By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published November 12, 2020
SMYRNA—Leaders of the Archdiocese of Atlanta are encouraging parishes to begin an offertory recovery initiative in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The six-week program engages parish members to remind them of their faith community’s mission and then encourage parishioners to give to fulfill their goals. The program is voluntary for parishes.
A drop in church giving—coupled with job loss and economic uncertainty—hit as demand for help from food banks and other ministries jumped. Worshippers could not donate to the collection basket for weeks including at Easter when visitors typically fill the pews alongside church members and contribute.
The goal of the program is restoring parish financial resources, as communities confront the once in-a-century event, said Kit Parker, the executive director of the Office of Stewardship of the archdiocese.
Some parishes are holding their own as people continue to give and online collections take off, while others could use a boost to revive their finances, he said.
However, the impact on parishes was reduced by a federal assistance program which covered payroll costs of many ministries, along with the proceeds from the archdiocese selling valuable real estate in Midtown.
Parish incomes decline overall
According to the archdiocesan chief financial officer, in the more than 100 parishes and missions there was a $4 million decrease in overall offertory income reported as parishes closed their financial books at the end of June.
Collectively parishes reported a decline of income about 4%.
CFO Brad Wilson said what the pandemic meant for offertories varied from parish to parish. With the shutdown of public worship beginning in March to early June, some parishes reported a decline of 32% in income while others saw an increase of 44%, he said.
Chief Operating Officer David Spotanski said in an email parishes run on tight budgets so “any reduction in offertory is a distraction” from the work of the church to serve its members and the community.
He said Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM. Conv., directed archdiocesan officials to find ways to assist those parishes that may need a hand to reconnect with its members.
The recovery and sustainability program’s goal is to help church communities regain their financial footing.
How’s it work? The outreach—run by Our Sunday Visitor—would connect with parishioners to make sure they understand what the financial position of the parish is, but also understand what the program limitations might be without financial help, Parker said.
This is the second program organized by the Archdiocese of Atlanta Stewardship Office during the pandemic. An earlier program in the summer shared best practices for parishes as they reopened their doors.
According to OSV, its Offertory Recovery and Stabilization Program was successful in other Southeast Catholic communities, particularly Florida. Churches in the Sunshine State returned to pre-pandemic offertory levels or even surpassed those levels following participation in the recovery program.
The operation for this turn-key program is built on increased communication from the pastor to church members. A core effort is to remind Catholics of the parish’s mission with increased parish marketing and outreach and how it is only possible with donations.
Spotanski called parishes “families of faith, and in times of adversity families rely on one another.”
He said the program builds off what many are doing—staying in touch, caring for each other and learning to share the faith in safe ways, as community members are “being church as always but as never before, and as only followers of Jesus Christ can.”
At LaGrange’s St. Peter Church, the community wrapped up a capital campaign before the pandemic forced it to pivot to online Masses. In-person worship draws about half of regular attendance, as many are still watching online, while the offertory has not changed from last year at this time.
The pastor, Father Tim Gadziala, said these times call for the faithful “to be patient, and creative in our ideas of evangelization,” never forgetting those who are marginalized by reaching out with a phone call or a letter.
The parish’s St. Vincent de Paul ministry has gotten a record number of grants and electronic giving is up too.
“I am grateful that our communities are faithful, but also vigilant” about the decline in attendance, he said. “Communicate concerns with transparency and an open heart.”
St. Andrew Church, according to a community letter posted on its website, saw a decline of 15 percent in total offertory. However, the Roswell parish’s 2019/2020 annual report stated its members increased giving by 30 percent to its outreach ministries.
Early aid to parishes
During the early months of the pandemic, relief to some parishes’ bottom line came from the federal government and the archdiocese.
A large portion of the profit from the sale of the former Midtown Atlanta property for $28 million was targeted toward reducing archdiocesan assessments paid by parishes.
The assessment reduction kept $6 million in the hands of the parishes, Wilson said.
The federal Paycheck Protection Program aided parishes as Catholics returned to worship. Parishes and other institutions received the forgivable loans to avoid layoffs during the pandemic. According to the federal information, the program retained some 1,274 jobs at parishes and schools in the archdiocese.
More than 30 Catholic schools, institutions and parishes in the Atlanta Archdiocese received $150,000 or more from the program among 18,000 Georgia businesses or nonprofits. Other parishes and institutions may have received smaller loans but only businesses and nonprofits that received more than $150,000 were identified.
The bulk of parishes received between $150,000 and $350,000 for payroll costs, reported the federal information.
Editor’s Note: Please contact Kit Parker, executive director of the Office of Stewardship, with questions about the OSV program. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 404-920-7615.