Thursday, March 7, 2019

The Church Budget

Once again, I will gingerly touch a third rail in Catholic life: money and the Church.

My 15 minute timer is running so I can't promise complete coherence, just a few things on my mind surrounding church budgets, what is prioritized, and what is not.

Back in the fall, I had a rumbling of a complaint, but never quite put it to words. The parish had just finished its annual Sunday School registrations--yall, I'm in the South and I'm gonna call it Sunday School. The fee associated with registration was $30 a child. I understand this is rather cheap as far as Catholic CCD classes go. With four kids eligible, our total was $120, which frankly I did not have on hand in August so I registered my children and sent them to class and paid my fee later in the fall when the checking account looked happier. And to be certain, no one gave me any guff about it. Nobody once asked why I hadn't paid any money yet and the kids' registration was not contingent on paying the money.

As I said, registration had just finished, and at about the same time, the Men's Club of the parish started a fundraiser. It was a reverse raffle. For $50 a ticket, you had the opportunity to win up to $3000? $5000?--I can't quite remember now. a chunk of money--and every fourth ticket won something. Prizes ranged from $10 on up.

We had to decide whether to buy a raffle ticket. Well, no. We still had $120 outstanding in Sunday School Fees. Something clicked, and rankled, in my mind. Parents are given the opportunity to give more money to the church and in return get to send their kids to class, which is somewhat required. Non-parents are given the opportunity to give more money to the church and in return get a chance to win a pile of cash. The discrepancy was glaring once I saw it. I am not saying the money for classes isn't worth it or that I resent paying for my kids to go to Sunday School or that they should fundraise anything like that. I am only noticing the difference in monetary expectations.

I live in a majority Protestant area. By majority Protestant, I mean the number of Catholics in this area has probably doubled in the last ten years and we now make up nearly 4% of the population. 4%!! Man, you run into Catholics everywhere now. Given this density, you get a pretty good idea how differently church budgets are treated in Catholic and Protestant churches.

So in most Protestant churches around here, Sunday School is free. It's just part of the church budget. Vacation Bible School is free. Retreats are free. The expenses are carried by the entire church instead of cordoned off to be borne by parents.

What brought this back to the forefront of the mind now is that Grace went on a large diocesan retreat this past weekend. While registering her for it, I discovered the diocese charges $60 a kid for this retreat. $60?! Really? And that didn't include an extra $15 for the retreat T-shirt. Our parish picked up half the cost so this retreat cost me $30 out of pocket, not including the T-shirt.** They did provide three fast-foody kind of meals, so $15 in food, $45 for retreat, maybe?

And again, I'm not really complaining about paying for Grace's retreat, but I do notice what (and who) gets charged. Why does the diocese think it's okay to charge $60 a head for a retreat aimed at teenagers? It feels incongruent that a pro-life/pro-family religion sticks it to parents financially. I know that you can ask and get charitable waivers, but friends, it gets old continually having to tell people you don't have the money. Why isn't the expectation that you give what you can to the church and the church covers the expense for all the kids, whether the child's family is rich or poor. No awkward, 'hey, I'm actually poor' conversation required. I don't really understand why it's unreasonable to expect a diocese to look after its own people instead forever nickel and diming parents, who are expected to give charitably and then pay fees on top of that, without a whiff of a raffle drawing in return.

** When I registered Grace, I asked if she wanted a T-shirt. She said no. I breathed a sigh of relief because this has been a stupid expensive run of weeks and keeping an extra $15 in my pocket would not hurt my feelings at all. After the first night, she said everyone had T-shirts. I internally sighed and gamely asked if she wanted a T-shirt now that she saw everyone else had T-shirts. She said no, because $15 is too much money to spend on a shirt she knows she will only wear over this one weekend. Right? Yay! But it also grates the conversation even had to be had.


I totally blew through my 15 minutes, but I have a sleeping baby on my lap so I couldn't go anywhere anyway. This is more like 45 minutes. Eek.


Melanie Bettinelli said...

I suspect that one piece of the puzzle is that Protestants tend to tithe, to actually support their churches financially. Catholics, for whatever reason, do not. They tend to drop a few bucks in the collection basket and don't really think too hard about what they are giving compared to what the parish needs. They certainly don't tithe.

Domenico Bettinelli said...

What Melanie said. Having worked for a diocese and a parish, the reason the Church doesn't pick up the tab is because the diocese and parish don't have the money either. Not like big Protestant churches do. And that's because Catholics don't have the culture of giving to the Church, not like this. I still see people put a buck in the basket on Sunday, people who I *know* can afford to give a lot more, not because they're stingy, but because that's what they've been trained to give. Partly because a lot of people think the Church has vaults of cash they're sitting on.

elli said...

I'm Episcopalian and — I did not know that Catholics don't tithe. That is really interesting to learn. In our church, tithing makes all the difference: that's how our parish builds the budget, on what people pledge. (And it is fully acceptable to pledge any amount, including 0, depending on circumstances).

Jenny said...

I thought about including the whole Catholics don't give to the church bit, but I was trying to stay focused. Heh. But yes, the reason parents are nickeled and dimed is because the church doesn't get the money in the first place. There is some kind of bizarre cultural memory where the liege lord provides and the serfs coast along. I don't get it. Don't we all get the yearly financial statement? Yes? The Earl isn't paying the electric bill.

Believe me, I can get on the donation soapbox and rail awhile. The average weekly donation at my parish is $12 per registered family and $25 using actual attendance as a proxy. The county where the parish is the richest in the state. The average parishioner can surely afford more than $25 a week. We can, and we are far from the richest family in the parish. So yeah, I'll quit now.

Penelope, my parish will run pledge drives to pay the building debt but not the yearly budget. Does your church run a pledge every year for the regular budget?

elli said...

Annual budget, so yes, every year. And we had a special campaign for funding when we needed to replace the roof and repair the foundation.