Catholic churches that normally are full for Sunday Masses now sit empty as a precaution against the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
That is not only putting a strain on communities of faith spiritually, but also financially.
Most parishes rely on the collections at Sunday Masses to pay their staffs and support their various ministries, as well as subsidize the operations of their parish school if they have one. And one of the biggest collections every year, Easter Sunday, won’t be available to parishes this year because the suspension of the celebration of public Masses in the diocese has been extended through April 24, nearly two weeks after Easter.
“It’s going to be difficult,” said Father Joseph Mundakal, CMI, pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Lawrenceburg.
To help parishes, the Diocese of Nashville is encouraging people to continue to support their parish through online giving.
“We want people to support their parish,” said diocesan Director of Development Ashley Linville. “What we’ve been doing is encouraging people to go online. We have a link on the diocesan website (https://offertory.dioceseofnashville.com/) … where they can give to support their parish. We also want them to attend Mass online as well.
“The parishes still have needs and we want to make sure people have the opportunity to give and support those needs,” Linville said.
“We know a lot of our smaller, rural parishes, some of them don’t have online giving so the only way they have to collect money is there in the pew,” Linville said. “We wanted to make sure that while the doors are closed they still have an opportunity to collect offertory.”
Sacred Heart is just one example of the financial struggles facing parishes. Although the parish has only one part-time employee, Sacred Heart School, which is closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, has a staff of 13, Father Mundakal explained. “If the school is running or not, we have to pay the teachers,” he said.
School tuition does not cover the full cost of operating the school, he said, so the parish subsidizes the school. “Most of the money that comes from the Sunday collection goes to the school,” Father Mundakal said.
It’s not only small parishes that are trying to make sure their staffs continue to be paid.
“We’re looking at ways of managing in the short term to continue to support all of our employees,” said Father Mark Beckman, pastor of St. Henry Church in Nashville, one of the largest parishes in the diocese.
The parish has more than 20 employees, and St. Henry School has 67 staffers listed on its website.
“We have a good number who do give online. A large number of parishioners are mailing in their donations,” Father Beckman said. “But our collections are down.”
At Sacred Heart in Lawrenceburg, several parishioners have mailed their contributions or dropped them off at the church office, Father Mundakal said. “We have several people who have walked into our office and gave their contributions, some of them for the whole month they gave.”
Fathers Beckman and Mundakal, as well as Father Michael Fye, pastor of St. Ann Church in Nashville, have joined the diocese’s efforts to encourage more people to start giving online.
“We are encouraging online giving,” said Father Fye. “It is easier for everybody. Parishioners of all ages have moved to online giving.”
“Many of us will invest in entertainment, hobbies, extra toilet paper, etc. to make it through the next couple months,” he said. “Ask yourself: is your faith worth investing in? Both time and money are a good measure of what we value.”
Online giving is easy to set up, Linville said. “They go in and they can give a one-time gift, they can give monthly, they can give weekly, they can give a recurring gift,” he said. “They can set it up how they want.
“They can give by credit card or by check by putting in their routing number and account number,” Linville said. “People can also mail checks to their parish.”
“What we’ve really been pushing is recurring gifts where people set up a gift … until basically they tell us to stop,” Linville said. “Say they’re on vacation, they can still make their gift when they’re out of town. It will be automatic. It won’t be something they have to think about.”
“We really want to make it as easy for people as possible,” Linville added.
“This is a time more than ever, we rely on God, we put our faith in action,” Linville said. “It can be a scary time, and what better time to lean on our faith and continue to be faithful to our parishes.”
For more information about giving online to your parish, call Linville at 615-645-9768 or email Ashley.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Theresa Laurence contributed to this report.