TO: Faculty, Staff, Students, and Friends of Bethlehem College & Seminary
FROM: Jason Abell, Chief Financial Officer
DATE: May 22, 2020
RE: COVID-19 Financial Implications
This is a long and important memo. I pray that you will give it attention, knowing that I’m attempting to convey a lot via the written word, trusting in the Lord for all good things.
The story of Joseph has been prominent in my thinking during these two months of shelter in place. Joseph’s final words to his brothers have moved me. You know the story, so I won’t repeat it all, but Joseph says to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:19–20). While there is no specific “you” in our situation, evil has happened. People all over the world have gotten sick, and many have died. People have lost their jobs; others have suffered starvation, abuse, and neglect. It goes on and on. No event in my lifetime has had such a profound impact on the whole world. Yet I believe we can say with Joseph, “God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive.” I believe God is calling people to himself in innumerable ways that we won’t necessarily see until eternity. God is doing good.
I believe that God is using these surreal, unprecedented times to do massive and magnificent things. I have no idea what they all are. But he is doing them. He’s even doing them at Bethlehem College & Seminary.
We are facing unknown financial challenges. As the Chief Financial Officer of our institution, I have to trust that the Lord means all this for good, while also doing my best, with his given wisdom, to make hard decisions that may protect us from future negative potentialities.
With all these thoughts in mind, I’m writing to share with you some of the hard decisions we’ve had to make, as well as other essential items of note.
First, Burt Koppendrayer and I have worked to develop budget scenarios to present to the board of trustees. I’m thankful to God for Burt’s experience, talent, and extra effort in this work. A week ago Thursday, the board approved a relatively austere budget for our 2020–21 fiscal year, which begins July 1. In addition, their guidance was that we remain flexible enough to respond quickly to unknown future circumstances. In other words, they want us to be willing to make further hard decisions if necessary for the school’s sake, beyond what they have approved in a budget.
Second, this approved budget requires our continued vigilance in controlling all discretionary expenses, each of us careful to reduce any spending wherever we can. I’m asking that we all strive to do this.
Third, we are enacting the following list of steps with the beginning of the new fiscal year. We are taking these proactive steps now in order to minimize, Lord willing, draconian action later:
- Freezing all wages and salaries at the current levels for the next fiscal year.
- Eliminating all paid food items for meetings between staff.
- Eliminating all missions trip assistance for faculty and staff.
- Canceling The Bethlehem Conference for Pastors + Church Leaders in 2021, eliminating the associated conference-centric staff positions, and committing to reimagining what the conference might be in a post-coronavirus environment.
- Delaying the hiring of a full-time admissions director, relying instead on Daniel Kleven’s gracious willingness to remain in the director’s role for another year.
- Eliminating the Events Coordinator position since we will not hold picnics or meal-based events, and restrictions on larger gatherings will likely continue into the new school year, negatively impacting our ability to provide all-student lunches.
So, yes, we are sorrowfully saying goodbye to David Clifford, Amy Guibal, and Wendy Abell. Their last day at work will be June 30. We will look for ways to appropriately celebrate their service to Bethlehem College & Seminary over the next few weeks. This is a sorrowful time.
Fourth, we also anticipate at least two other staffing changes resulting from more normal circumstances like a move to Texas and an upcoming wedding. To cover the various workloads left by all of these significant changes, we will be hiring two half-time and one less than half-time positions. The overall reduction in staffing should be two full-time equivalent positions. All faculty positions remain intact.
By God’s grace, we secured a Payroll Protection Plan (PPP) loan, which has allowed us to maintain all staffing levels through the end of the current fiscal year. This loan will prove itself to be a blessing as we continue into the uncertain fall. God is also showing his favor toward us by so far providing a generous response to the current matching gift opportunity. This giving initiative is aimed at closing a shortfall in our current year budgeted revenue.
The next significant financial milestone we face is the return and matriculation of students on August 24. As of my meeting with Daniel Kleven and Darcy Enthoven on Thursday, we have good potential to fill the college freshman class, but we have fallen short at the seminary and likely will fall short in the MA program. We realize that there may still be late-breaking decisions, either favorable or unfavorable, that could impact our financial standing on the first day of school.
Nevertheless, I firmly believe that God means all of this for our good. God is refining and strengthening each of us, working in our hearts and minds such that we will desire him more.
Will you please pray with me to that end? Please pray that God will meet the needs, spiritual and financial, of David, Amy, and Wendy. Pray that God would sustain Bethlehem College & Seminary, bringing the students we need for the fall. And pray for your own joy, that God himself would restore the joy of your salvation, enabling you to give him glory amid these unprecedented times.
Vice President of Administration & CFO