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Coronavirus Update: With Donations Down, Churches Face Tough Decisions With Their Employees

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Places of worship have been closed to congregants for a month, and CBS2 has learned some have had to lay off their staff.

Those that rely on donations during services are suffering the most, CBS2's Lisa Rozner reported Sunday.

It went from crowds filling the pews to the choir preaching to an empty Canaan Baptist Church on West 116th Street in Harlem.

But as the coronavirus toll progressed, the church that once welcomed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela went 100% virtual, and slowly vanishing are the offerings collected at Sunday church services.

"You have to make some really tough decisions about furloughing people," Rev. Thomas Johnson said. "We've got about 14 on staff and we are operating with maybe half of that now."


Pastor Allan Boyer of the First Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Paterson is in the same position, with funding down nearly 50%.

"We had to let our organist go. We had to let our janitor go and then, of course, I'm at home. I'm not getting paid," Boyer said.

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Also relying on Sunday donations is the Lighthouse Assembly of God in Newark. Pastor Pablo Pizarro heads the Christian Pentecostal church and said there's been no cuts so far. He's trying to multiply the messaging.

"One thing that we are in the business of is hope and giving just faith to others," Pizarro said.

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The Diocese of New York said contributions are down by more than 50%, but there have been no furloughs. The Diocese of Brooklyn, which includes Queens, has seen some parishes have to lay off staff or reduce hours.

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Rev. Stephen Bauman of Manhattan's Christ Church, which is United Methodist, said prior to the pandemic it had been moving toward online donations.

"We are more dependent on pledges, that is people who have made a commitment for the whole year," Bauman said.

"We often say it's okay to change the method, but don't tamper with the message," Rev. Johnson added.

"Soon, this will be over because troubles don't last always the Bible tells us. Trouble don't last always, so I just want to encourage everyone to stay home as much as possible," Rev. Boyer said.

Palm Sunday and Easter cover parishes monetarily for a large chunk of the year. To fill the gap, all these places of worship have applied for small business loans and created more ways for people to donate online.

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