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Posted on: April 8, 2020

Have Faith Initiative Launched to Coordinate Faith Community’s Engagement in COVID-19 Response

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Sent on behalf of Community Partnership of the Ozarks, Community Foundation of the Ozarks and United Way of the Ozarks (Philanthropy Row)

A new initiative being led by “Philanthropy Row” is connecting faith-based organizations with City of Springfield and Greene County officials in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The “Have Faith” initiative virtually convenes area churches and organizations and helps to coordinate the faith community’s response to the health crisis.

Three of the region’s largest nonprofit organizations make up “Philanthropy Row”: Community Foundation of the Ozarks, Community Partnership of the Ozarks and United Way of the Ozarks.

The City and County requested assistance from “Philanthropy Row” after an initial Zoom call with around 30 faith-based organizations revealed members of area congregations had a strong desire to work together and participate in the community’s response to virus control and crisis recovery.

Now every Thursday, more than 30 different congregational leaders participate on a Zoom call to discuss how they are serving their membership and various community outreach efforts.  During the call, the group hears weekly updates from City and County leaders, including timely information from the Springfield-Greene County Health Department.

Reverend Mark Struckhoff and Reverend Bob Roberts serve as co-chairs for the initiative, which has evolved into a coordinated effort around four charges:

  • Conducting “supplies drives” to collect and allocate items that nonprofits need to best serve the most vulnerable in our community
  • Coordinating support for our community’s spiritual and mental health
  • Determine how our community can best come together in faith during this time of physical distancing requirements
  • Serving as a communication conduit, both from faith leaders to civic leaders and from civic leaders to faith leaders

“In times of crisis, it is only natural to look to our spiritual leaders from all faith traditions to help guide us through difficult times. It was very hard for me to ask that we stop congregating, even at places of worship, however, I felt supported and understood by the faith community,” said Clay Goddard, Director of the Springfield-Greene County Health Department. “To be able to discuss what’s on my mind and hear what questions and advice they have on a weekly basis, is both comforting and helpful. Springfield and Greene County are unique and wonderful places. We will all get through this together.”

Greene County Commissioner Harold Bengsch, himself a former Health Director, said he appreciates the support of the faith community in good times and bad. “In addition to finding innovative ways to minister to their flocks, the faith community has joined in meeting needs of the community at large by individually and collectively providing tons of food and other necessary supplies during this crisis. This group has also become an extension of government and health leaders in implementing the message of the importance of physical distancing,” Bengsch said.

One example of this coordinated effort occurred the weekend of April 11, coinciding with Easter and Passover. Once the Ozarks Alliance to End Homelessness realized the overnight temperatures would drop below freezing, a group of City of Springfield and community leaders solicited help from the Have Faith Initiative leaders to open five new overnight homeless shelters for multiple nights. The two churches that typically host cold weather shelters were unable to open for various reasons. In reality, many additional shelters are needed, even in non-pandemic times.

The faith community stepped up to offer shelter space in their churches and solicited volunteers to oversee their guests each night for a three-night timespan. Food, water and supplies were donated. In the span of 48 hours, the faith community was able to respond to a pending crisis.

The two co-chairs of the Have Faith Initiative have been very impressed and complimentary of the participating faith leaders.

“The churches of Springfield and the surrounding area are a conduit of spiritual resources to serve others,” said Rev. Bob Roberts, co-chair of the Have Faith Initiative. “Our Faith Community has been faithful to respond and serve as needed during the COVID-19 crisis, as well as other opportunities as they arise.”

“I’m grateful for faith leaders and congregations of every flavor for the many ways we are working as one in response to the coronavirus, added Rev. Mark Struckhoff, co-chair of the Have Faith Initiative.  “Each mask made and worn, each decision to serve and show up, and every prayer spoken or unspoken is an expression of our faith in God’s healing and whole-making presence.”

Mayor Ken McClure said he could not be more pleased with the coordination and support of area faith leaders. “We appreciate their wisdom and generous spirit, as well as their willingness to collaborate with us during this pandemic.” The Mayor said he hopes the coordination will continue well beyond the length of the current crisis.

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