Congregational Relief Fund kept church doors open amid COVID-19
How Evangelio En Accion is doing as much as it can to bring the Gospel to the community
GOSHEN, Ind. – The Evangelio En Accion, or “Gospel in Action” church, is in the business of hope. But when COVID-19 swept the world, the small Mennonite Brethren church nearly shut down.
Located in Selma, California – known as the “raisin capital of the world” – the church serves what church member Urbano Gonzalez calls “the barrio,” where there’s a high concentration of farm workers.
“We’ve been trying to keep the ministry going there for ten years,” said Gonzalez, who is not only a church member but also identifies himself as a groundskeeper, treasurer and building manager. “The pandemic really impacted us.”
Known to most locals simply as “the Hispanic church,” Evangelio En Accion now has about 40 families who attend. But when COVID-19 was at its worst, both attendance and giving dwindled precariously.
“Our pastor got ill and so we had to have an interim pastor, then we shut down for a number of months,” said Gonzalez. Their original pastor, sadly, passed away from complications of COVID-19 during the winter.
When Gonzalez heard about the COVID-19 Congregational Relief Fund in early 2020, he decided he’d fill out an application. Launched in April 2020, the fund was originally seeded with a combined $800,000 commitment from Everence®, Mennonite Central Committee U.S., and Mennonite Disaster Service in the U.S., plus an additional $220,553 in contributions from other donors.
Evangelio En Accion received $5,000 from the fund; Gonzalez believes it helped keep the church doors open.
“We weren’t having offerings coming in,” he said. “Some people in our congregation were afraid to come to church.”
The church used the funds to pay the pastor’s salary, improve the ventilation in the church, and offer ministries such as food and clothing distribution.
Now the church is back up to its former level of attendance – and Gonzalez has taken on even more roles.
He cues music off the internet for Sunday services – “we don’t have a piano,” he said – and teaches Sunday School. He also started a volleyball league for single men in the neighborhood, many of them farm laborers who are disconnected from their extended families.
“There are a lot of undocumented folks who live around our church, a lot low-income, Spanish-speaking people,” said Gonzalez. “We’re trying to do as much as we can to bring the Gospel to the community.”
In June 2020, Gonzalez sent a $100 check as a personal donation back to the Congregational Relief Fund.
“I’m not a rich person, and I’m retired, but I thought of it as a token of appreciation,” he said. “It was just my thank-you note.”
He still prays for the end of the pandemic. “We want to keep the ministry going,” he said.
Evangelio En Accion is one of many churches helped by the Congregational Relief Fund, which is now closing as the COVID-19 pandemic eases. With the first grant approval made in April 2020, and the final ones approved March 2021, the fund distributed 216 grants to congregations that represented 15 different denominations and more than 16 ethnic groups in 29 states and Puerto Rico.