Smaller parishes look for relief from pandemic financial strain

Some of the smaller parishes in the Diocese of Nashville are looking for relief from the financial strain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

While some of the larger parishes are holding their own with their Sunday collections, or even seeing a small increase, the collections for some of the smaller parishes are down as much as 40 percent, said Ashley Linville, diocesan director of stewardship and development.

“It’s a combination of parishioners not being in the pews and the fact that a number of people have seen their income reduced because of COVID,” meaning they have less to share with their parish, Linville said.

Pastors are looking to shore up their parish finances.

At St. Pius X Church in Nashville, collections are at 60 percent of where they were before the pandemic, Linville said.

The collections in November have been about $2,000 a week, up from $1,000 a week in September, said Father Abraham Panthalanickal, who became pastor of St. Pius last summer.

The parish, which has about 65 registered families, has about 45 people attending its lone Sunday Mass at 8 a.m. since the pandemic started, said Father Panthalanickal.

He started a Saturday evening Mass at 5:30 p.m. and is considering starting another Mass later on Sunday mornings to give people more options to attend and draw back some of the parishioners who have started attending Mass at other parishes with more convenient Mass times, Father Panthalanickal said.

Before starting a second Sunday Mass, Father Panthalanickal is hoping to consult with some of the parishioners to get their input. And the parish Finance Council will meet in December to discuss other options for increasing revenues, he added.

He’s hoping people from other parishes and people who grew up at St. Pius or are former parishioners will be able to help by attending Mass at St. Pius occasionally, Father Panthalanickal said. He’s also trying to raise awareness about the parish school, St. Pius X Classical Academy.

“There is potential growth in the area,” Father Panthalanickal said. “We are planning to send a letter to the people in the community by the end of this year inviting them to the parish and the school,” which are located at 2800 Tucker Road near Buena Vista Pike/West Trinity Lane.

St. William of Montevergine Church in Shelbyville also is looking for ways to boost its revenues during the pandemic.

Before COVID-19, the Sunday collections at St. William typically totaled $3,900 to $4,200 a week, said the pastor, Father Louis Rojas, SAC. “Now it’s about half of that. It depends on how many people come.”

St. William’s church can hold up to 500 people, but, like other parishes in the diocese, social distancing and restrictions on the size of gatherings mean the parish can accommodate only a fraction of that amount.

For the Spanish Mass, which is the most heavily attended Mass each week, the Mass is celebrated outside with people watching from their cars, said Father Rojas, a Pallottine order priest.

The outdoor Mass draws about 160 people, Father Rojas said. “It’s still too many people to put in one building. … We don’t have the room to space them out like we should.”

The parish took another blow to its finances when it was forced to cancel its annual Fall Festival, Father Rojas said.

To help make up that shortfall, “the parish Finance Committee suggested we send a letter to everybody on our mailing list asking people to help,” Father Rojas said. “We are getting people to respond to that appeal.”

The money will be used to make repairs to the original church, built in 1941, he said. “I’ve been telling people it’s not what I want it for, but what I need it for.”

Despite the hit to the budget caused by the pandemic, St. William still has some breathing room, Father Rojas said. “Thank the Lord, for the last several years, people have been good to us. We’ve been in the black. We do have a little bit of a reserve,” he said. “We’re not desperate. We’re still holding on to the reserves.”

Even with the cushion, St. William is looking for ways to get through the budget year, Father Rojas said. “We’re talking to people about it. We have to be careful.”

Linville is hopeful the people of the diocese will be able to extend a helping hand to parishes that are struggling. “One thing that I’ve seen through this whole year is that those who have been blessed have been a blessing to others,” he said. “Those not impacted have shared their resources with those who have been impacted by this.”

One way people can help is by donating to the Bishop’s Annual Appeal for Ministries, which will be accepting donations through the end of the year, Linville said.

The Bishop Miles Society, which provides funds to parishes with significant needs, is one of the ministries supported by the Bishop’s Annual Appeal, Linville said. “Sometimes we have people who want to directly support certain individual parishes that are in need and that support can be sent directly to those parishes, or can be sent to our Development Office with instructions on how the funds should be directed,” he added.

It’s important that parishes have the resources to keep serving the faithful, Linville said. 

“All of our parishes still want to be able to minister to people. And it’s important for people to see there are parishes out there struggling,” he said. “Tennessee is known as the volunteer state. It seems any time there is a crisis or a need the people step up to meet that need or crisis.”

For more information about how to donate to the Bishop’s Annual Appeal for Ministries, visit dioceseofnashville.com/appeal or call Linville at 615-645-9768 or Assistant Director of Stewardship and Development Anna Beth Godfrey at 615-645-9769.