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Grateful for you, hopeful for the future

by Oct 5, 2022From the Pastor, Parish Blog

I remember the first time as a pastor I had to promote the bishop’s annual appeal in another diocese. It was a $300,000 target that was not a “best effort” campaign. It was a hard number that would either be raised by the appeal or would be made up by taking funds from Sunday Offertory. In that diocese there was no monthly contribution from a parish to the diocese. The annual appeal was the means by which the diocese funded everything from Catholic Charities, seminarian education and formation, commissions, diocesan staff, and lots more.

Here at St. Francis of Assisi, there is a monthly payment to the diocese to cover operational expenses for the Diocese of Arlington. There is also the Bishop’s Lenten Appeal (BLA) which, for a parish, has a goal, but it is a “best effort.” If you are interested in how the 2022 BLA funds were allocated you can explore that is this infographic. It goes to support the mission of the Church in our diocese for projects that are too big for any one parish to undertake. It is good and holy ministry. Why am I mentioning the diocesan annual appeals? Short of a parish capital campaign for a major building project such as our parish center, one “campaign” a year is enough – and here, that is reserved for the BLA.

All the friars ministering here at St. Francis have been pastors. I can safely say that none of us have fund raising on our top-10 list of “fun things” a pastor gets to do. No pastor wants to be in a cycle where we are campaigning annually for funds to simply operate the parish. This includes routine costs such as staff salaries and benefits; electricity and water; office supplies; maintenance, and all the thing that every small business has to do. It includes the religious education programs, outreach, St. Francis House, liturgy, supplies for celebrating Mass, and a whole bunch of things that are just part of parish life. And then there is the area between routine expenses and capital projects, for example, building up a maintenance reserve for projects that are going to naturally come due, e.g., roof replacements, equipment replacement and upgrades, etc.

Sounds rather like a business, yes? A parish is not a business, but it is not “not a business.”  We are tasked with being good and faithful stewards of your donations. That means keeping tabs on “today” but also looking to the future.

There has been a plan to replace the roof on the school building. It is time and also as a prelude to a solar electricity project for the parish campus. The solar project is not only “green,” a core Franciscan value, but it will require no capital expenditures from the parish while lowering our monthly electrical costs. That is just one example of a project that remains not done. Why? While the staff and operation of the parish has not expanded, the cost of operating the parish has increased in time and then again fueled by inflation.

When one looks back at the fiscal performance of the parish what becomes clear is that over the last 5 years, the annual fall campaign has really been funding the donations-expense deficit. In our fiscal year completed in June 2022, without the fall annual appeal, there would have been a $231,000 deficit for a year without major maintenance projects, capital expenses, or anything outside the norm. This means the stewardship of the parish via Sunday Offertory is not “pulling its weight” so to speak.

The reality of the Fall of 2022 is that we are seeing a decrease in Sunday Offertory over the last several months even as the number of people attending Mass has dramatically risen. Were people extra generous during the pandemic? All we can say is that Offertory from the pre-pandemic era only fell a few percentage points during the pandemic time – and we are grateful to all who contributed in those uncertain times.

As a parish we need to do two things: (1) again hold a Fall Annual Appeal in 2022 to respond to the challenges of this current fiscal year and (2) promote our Stewardship and Sunday Offertory to close the gap so that there is no Fall Annual Appeal in 2023. We are in “catch up” mode and to move into “getting ahead” mode. It’s complicated.

The weekend of Oct 15 and 16 Fr. John will address the parish community on the details of our plan to “catch up and get ahead.” We hope you understand where we are a parish community and can prayerfully consider what role is yours to play as we move into our shared future.