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COVID-19 takes a heavy toll on Korean churches in NJ and NY

May 19, 2020 Center for Cooperative Media
By Eun Sook Rim, The Korea Daily

Editor’s note: This is the English translation of the original story, which was first published in Korean by The Korea Daily. This version has been updated and edited, with permission from the author(s) and publication(s), for length and clarity.

NEW JERSEY — The impact of the novel coronavirus has been hardest on Korean churches in the New Jersey-New York area, as ongoing lockdown has forced buildings to close and members have to congregate online.  

Since the outbreak unfolded in early March, according to the Council of Korean Churches of Greater New York (NYCKCG), donations from members have plunged by 70 percent.

“We are at a critical moment of the pandemic,” said Min Seok Yang, chairman of NYCKCG. Now, 80 percent of Korean churches are struggling to pay their rent.”

As thousands of members of Korean churches in New York and New Jersey are not yet allowed to gather and conduct an in-person service, these churches are now accepting donations online. But the amount of offerings has still dramatically decreased because many church members have lost their jobs.

According to the Council, it is difficult to press for donations when parishioners are also in a bind, many of whom are struggling to pay their own rent and make ends meet. 

Korean pastors and ministers are concerned that, if donations continue to decline and no other source of financial support comes in, small houses of worship may end up closing its doors. They said that these churches may be able to hold out a month or two, but they won’t last much longer if the coronavirus crisis continues.

While both Korean churches and their parishioners are struggling to survive, the Council of Korean Churches of New Jersey and New York are collaborating with immigrant “sanctuary” churches to apply for the federal Small Business Association (SBA) loan program.

“We need to get together to overcome these difficulties. We look after at churches that suffer more than us and we take care of our members who are more at risk,” Yang added. “It is time for Christian to share the love.”

According to LifeWay Research, which conducted a national survey of 400 Protestant pastors between March 3 and 31, 2020, 52 percent of pastors say that church offerings have decreased by half since the COVID-19 pandemic started. And 75 percent of pastors say that almost half of their members have either work hours reduced or have lost their jobs.

Similar survey results were reported by Barna Group, which conducted a national survey of 434 Protestant pastors between March 20 and 30, 2020. Data show that the number of pastors reporting a decrease in giving has risen from 62 percent to 79 percent in the past week. While many pastors reported an increase in virtual attendance, over half reported that donations were significantly down by at least 37 percent.

This translation was provided by Eun Sook Lim in partnership with the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University, and is supported by funding from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. The story was originally published in Korean by The Korea Daily and is being republished under a special NJ News Commons content-sharing agreement related to COVID-19 coverage. To read more, visit The Korea Daily.

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