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Inviting Support for the Church is Virtuous

By Rev. Msgr. Louis A. Marucci, MAPD, MSCM, D.Min

I am blessed to be the Pastor of St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Gibbsboro, NJ.  The Parish is wonderfully diverse and has benefited from the outstanding leadership of previous Pastors who not only personally understood the concept of Stewardship but formed the congregation to recognize that living lives as Christian Stewards is a disciples response to a generous God. In the past 42 years, the Parish has had only three Pastors, one being myself, who has served the people for the past 11 years.  Each Pastor brought unique gifts that have helped form the community into a vibrant Parish with nearly 100 parish ministries.

I pride myself as a Pastor, Shepherd, and Theologian and as a scholar-practitioner.  Along my academic journey, I have earned Master’s Degrees in Theology, Philanthropy & Development, Church Management, and a Doctorate in Ministry.  Currently, I am pursuing a Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership and Change and view things systemically to broaden my own perspectives related to parish administration.

Systems thinking is an approach that increases the array of choices that are available for solving problems. The process helps one to broaden their thinking to consider challenges in new and different ways. Of course, basic principles of systems thinking make us aware that there are no perfect solutions; and that the choices we make will impact other parts of the system. Quite frankly, systems thinking allows us to make informed choices. It helps us to plan more effectively.  After all, when we fail to plan, we plan to fail.

I share this because systems thinking intervention is often done, albeit not as effective as one might hope or need. Problems that are ideal for a systems-thinking intervention have the following characteristics: The issue is important; the problem is chronic; it is not a one-time event; the problem is familiar and has a known history, and people have unsuccessfully tried to solve the problem before (2016).  For me, systems thinking changes the way I approach issues and helps me better grasp finding solutions rather than perseverating over problems. When we consider these characteristics, I venture to guess that most Pastors would agree that financial concerns related to parish management might require systems-thinking intervention. Perhaps it should begin by considering how some Bishops and Pastors look at parishioners’ relationships and ask for their money.

It is no surprise that most Pastors worry over the Pastoral concerns of their parishioners yet also agonize over the administrative matters of their Parish.  Very few Pastors are in the privileged position where money is of no concern.  Most Pastors fear having to talk about it, lest their parishioners ridicule them, and inevitably they dread soliciting their parishioners. Consequentially, they do the bare minimum to get by with an unfortunate outcome of losing financial resources that are critically needed to build the Kingdom of God.

In this regard, Bishops and Pastors need to think differently. They need to think more systemically. They need to realize that it is not about “asking for money.” Instead, it is about helping people use their treasure to fulfill their responsibilities to the Church that Jesus established and reach out in charity and justice to their neighbor in need.

Several years ago, I attended a conference hosted by the National Catholic Stewardship Council (currently known as ICSC – International Catholic Stewardship Council). During that conference, I was moved by the outstanding remarks given by Cardinal Edmund Szoka, who was the Former Resident of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See. His comments were insightful and provided a refreshing approach for Bishops and Pastors to reconsider their philosophy about money.  He said, “Very few people are self-sufficient.  Most need others to provide goods and services. The Church lives in this world, so it needs money to purchase goods and services for its ministries” (Szoka, n.d.).

The Cardinal elaborated by referring to St. Paul as a significant fund-raiser for the Church in Jerusalem.  He said that “Fund-raising is not bad, nor is it tainted – although some bishops and priests may think otherwise.  Things are not good or bad; only human acts are.  Thus, money is not bad, and asking for money is not bad when it is done in support of the mission of the Church (n.d.).  Inviting support for the Church is something virtuous, and the asking itself is virtuous.  The Temple at Jerusalem had a collection box, and Jesus did not condemn it” (n.d.).

To this end, every Bishop and Priest must recognize that they have a fundamental responsibility for acquiring the Church’s necessary resources to uphold its mission.  It is vital to the mission of the Church.  Bishops and Priests must have this personal conviction to encourage others, touch hearts, and make people’s lives better.  From this perspective, fundraising must be considered both holy and pleasing.

To be successful in fundraising, we must provide clarity related to the expressed needs and purposes for the funds.  Transparency is essential. People have the right to know, and they need to know to commit to the responsibility to building God’s Kingdom by supporting the mission of the Church.

Bishops and Priests who are afraid to speak about money or refuse to do so fail to teach their people how to give. Furthermore, they are denying the right to their parishioners to participate in building God’s mission. When this occurs, they also fail to fulfill their stewardship responsibilities.  As previously stated, “It is never about asking for money; it is always about giving people the right to build the Kingdom of God. It is up to each person to decide for themselves whether to give or not.  Failing to ask people denies them of this right and privilege.

I chuckled when the Cardinal urged Bishops and Pastors to stop giving people a reason not to give (by failing to ask). He said, “Pastors should never give people a reason not to give. Don’t make excuses because people already have enough of those.  Instead, state the importance of the cause and the reasons to give; then let God stir their hearts to engage people to make their own free choice. Never deprive the faithful of this right and privilege” (Szoka, n.d.).

References

Systems Thinking: What, Why, When, Where, and How? (2016, February 27). The Systems Thinker. https://thesystemsthinker.com/systems-thinking-what-why-when-where-and-how/

Szoka, C. E. (n.d.). The Importance of  Asking. National Catholic Stewardship Council