pretty regular church goer before the pandemic, but I feel like it’s sad for the churches because even though you would attend with the masks, you don’t have that community feeling.” Iordanou also said that not knowing who other parishioners have been in contact with adds to her uneasiness about returning to church.
At 50% capacity, Archangel Michael has two liturgies to accommodate people who still want to attend service in-person. This summer, there was an increase in attendance after the shutdown ended, said Papain. “I believe this was in part due to the fact that parishioners were anxious to come back to the church, along with the many families not going away for the summer,” he said.
Not every church has experienced financial difficulties. Joseph Mantovani, the reverend at St. Jacobus Church in Woodside, said his church has not suffered too much. In fact, there’s been an increase in attendance, “because people who don’t come regularly have come in on Zoom,” he said.
The church doesn’t have too many fundraisers, but it has had to cancel some community events, like the end of year barbeque. But Mantovani said the church still runs Stacey’s Pantry, a food ministry in Elmhurst.
“Before, we were only serving 200 families once a month. Now, since the pandemic, we are operating once or twice per week. Last week, we served our 1000th family,” said Mantovani, who added that the food ministry has “seen a massive increase in funds.” Major donors include the United Way Lutheran Social Service and the Bob Hope Foundation, as well as a pandemic grant from the New York State Nourish, he said.
Ted Fisher, a parishioner at St. Jacobus, said that although he and his wife have not gone to church since it reopened in August, he is planning on going back. He said he isn’t too concerned about the virus. “I believe they had a deep cleaning since the sanctuary has been empty,” he said.
Papain acknowledges that some churches might still feel anxious opening their doors to parishioners again, but as long as health precautions are considered, he’s not as worried. “We’ve tried to be proactive, with safety being a number one priority,” he said.