Article #1: Management of the Temple during the COVID-19 Pandemic
By Nadadur S. Kumar
General Counsel & Chief Administrative Officer
Malibu Hindu Temple
As I mentioned in our last e-mail, I will be writing a series of articles on various aspects of the Temple from 2018 onwards, when I assumed responsibility of the Temple as General Counsel and Chief Administrative Officer. I listed specific subjects on which I’ll be writing these articles, the first of which is regarding management of the Temple during the coronavirus pandemic.
As the news of the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in late February and early March of 2020, we recognized that there would be serious implications for the Temple. We decided to be very deliberate and careful in laying out our goals on a long-term basis and convert these goals into actionable steps that we would be taking. We outlined the following goals to guide us during this unprecedented period. These goals were as follows:
Ensure the safety and health of all the staff and the priests;
Provide services to the devotees with no interruption or minimal intervention because of the virus;
Assess the foreseeable financial challenges the Temple will face and lay out a clear plan to deal with the inevitable and sharp decline in the revenues of the Temple; and
Promote the morale of the employees in an environment where they are deprived of connecting with devotees who they have dedicated their lives to serving.
We took the following steps with respect to each of the above-mentioned goals:
1. Ensure the safety and health of all the staff and the priests:
We recognized that our ability to operate successfully and safely depended on a consensus and a uniform plan of action on the part of all the employees. With a view to accomplishing this, we had regular meetings with all of the employees and kept them appraised of the state of the pandemic and the proximate risks that this may pose in performing their duties at the Temple.
To ensure that they fully understood the implications of working at the Temple at this time and to ensure that the Temple as an institution was protected from any liabilities, we made a full disclosure to the employees of the risks and gave them the option of signing a waiver absolving the Temple of any liabilities arising out of their employment at the Temple. This put additional responsibility on us to recognize their sacrifice and provide them protection in all aspects. The staff and priests of the Temple, including me, all unanimously signed the waiver. I made sure that the leadership of the Temple shared the risk equally and led by example. In keeping with this, we were very aggressive in setting up testing appointments for all employees on a regular basis. We guaranteed to them that there would be no furlough or layoff. We also guaranteed their salaries and benefits including health coverage. We kept this promise and will continue to do so. Based on privacy and confidentiality, we are unable to discuss the multiple ways in which the Temple stood by them during this difficult time. We are now in the process of securing vaccinations for them as soon as permissible within the guidelines established by the State of California.
2, Provide services to the devotees with no interruption or minimal intervention because of the virus:
As surprising as it may sound in this day and age, the Malibu Hindu Temple did not have a stable internet or Wi-Fi connection. Because of the location of the Temple, we were operating in an environment where no internet provider was willing to bring a separate line to the remote area where the Temple was located. We recognized that the closure of the Temple altogether, which appeared at that time a possibility, would result in a complete disconnect between the Temple services and the devotees.
We actively lobbied the government and reached out to multiple internet providers, successfully bringing AT&T on board to come to our help. We are forever grateful to AT&T for working tirelessly, and recognizing the urgency in bringing a direct line to feed into the Temple. For the first time in the history of the Temple, we were able to use Wi-Fi, making it possible for us to provide live services. There are some founders of the Temple who contacted me and cried on the first day we broadcasted live abhishekam and archana at both Temples. We believed this was a gamechanger. We were able to establish a coronavirus relief fund to enable devotees to donate to the Temple.
We are forever thankful to the devotees for not only donating generously but also participating in our live services, motivating us to broadcast other important events such as the Mrityunjaya and Dhanvantari Homams on the eve of the reopening of the Temple. We also fully used the new website that was created in 2018. We also took extraordinary steps to promote the CDC guidelines when the Temple was open by making it mandatory for devotees to wear masks, wash their hands prior to entering the Temple, and provide their name, address, phone number, and e-mail for contact tracing purposes. We requested the devotees not to bring any offerings temporarily and suspended religious services which involved physical contact with the priests. The employees themselves were strictly following these guidelines. We are proud that we did not have any major outbreaks of the virus at the Temple.
3. Assess the foreseeable financial challenges the Temple will face and layout a clear plan to deal with the inevitable and sharp decline in the revenues of the Temple:
We were not surprised that the revenues of the Temple were impacted immediately following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. To ensure that we optimize our resources, we applied for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) emergency loan, and meticulously prepared the application and was granted this relief. We are now in the process of requesting loan forgiveness and are confident that we will be able to accomplish this.
We also signed a contract with Square, Inc. to facilitate payment of donations and fees for the Temple using their mobile credit card payment systems. We were able to accept payments for various religious services taking place either in or outside the Temple premises without the need on the part of the devotees to visit the Temple main office. This came in very handy during this challenging period when we needed the ability to collect donations. The Temple was finally able to move to a new age and make financial transactions easy and accessible both to the devotees and as well as the Temple staff. We offered online worship services as a matter of expressing our commitment to the devotees and at the same time we encouraged them to pay donations for the services. We did not furlough or reduce salaries for any employees and continued their benefits uninterrupted. We assessed the fees that we charged for our services and requested devotees to donate generously for the same services because of the pandemic. The marriages that were performed in and outside the Temple resulted in generous donations to the Temple during this difficult period. We literally stood at the entrance to the Temple every single day when the Temple was open and encouraged people to donate to the Temple and perform archana services so that the Temple can stay open and continue to provide services.
4. Promote the morale of the employees in an environment where they are deprived of connecting with devotees who they have dedicated their lives to serving:
We realized that a key to keeping the morale of the employees high was to ensure their safety and well-being and their ability to take care of themselves and their families. The simple act of guaranteeing their salaries and health places them in a position of security. The commitment that we demonstrated to take care of the priests and employees by scheduling tests for them and providing up to date coronavirus information helped them to understand the need to protect themselves, their families, and the families that they visited for any special services.
The philosophy of inclusivity and regular group meetings made them feel motivated to often go beyond the call of duty to attend to Temple services even with no devotees present. In one of our meetings, we switched off all the lights in the Temple, and lit candles to pray for healthcare and essential workers who were on the frontlines of the pandemic. We met for a midnight service, in a surreal setting with the Temple lights (kuthuvilakku) as the only light. This certainly was an inspiring moment which carried us during the rest of the months that followed. We are forever grateful to the priests and devotees for staying motivated and seeing the Temple through during what is arguably the most difficult period in the history of the Temple.
We are presenting these details to you not to seek praise from any of you. We simply considered it our duty to the Temple to stay as a place of worship and as a beacon of hope during the dark days in which the world found itself. I do not want to leave you with the impression that the Temple is already looking at the pandemic in a rear-view mirror. Contrary to this, we are acutely aware of, among other things, the new variants that have made their way into the U.S. and the county of Los Angeles. We will tread the path of managing the Temple with the same degree of caution that we exercised during the entire period of the pandemic. With all your help and cooperation, we truly pray god that the coronavirus is put in the past during this year 2021 to enable us to go back to the vibrance of the services at the Temple. We continue to pray for the health and well-being of our devotees and particularly pray for those who lost their livelihood or their loved ones. We wish to salute the devotees for their cooperation and generosity.
Thank you, and we look forward to publishing the next article that will provide details on the financial management and accountability standards of the Temple’s finances.