Normally I have an end zone in sight when I start a blog entry, even on my rambling days. But this morning I have a collection of parochial and social loose ends that I can’t reconcile, at least in a crisp organized way. This current “dyspepsia” of mine began last night. My wife and I attended the vigil Mass in our home parish and then enjoyed a pleasant social evening. When we got home I kicked back to read our church bulletin, specifically to see how our Catholic Charities campaign was progressing. Our pastor had mentioned in his public announcements yesterday that the current status for our parish was in the bulletin. That was a tip off to me that the returns might not be stellar; sure enough, we currently stand at 66% of assessed goal, I think. Unfortunately there is not a breakdown of cash already donated vs. pledges, a common mistake in parish bulletin-ese that confuses as much as clarifies. The announcement states our total as “pledges to date.” I think our pastor meant the figure as the whole smash. No pastor, including me in my time, ever lived with the illusion of 100% return on pledges. Professional fundraisers have a formula for that.
When I woke this AM (groggy in daylight savings time) I put on the coffee and started checking out the neighboring parishes. As my parish has a good reputation as a financial flagship, so to speak, I decided to check the church bulletins of sixteen other parishes in our diocese to see how things are going. In no particular order, these are raw stats of percentage of goal met: 88%, 35% (on 46 pledges), 52%, 73%, 22%, 41%, 50%, 52%, 42%, and 68%. Another parish is probably exempt because of its reported $2 million mortgage (the practice here has been to fold Catholic Charities into standing construction debt). Another parish reported a debt of $3.5 million and probably also falls under a similar circumstance. One large parish did not post Catholic Charities returns but did post a $500,000 operating shortfall for 2015 in its weekly offertory report. (The first quarter of a Florida church year is often the most lucrative due to the influx of “snowbirds”.) Three parishes did not publicly report in their bulletins on line sites of those I visited.
This is one man’s walk through the data currently available online. The Diocesan website reports that the 2013 campaign did meet its goal, and in fact exceeded it by 10%, returning a percentage of that excess to parishes proportionate to their success. 2014 was not posted, though possibly due to time constraints. Perhaps 2015 will be a diocesan winner, too. But observing parish finances wherever I go in person or on the internet, I have a sinking feeling that monies available to parishes and dioceses in the future will be significantly less. We have talked a lot about the priest shortage in the U.S. It may be that a money shortage will be just as crippling to the Church’s ministry.
My diocese has a “circle of honor” of sorts by which its major donors are honored on-line and in fundraising publications. I suspect most dioceses do. I know personally or by reputation a fair number of such church philanthropists locally; a majority of these donors are “old money,” long time contributors whose giving patterns were formed in a different time. This kind of giving, often induced by skilled pastors who wined and dined, will not continue. In other entries I have documented the loss of the young to the Church—the diminishment of religious influence on the generation of millennial new Catholic adults. See the detailed but very worthwhile Young Catholic America: Emerging Adults In, Out of, and Gone from the Church (2014).
But another factor of Catholic life is its changing spirituality. Again, as I daily research for the blog, I come across hundreds of grassroots Catholic spirituality moments. I am presently involved in one from my own parish. Grassroots spirituality is enjoying a new springtime, as adult Catholics gather to share faith, study the scripture, create small faith communities, etc. Should these kinds of movements endure, what does that augur for “the institutional Church” and its administrative needs?
Increased spirituality may not necessarily equate to greater Mass attendance and structured financial support. This morning’s Washington Post carried an interesting story of research undertaken by NORC, which has been tracking religious practices in the United States for about half a century. NORC discovered that many Americans do pray, 57% at least once daily. Only 40%, however, participate in organized church service even once a month; this marks an all time low in the NORC longitudinal study.
Thus, preliminary research on several facets of contemporary church life is telling us that (1) our pews are emptying; (2) dependable donors are aging; (3) young Catholics alienate from the Church at significant rates; and (4) spiritual revival is not synonymous with financial revival.
Hopefully chanceries are getting the same data in their fiscal planning.
On My Mind