September 28, 2007

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

God loves a cheerful giver—honest!

Cynthia DewesComedians used to joke that all Catholics had to do was “pray, pay and obey.” Not that any of those duties applied to every Catholic all the time, but it was fun to kid about it.

Well, guess what. Not much has changed except maybe the “obey” part, a sure sign of our times.

Our parish, like all parishes in the archdiocese, is now in the process of mounting a capital campaign. The proceeds will be divided between archdiocesan ministries and individual parish projects. So it seems we’re back to the “pay” part of the Catholic equation once again.

Some of us have been around long enough to have witnessed all kinds of financial campaigns for the Church, using all kinds of incentives, threats, pleas and-what-have-you.

Not only that, but once when we moved to another parish from a parish in which we’d contributed to a major building project, we found ourselves in the forefront of another building drive.

We felt kind of like that anxious-looking cartoon kitty trapped in the embrace of Pepe Le Pew. Still, we saw the need and responded cheerfully. And that’s the crux of capital campaigns: There’s always a valid need, but sometimes our response is not so cheerful. We may wonder why there’s a new necessity to pay for since it seems like we just finished paying for, the last one.

Well, it’s because in the olden days, which we’re so fond of citing, Church expenses and sources of income were quite different from those today. Flourishing religious orders with many sisters furnished practically free teachers and administrators so parishes could afford large schools to serve all the parish children.

All they needed was a physical plant attached to the church. The custodian took care of cleaning it, parish volunteers helped maintain it and parishioners’ businesses furnished required services or equipment. Parents paid for their kids’ school books and coached sports, and there were few expensive “frills,” such as a gym or musical instruments for the kids to use.

Parish staffs were usually small because more than one priest was in residence, and technology costs were probably limited to the telephone and a couple of office machines. Even rectory or convent expenses were kept to a minimum with volunteer help and gifts from parishioners.

Sunday collections covered most parish expenses, and ordinary parish fundraising was often limited to a profitable parish festival every summer. So when a capital campaign came along, it was for something big like a new roof for the church or expanding the parking lot. There seemed to be a distinct cause-and-effect component in asking parishioners for extra contributions.

Well, there’s still a cause-and-effect process in capital campaigns because the archdiocese serves more needs than ever: helping the poor and homeless, counseling women considering abortion and outfitting single moms, serving the handicapped, the elderly and others. Its agencies supply many services which used to be furnished by volunteers or not at all.

Parishes also need financial help to serve growing congregations with fewer priests and religious sisters available. They need to build more worship space or additional office/classroom/social facilities, and to hire professional and other services that used to be done by volunteers or didn’t exist.

As long as we’re able to come together to worship and pray, to learn, to socialize and to enrich ourselves and others as Christians, we will be Church. That’s reason enough to contribute to a capital campaign.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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