Friday, January 15, 2016


In the last 10 years, Macon/Bibb County has seen the loss of more than 10,000 citizens due to white flight. Our public schools are weak and that is a generous description. When I came here in 2004, several very large industries closed and many jobs were lost or moved to other areas, primarily North Carolina.

When I came to Macon in 2004, Macon was considered a second tier city in Georgia, along with Augusta, Columbus and Savannah, with Augusta second only Atlanta, the only first tier city. Today though Macon is now ranked with the third tier cities of Albany and Valdosta and Warner Robins.

The county to the immediate south of us where the largest Georgia employer is (Robins Air Force Base, in Warner Robins) is booming and will soon be more populated than Macon. The two Catholic parishes there (Houston County) are growing.

Not so for the three Catholic parishes in Macon. In fact the other two smaller parishes could be combined with one pastor and one associate. Holy Spirit Church really doesn't need a full time priest as pastor, it could be a chapel of ease for St. Peter Claver,  just my opinion but having a full time priest there is a wasteful use of priestly personnel. 

This is the letter I wrote to our parishioner for our January newsletter. You have to do what you have to do on the parish level as well as the diocesan level:

Dear parishioners,

We’ve been partying for the past several years like it was 1999, to borrow from Prince’s mega hit of the last century! But it is 2016 and we can’t party anymore like it is1999 at least not at Saint Joseph Church and in Macon.

As I’ve informed you before and of course you should know from other sources, Macon/Bibb County is stagnant in terms of growth. In fact the county has declined by more than 10,000 citizens in the last 10 years. We haven’t seen many new people move into Macon.

The opposite is true of Warner Robins/Houston County which soon may eclipse Macon in growth and population.

Because of this and other factors too, Saint Joseph Church which peaked in 1999 with about 2400 households is today at 993 households. In 1999 we would have had combined in our school and PREP about 60 children preparing for First Holy Communion in the second grade and about the same number of 8th graders preparing for Confirmation. Today we are at about 35 children combined for First Holy Communion and the same for Confirmation. This of course corresponds to the less than half of the number of households we have today compared to 1999.

Our offertory income, however, since 1999 has increased each year despite the loss of parishioners who have moved or died. But this has begun to decrease a bit each year in the last three years.

So as I promised I would do, for our current fiscal year which ends June 30, 2016, we made some cuts to programs and staff salaries that amounted to about $50,000.

As we prepare for our new fiscal year which begins July 1st of this New Year I am making a $70,000 cut to our budget with some of this cuts beginning this February. We are cutting salaries of some of our lay employees as well as the budget we have for Family Advancement Ministries, our school, Mt. de Sales and costs related to stewardship.

Cutting rather than growing is not something I’ve had to do as a pastor and I find it very difficult. Cutting our employees’ salaries is not a pleasant thing at all and I appreciate their understanding as well as the heads of the various ministries that are receiving cuts. Our budget is from your free-will offerings and when that falls so do many other things.

I wanted to let you know what we are doing and that I am being pro-active as your pastor in being a good steward of the gifts you donate to our parish budget and to position our parish budget for our 2016 new reality, the new normal!

We can be nostalgic for the past and I tend to be but it isn’t 1999 anymore and we can’t party like it is. It is 2016 and we have to adjust to our new parish situation and make sure we are strong spiritually, morally and financially. God bless you and a Blessed New Year to you too!

Your pastor,

Fr. Allan J. McDonald


Jusadbellum said...

How many families are registered to the parish?
How many individuals do these families represent?
How many individuals go to Mass on any given weekend?
How many families do these individuals represent?

You have the list. Up north it's estimated that only about 27% of registered Catholics go to Mass.

I know in the south it's higher and possibly as high as 40%. But that still means the majority of your people - who haven't moved on, who still live in Macon and presumably still have jobs or a retirement - could BUT DON'T come to Mass.

If I were you, I'd sit down with my people and draw up a plan to call or otherwise contact every one of the families who are there but not active.

I'd come up with a plan to cultivate their friendships, get to know them personally, (not just you, but the whole pastoral leadership team) - get oneself invited to dinner or invite them to dine with you....create occasions at which they could be invited or presented some new award or commemoration. Anything to get yourself face to face with them for the all important re-connection to the point of being Catholic.

I'd tell the choir, ushers, etc. to be on the lookout for these folk - to be extra kind, extra welcoming. I'd make a point of asking for prayers for them, and spread the word of encouragement to come back.

I'd point out that we're all broken, wounded souls. We all are vulnerable to the world, the flesh, and the devil. We all suffer from our own concupiscence. We all experience the baffling weakness, temptation, and sin whether we call it sin or not. And we all have the experience of being wronged by others and needing to either let go or make sense of our grievance.

I'd point out that a Catholic who abandons Mass is only hurting themselves. it's not so much about sin (if they don't care about the King, they won't care about the King's rules), but about hurting themselves (encouraging them to at least come and see for their own sake or the sake of their children.

It's not inconsequential whether someone encounters Christ in word and sacrament.

I'd say "don't come for our sake or to see some awesome community...come to re-encounter Christ and find healing and strength".

I'd get a map and plot out where all my registered families live on the map - with thumb tacks or pins....or do it via google earth and excel. Then I'd map out who is most active within a few blocks of them and figure out who to invite to block parties or backyard BBQs or Superbowl parties...

In short, if macro-economic problem is a shrinking population but less than 60% of your registered members aren't showing up, then really the macro situation isn't the problem. It's the micro-situation that is of concern. If your parish re-activated 400 families I'd bet your school and collection problems would solve themselves.

Jacob said...

Father, your astute observation that since Macon is declining in population, it may not make sense to have 3 parishes. If one is combined into another, would that leave an "empty" church in Macon that the FSSP could staff??? It would be dead center in the Diocese. Just wondering.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

While we have declined, we have the highest level of participation in our diocese in churches larger than us or the same size.

The Bishop's Annual Appeal is the best way to see reality and here is the ranking in our diocese in terms of numbers of household and the number who contribute to the BAA:

St. Joseph has 993 households and 503 gave to the bishop or 50.56% of our households which is phenomenal I say, just phenomenal and there is no other parish our size or larger that has this figure of percentage of participation! Our goal, based on offertory for the previous year was $136,486 and we pledged $145,581!

But here is the ranking according to household numbers started with the largest parish and working down. I include their households, how many gave to the bishop and the percentage who gave:

#1. St. Teresa, Augusta: 2,108; 306 gave; 17.08% of parish!

#2. St. Mary on the Hill, Augusta: 1,851; 606 gave; 32.70% of the parish!

#3. St. James, Savannah: 1,1612; 353 gave; 21.90% of the parish!

#4. St. Anne, Columbus: 1,596; 434 gave; 27.19% of parish!

#5. Cathedral, Savannah: 1,275; 279 gave; 21.38% of the parish!

#6. Sacred Heart, Warner Robins: 1,154; 438 gave; 37.09% of the parish!

#7. St. Anne (Richmond Hill): 1,041; 252 gave; 24.21% of the parish!

#8. St. Joseph, Macon: 993; 503 gave; 50.56% of the parish gave!!!!!!


While we are #8 in terms of households of the 8 largest parishes in the diocese, we are #1 in terms of percentage of households giving to the Bishop's Annual Appeal, 50.56% of my parishioners! NO OTHER PARISH COMES CLOSE TO THIS PERCENTAGE!!!!

Holy Spirit only has one Mass on Sunday. They would be the logical site for the FSSP who could keep that OF Mass and add an EF Mass each Sunday. I doubt they would get more than 60 each Sunday for a regularly scheduled EF Mass.

Jusadbellum said...

Father, that's great.

But you just told us you cut $70,000 from your budget on account of a trend of declining rates in the school and parish.

50% participation is excellent. But it still means you've got a few hundred families out there who could - but don't - come.

So rather than grouse about the macro-economic and macro-demographic situation that you and I can't control, let's focus on the demographic that you can control or at least contact: your parish list.

Make a plan. How many families could you, personally, reasonably reach out to and invite to Holy Week activities? 10?

How many could any assistant or pastoral associate handle? How many could your deacons and key staff handle to personally invite over the next 4 months?

Suppose you came up with a goal of re-activating 50 families by next fall.... if they give the average amount to the collect as everyone else, might they not make up the difference in your collections as well as provide the difference in volunteering and other things?

The world is a scary place and we can err in thinking that complaining about it or worse "understanding" the situation is a proxy for action. But really, we can only do what we can do. In your case, you can do ALOT more than any of us laity to actually reverse the terminal trend and reverse it somewhat. But it'll take a team effort and a plan.

gob said...

You equate giving money with "participation"? OK. Some may give money "instead of" participating.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

The problem for all Macon parishes is that our Catholics have left Macon or died, they haven't left the Church, although we have to factor some. There is 0 growth in Macon's population in fact negative growth. I

Anonymous said...

Bibb County (Macon) has only grown by about 12,000 or so people since 1970. The county had about 143,000 then, maybe 155,000 today. Contrast that with metro Atlanta's Gwinnett County---72,000 in 1970, over 800,000 today. But Richmond County is now in the same boat as Bibb---Richmond grew by less than 1,000 people between 2000-2010. Houston County, just south of Macon, had about 63,000 people in 1970, some 140,000 in the 2010 census. There may have been hope that consolidation of Bibb County/Macon would help stem the tide, but it apparently hasn't done so. I would agree with father's recommendations on Holy Spirit, and ask him how it ever became a parish? Doesn't seem like there ever would have been a large Catholic population in southwest Macon (near Macon Mall).

Also, perhaps to enlarge the size of the Diocese of Savannah, perhaps add fast-growing Monroe County and Baldwin County (Milledgeville). The Atlanta Archdiocese has gotten so large---many parishes with over 5,000 members---the ceding of some territory would not really be noticed there. In 1979, Columbia and Jones Counties were traded between the two dioceses, Columbia because of its ties to Richmond County/Augusta and Jones because of ties to Macon. Maybe someday also add McDuffie County (Thomson) west of Augusta to your diocese.

Gene said...

Macon has become an urban dump, a gang infested, Section 8, vagrant nightmare. Downtown has virtually no is all restaurants, bars, and silly little shops with the so-called homeless wandering the streets in large numbers. The Mall is not safe or pleasurable because it is infested by black gangs and shop-lifting is epidemic. I love going to Mass at St. Jo's, but it breaks my heart to come to Macon because I remember what Macon was when I grew up there. It was a great place to grow up and kids and families felt safe in a small town atmosphere. Then 1964 happened, the Intestate came through @ 1965, and city government began to cater to, and was eventually co-opted, by minorities. This is happening in Augusta, as well, and in all urban areas of the South. The resulting loss of population is called white flight and I don't blame them. Soon, we'll have three states in one, North Georgia will be white, Atlanta and middle Georgia will be black (except for a few liberals in total denial), and south Georgia will be agricultural/rural with even less population because the government has killed farming, and socialist Federal programs have killed growth and industry.

gob said...

Eugene, there's a song about you (and some others hereabouts) that you can see and hear on YouTube. Look up Todd Snider "Conservative Christians".

Gene said...

Hey, truth is the new "hate speech."

Anonymous said...

Gene, south Georgia has always been rural...I mean, what is new there? Hotter than Hades in the summer, flat, some of the most dangerous snakes around...there will always be more people in this state in north Georgia. Slightly over half the state's population lives north of Interstate 20, even though at most just 25% of Georgia's land mass is above there.

And the disintergration of the black community has everything to do with illegitimacy. Just the other night here in Atlanta, a pregnant 15-year old was shot along with her boyfriend (husband?) near a MARTA stop. The mother (no dad present) was interviewed on TV. Over half the abortions performed in Georgia are on blacks, who make up at most just a third of the state's population. Yet you never hear their leadership condemn abortion (on the contrary, they praise it!) or the breakdown of the family. For all the talk about poverty, it is basically linked to just two factors---(1) did you finish high school (at least) or beyond, and (2) did you wait to have children AFTER you got married? The poverty rate is very low for persons who fit those charectiristics.

Gene said...

Anonymous, there is nothing new about south Georgia being rural. That wasn't my point. I agree with what you say. I've spent a lot of time in the Okeefenokee catching and photographing those snakes, gators and other critters. My kin folk on Mama's side are all from south Georgia.