With the uncertainty of the pandemic looming in the future, Keith Aschenbeck, a pastor at Grace Lutheran Church, decided it would be best to keep all financial options on the table for the institution he leads on Zac Lentz Parkway.

“We didn’t really know what the impact would be,” Aschenbeck said, but he knew it probably wouldn’t be good.

“We knew not having people in church could greatly impact us,” he said.

Aschenbeck also said he forecasted that the loss of parishioners’ jobs would lead to a decrease in donations.

To alleviate the situation, Aschenbeck said he helped the church fill out an application for the Paycheck Protection Program.

Grace Lutheran Church wasn’t the only religious organization to apply for a loan through the Small Business Administration.

“Of all faiths and denominations, we’ve easily processed 60 plus applications for churches and faith based organizations,” said John Zacek, Prosperity Bank’s South Texas chairman.

Zacek said churches can use the funds to pay staff, including pastors.

Grace Lutheran Church has two full-time paid staff members. The church also employs contract workers, including cleaning staff, the pastor said.

News about churches applying for the PPP came down through the Texas district of the Lutheran church, which advised him that churches were eligible to apply.

“Churches are, in effect, small businesses,” Aschenbeck said. “There’s a ton of small businesses that maybe only employ two to three people.”

Church-affiliated schools and cafeterias also applied for their own loans in separate applications, Zacek said.

Although Rev. Bryan Heyer said he didn’t fill out a PPP application for St. Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Shiner, he did apply for a PPP loan for the Shiner Catholic School, where he is an administrator.

A loan wasn’t necessary for the church because it has had success receiving donations through an online portal on its website, he said.

However, he said the church was still grateful for the opportunity to raise funds and spirits at its annual Memorial Day fundraiser, which was scaled down to stew to-go, a raffle, country store shopping, a first ever on-line auction, and drive-thru hamburger picnic. It usually attracts thousands of people who spend the entire day dining, dancing, playing games and buying auction items.

“Just as important as the funds may be, it’s even more important that people have that connection,” Heyer said.

Abe Ajrami, treasurer for the Victoria Islamic Center, also said the mosque was holding off on applying for loans. He said donations throughout Ramadan helped the mosque’s funds in spite of overall decreases caused by decreased in-person services. He also said the mosque had set up an online donation system.

At Grace Lutheran Church, where in-person attendance is only 40% of what it normally is at Sunday services, Aschenbeck said he hasn’t yet seen a drastic reduction in donations, but that the loan is a helpful security blanket.

“We could pay it back if we didn’t end up needing it,” Aschenbeck said. “Churches are looking to make sure we can continue to care for people, not only our workers.”

Morgan O'Hanlon is the business and agriculture reporter for the Victoria Advocate. She can be reached at 361-580-6328, mohanlon@vicad.com or on Twitter @mcohanlon.

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Rick Dockery

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