‘We’ve been surviving’: Local churches hurting financially

SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash. — Churches not having people in the pews is more than just lonely, it’s costly. Smaller churches are really feeling the impact without their worshippers.

It’s the people that make the place. That’s what it feels like at Eastpoint Church for Pastor Kurt Bubna.

“On the first Sunday, I kind of got choked up to be honest with you, looking out and saying ‘Oh, yeah, that’s where so and so sits’ and that’s where my friend sits over there,” he said.

In the pews of Eastpoint Church, Bubna estimated between 100 and 150 photos of their churchgoers taped to a chair of where they normally sit.

It’s been empty for about two months now without any of his congregation there.

It’s also hurt the church’s weekly offerings.

“Financially, the first month was pretty challenging, second month was better,” he told 4 News Now.

In March, Eastpoint was down 30 percent in offerings.

Bubna said the church relies solely on its parishioners and donors. Eastpoint is nondenominational, so it has no other organization that can help them.

“We’ve been surviving, and doing as best as we can,” he said.

With no one in the church, Bubna has been able to lower the utility expenses, turning off lights and air conditioning to help save money.

“I think with a reduced level of expenses, we’ve got probably four to six months before we’d have to do anything dramatic. Our landlord understands our situation and is working with us,” he said. “We’re in a position right now, I’m hoping we’re going to see a turnaround and that it’ll be shorter than longer.”news

Under Washington state law, those working in religious organizations are not eligible to receive unemployment benefits.

Fortunately, the church was able to receive a PPP loan to help its employees.

“It was an issue for our staff and brought a measure of comfort knowing that we got a grant from the government that would help,” Bubna said.

So, it’ll keep them going for a little bit longer to help the people they need to. Since the pandemic, Bubna said they have fed hundreds of people through their food pantry. He’s been working 10 to 12 hours per day to help his congregation.

“Lots of one on one time, lots of zoom calls and Facetime chats with people who are struggling,” he said. “I’ve had more suicide calls, more marriage issues in the last two months than I have in the last two years.”

Going through this pandemic, he believes his church is providing an essential service.

“Our hope is we continue to be a blessing to our community,” Bubna said.

Bubna has signed petitions, hoping the governor will allow churches to reopen sooner than what it’s supposed to right now.

Under the Safe Start plan, it could be mid to end of June or even July that people could finally be inside again. Bubna wants to open the church even at 25 to 50 percent in the next phase. His church has enough space to allow social distancing.

“It is our hope right now that the governor will open up sooner, especially in Spokane County,” he said.

In the meantime, Eastpoint has been doing its services online. They’ve actually done it for the last two years, but this is the first time it’s had to solely be online.

Bubna has also led two drive-in churches, one on Easter Sunday and another on Mother’s Day. They’ve kept the drive-in churches to a minimum, because it takes hours to set up.

“We have enjoyed it; it’s been fun. It’s been different. To be able to see out your window and to look at somebody you recognize, at least be able to wave at them has been a blast for our folks,” he said. “It is a lot of work, so much that we’re not doing it every week.”

Even though these times can be difficult, and it feels like there is no end — there is.

Bubna said the church has survived thousands of years, through the Great Depression.

“Things are going to get better. We’re looking forward to things improving soon,” he said.

RELATED: Spokane health board approves request to ask Gov. Inslee to speed up county’s reopening

READ: Gov. Inslee details guidelines for curbside retail services