Getting Our Parishes Into the Black
Many parishes face a monthly struggle to survive because their members are not giving enough support. SHELDON VANDREY proposes a solution.
Last night I had a dream, literally, I had a dream. It was a strange dream. Strange in the sense that all dreams are strange, but equally strange in that I was told in my dream to write this article. So here I am, typing away.
So in that dream, my wife and I are visiting the White House. In the foyer of that presidential building in Washington, I see my parish priest — apparently also there, all the way from South Africa. I tell him about my idea that every parish should have a “sustainability account”. He asks me to tell him more, which I do. He then tells me to write an article about it for The Southern Cross.
OK, dream over, this is my idea, one that I’ve had for a while: a “sustainability account”.
Many parishioners may be annoyed at the weekly collections, sometimes two, on top of the Planned Giving which they, hopefully, signed up for.
“Why all this need for money? The Church is supposed to provide religious guidance only, so what am I paying for?” they might ask.
Well, every parish and every diocese has expenses. From the simple — paying the electricity and municipal bills — to the more complicated, paying levies to the diocese that it belongs to. One can’t run the parish on Hail Marys alone.
The Bible talks about tithing, proposing that we give 10% of your income to the Church. The statutes of the Catholic Church state that parishioners should give 3% of their income. That is not a lot.
Yet, sadly, many working people, perhaps most, do not give a cent towards the upkeep of their parish. This I know, because I served on the parish finance council of a parish that has more than 500 families. Our monthly expenses averaged about R20000. But during my tenure, our monthly income averaged about R18000. Clearly that this is not financially sustainable.
How did we manage? We ate into our reserves. As any financial expert, and anyone with common sense, will tell you, that’s also not a good thing.
Those annoying fundraisers
Various fundraising efforts throughout the year supplemented our income and became a necessity to cover the gaps. In addition to that, every organisation within the parish also did annual fundraisers, for their own survival.
Of course, parishioners used to complain about the number of fundraising events being held. One parishioner even mentioned that all these frequent fundraising events caused a bottleneck, and that we were milking the same parishioners over and over.
As a whole — that is, the parish and the organisations in the parish — we averaged about three to four fundraisers per quarter. This particular parishioner also indicated that since he also paid planned giving, he saw no need to contribute to the almost monthly fundraisers.
Why is that a parish of 500+ families was financially unsustainable, with the number of fundraisers being an indicator of the financial health of the parish?
If every family gave just R50 a month, then the parish would have a surplus every month and could build up reserves. Clearly not every family was not giving even the bare minimum, while others were giving more than their fair share, and still it was not enough.
In most families, there were two and sometimes more people working (for example, adult-children still living at home). If every working person gave even just a minimum, our parish would not have a problem.
Cashflow was also a problem, with a lot of people paying a “lump sum” at the end of the year when they received their December bonus. This was also not sustainable, as at that time of the year, most people are in wind-down mode, and paying pledge is the last thing on their mind.
Finding a solution
So the solution for the parish to becoming financially sustainable is for every member who is receiving an income to pay a minimum of R50 on a monthly basis — preferably via debit order, for their convenience and to ensure that it does happen on a monthly basis — into the parish account.
Some 10% of funds could go into a sustainability account, of which only the interest is used on a monthly basis and the principal sum is left intact.
This system of a “sustainability account” could eliminate the need for fundraisers — other perhaps than those the parishioners enjoy participating in, such as bazaars and social functions — and the parish would slowly over time find it’s self in a position to start providing services to parishioners free of charge.
And these services are important, such as supplying our charitable groups (here the St Vincent de Paul Society and Ladies of Charity) on a monthly basis out of parish funds for their good works, or sending members of the youth group, free of charge on an annual leadership camp.
The parish could even find itself in a position to stage an annual parish dance free of charge to thank parishioners for their support throughout the year.
Lastly, if the parishes are financially sustainable, then so too will be our dioceses.
Sheldon Vandrey is a parishioner of Holy Spirit church in Port Elizabeth. Tell us what you think of his suggestion by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org