Wednesday, April 9, 2014

WHEN IS TOO MUCH MONEY SPENT ON CHURCH PROJECTS TOO MUCH MONEY?

Should our $205,000 altar railing fund been better used by giving it to the poor? I report you decide! And should we sell this ornate church building and move into a warehouse and give what is left over to the poor? I report; you decide!

I know that the Catholic Church's consultative processes have not always been that great around the world when it comes to income and expenditures of money given to the Church by the faithful and other sources.

In our parish we have tried best as we can, to be very transparent. Everyone knows what our weekly income is and every six months there is a detailed report of that income and the expenditures. We try to be good stewards of the financial gifts given to the parish.

But when is too much too much to spend? For example, what about salaries? What is too much for a church employee and will we get good employees if we can't offer a good living wage?

What about dedicated or restricted funds given by individuals or bequests for specific projects, like building projects? Recently I had a parishioner who said we shouldn't spend anymore money on our historic church building. He doesn't like that we are restoring the altar railing. He says the money should be given to the poor and that I should have put the entire project up to a vote parish wide, like some (not all) Protestant denominations do. Of course I could have told him to go and sell all he has and give it to the poor and then come and be a parishioner, but I didn't think of that at the time!

So, should a pastor, like me, throw out canon law when it comes to the way the Church promotes consultation and seeks advice for pastors? Our pastoral council approved of the project unanimously based upon monies coming in from donors who specifically give to it. The Finance Council subsequently approved that the project could only be funded by a special fund raiser specifically for it, that it had to be funded in full and no normal Sunday offertory monies or other monies used.

Ultimately the  conclusion of this consultative process was the bishop's approval with some caveats. All of these were met. He signed the contract to begin the work, not me.

About 75 parishioners donated specifically to the altar railing fund. We collected about $50,000 from these parishioners with one giving $10,000! At the time I was under the impression the project would cost about $100,000. But after we had a contractor study the project and propose a cost, we discovered it would be about $205,000!

Thinking that I would never be able to raise that amount of money in the fashion in which we were requesting it, I wrote all the donors who had given thus far that we had miscalculated the cost and that it would take much longer to raise the money, perhaps years. I stated that we could put their restricted funds into a long term altar railing fund or I would return their gift if they so requested. I think only one person asked that the gift be returned.

But then one of our elderly parishioner died. About two months afterwards a representative of her lawyer came to see me. She had left a restricted bequest of a sizable about to be used only for sanctuary improvements.  In addition to that, about 30 percent of that bequest was to be give specifically to our Catholic Charities program for poor families, "Family Advancement Ministries."

And then I was given two checks, one for the altar railing and the other for our Family Advancement Ministries. That gave us exactly what we need and even a little more to repair a leak high up in the church building by one of our rose windows which will require scaffolding to repair.

It would not be legal (canonically or civilly) for the parish to use restricted funds and give it to the poor. Should we not have projects like these and let parishioiners keep their money and spend it on their own material fluff?

Also, how much of a parish's yearly income should be dedicated to the poor? All of it; a part of it?

Here at St. Joseph, we give about 20% of our total offertory to collections that go elsewhere. Is that too much or is that too little? On top of that I subscribe to the truth that all the monies that our parishioners have belong to the Church. Individual Catholics may give to charities of their choice without going through the institutional parish. So I am sure that of all the money of our parishioners that we are giving far more than 20% percent to the poor!


8 comments:

Gene said...

This is a non-issue. Tell the parishioner to sell his house and possessions and give them to the poor.
The "poor" in this country are, by and large, a bottomless pit of unproductive, demanding, resentful, obnoxious, pampered, violent and destructive government protected and promoted undesirables. They have long been nothing more than a political tool of the Left used to destroy free-enterprise and drain the resources of the responsible working population. Yes, the truly poor need help, but the media darling poor are a pain in the butt.
And, you worry about an altar rail when the Bishop of Atlanta just sold a 2.2 million dollar rectory only because of publicity. Please. Have you figured out how to keep the EMHCs from falling over the altar rail yet? Maybe we should have an EMHC assistant for each of the EMHCs. They could wear a different color stole. Or a "rail monitor" with a yellow stole for caution.
The Church is supposed to be a fore shadowing of the glories of Heaven and a testimony to the glory and majesty of God. Quit feeling guilty about it.

rcg said...

What is the word; benefit? You may be thinking 'feed' and may also be thinking 'food', or perhaps shelter; even medicine. How much has been spent on those things already? Are the poor invited to kneel at this rail in the presence of God Almighty? Isn't that a gift, too? And for a sum that is pretty much a fixed cost far less than the ongoing cost of food, shelter, and medicine. This is a more vital feeding, sheltering and healing, I think.

qwikness said...

I would advise a bit of caution. For some, the phrase, "perception is reality," comes to mind. It may appear as unnecessary and the vain fashion of the pastor and not for the glory of God or the benefit of the parishioner. I have heard grumblings on other expenses (rose marble and candle holders), following a big renovation, liturgical quips (latin) when a new translation of the missal was already happening, about the sabbatical/vacation. Plus the campaign for the new gym and A/C, warranted or not. Albeit these quibbles were from rather secular catholics but there seems to be degrees of catholicity. The "perception" is A LOT of money is being spent at the whim of the pastor. I heard, "again?" "another one?" "What next?" "when will it end?" "why?" So do what you got to do but be mindful of those less than enthused about this than you.

JBS said...

First of all, I always refer to decisions of parish councils (pastoral or finance) as recommendations (e.g. "the PPC voted to recommend that the parish priest do the following...) This makes it clear that the parish priest or diocesan bishops makes final decisions, acting as the shepherd of the flock.

Secondly, people who do not wish to lavish the house of God with our hard earned riches are simply stingy people. There's plenty of wealth in the world: to place our first fruits at the service of divine worship, to assist the poor, and to live comfortably but simply ourselves. God first, the poor second, and ourselves last. It's that simple.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Money is spent at the "leadership" of the pastor, quickness, and never without consulting the various committees involved, pastoral council (which in 2004 unanimously approved of the renovation of the church with its accoutrements as well as the finance council of the parish, the finance council of the diocese and the bishop himself.
Now I don't begrudge people not liking this or that or the other and certainly they are free not to give to any project they think extravagant. But how in the name of God and all that is holy can they justify their stinginess at the expense of parishioners who do give and do so generously and without complaining. That is what is beyond me and a sign of how poorly formed some of our Catholics are as it concerns stewardship and generosity. To think that some parishioners criticize other parishioners who are generous! I am scandalized by it!

Anonymous said...

"For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Matt 6:21

WSquared said...

Recently I had a parishioner who said we shouldn't spend anymore money on our historic church building. He doesn't like that we are restoring the altar railing. He says the money should be given to the poor and that I should have put the entire project up to a vote parish wide, like some (not all) Protestant denominations do.

I don't know the individual parishioner, so I don't presume to judge his heart, much less his soul. That said, this particular attitude-- and complaint-- is pretty common, and needs addressing: consider Oscar Wilde's definition of a cynic-- one who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

We arguably live in a highly cynical culture, where oftentimes people will assess the value of something primarily by how much they paid for it-- but "a fool and his money are soon to be parted."

Of course I could have told him to go and sell all he has and give it to the poor and then come and be a parishioner.

It may have been a good thing that you didn't, but still. Might not have been a wholly bad teachable moment, either. That kind of complaint has a long history among fundamentalists, and is often an excuse for something else. Moreover, I find it quite peculiar that tons of "stuff" and nicer things means that God favors you (as per Prosperity Gospel logic), but Catholic churches with rich artwork accessible to everyone necessarily means that Catholics are greedy and don't want to help the poor? Yeah, okay.

The average Catholic in the U.S. often does pick up what the larger culture throws down-- including what that culture codes as "Christian," whether it actually is Christian or not.

And then I was given two checks, one for the altar railing and the other for our Family Advancement Ministries. That gave us exactly what we need and even a little more to repair a leak high up in the church building by one of our rose windows which will require scaffolding to repair.

Father, you did what you thought right and just, didn't treat it lightly, and you received a hundredfold in return. If your bedroom is used for sleeping and also insomnia at times, you don't sound like someone who is imprudent about stewardship.

No matter what you do, somebody will complain. A great bit of a choir-leadership advice I read elsewhere applies here and in life in general: do what is right and just, and if somebody complains, then wow. Like, oh noes.

Bill Meyer said...

The day I find myself in a parish where things are open to a vote by all parishioners, I will shake the dust from my shoes and move on.

You have parish committees and councils for a reason. If they approved, then so be it. The altar rail will be of benefit to all who attend Mass at your parish, and for decades.