If you missed Fr. Chas’ homily during the 2nd week of Lent, read it here to learn about the Generosity Challenge using the 5-4-1 Model that has been adopted by several of the Catholic parishes here in Jackson and beyond.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day to everyone! I’ve had an eventful one so far. Around 2:30 p.m., I was at Grand River Brewery where I did a blessing of the beer, after which we sprinkled holy water on all the big vats of beer in the back. Believe it or not, there is an official beer blessing in the Roman Ritual! Leave it to the Catholics!
Anyway, this weekend, each parish of the Diocese of Lansing is hearing the message from the bishop that we played just before the beginning of Mass. Since I didn’t do a “State of the Parish” earlier this year due to the homily series on prayer that Fr. Brian and I were doing, I thought this DSA weekend would be a good time to give an update on our fiscal year 2017-18. So I apologize to any visitors to our parish that today’s homily won’t be on the readings. But reflecting on our stewardship is also fitting because we are now moving into the third of the Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic by Matthew Kelly, and if you’ve continued reading along in that book, you know that third sign of dynamic Catholic is “Generosity.” So, you’ll see in this week’s bulletin the financial overview for last fiscal year, 2017-18.
But before I dive into that, I want to emphasize how happy I am to hear from so many of you about how much you are delighting in the spiritual revitalization going on in our parish. Many of you have responded to the invitations Fr. Brian and I have continually given from the pulpit: to put out into the deep, to give yourself wholly to the Lord, and enter into an intimate relationship with him.
In doing so, many of you have found healing from past hurts, have discovered that this love that God the Father offers is real and heartfelt, and that your own capacity to love has increased. You’ve realized that the once seemingly distant God of the universe has come intimately close to us in Jesus, who gives himself to us in the sacraments. It’s here in the parish that life of Jesus is poured out for us.
Even amidst all that is going on in the Church and in the world, you’re finding your hope renewed, your spirits strengthened, and you’re loving how you’re learning more about the faith than you ever have in your life, so much so that you are now desirous of inviting the people around you into that life-changing relationship with the Lord and to have others know the joy and to receive the healing of the wounds that a broken world has inflicted upon them. You desire to share what you have received, and that is what it means to be a missionary disciple, which is what we’ve been praying for at the end of the Prayer of the Faithful each Sunday.
To hear all these things from you is a pastor’s delight. And I’m not only hearing it from you, but we’ve got visitors telling us so, wishing their parish was like ours. Just yesterday, we received a Google review from a young woman who said that St. John “sets the bar when it comes to Catholic churches. I love attending Mass here.”
So, we obviously want to keep this good thing we’ve got going, but unfortunately it takes some significant resources to do so. When you look at the fiscal year report in the bulletin, you’ll see that, last year, our parish expenditures exceeded our revenue by over $50,000. Therefore, we had to eat into our rainy day fund for that amount. A similar trend is happening this year, as we are looking at about $40,000 behind budget year-to-date. We moreover did not get the $100,000 Trinity Foundation New Evangelization grant this year. They want to see us take greater ownership of our parish, and so once they see an increase in our offertory, the grant will be reconsidered next year.
So, continuing with the status quo will further eat into our rainy day fund, which is already at a critically low level of $600,000. $400,000 of that $600,000, the Building and Grounds Committee is proposing to use by end of 2020, which is just right around the corner, in order to do some long overdue repairs identified in the Ten-Year Plan. You heard our Building and Grounds Chair, Tony Shaughnessy, a couple of weeks ago briefly address that before all the Masses. There are some extensive roof repairs and major work on the mechanical systems at St. John School that need to get done, along with a whole laundry list of repair items at all three of our campuses.
These are over and above what we are accomplishing through our Witness to Hope funds. So please continue to be faithful to your pledge payments because waiting for more of those monies to come in is what is keeping us from moving forward with some of those major Witness to Hope projects.
And the more we delay them, the more expensive the costs to do them are getting. Our bids are increasing since the little boom we are experiencing in Jackson’s economy has raised the price of construction. Everyone’s busy. Some new regulations of the city, moreover, are not helping. For example, we wanted to redo our parking lot across the street. We submitted the plans to the city, and the city is now mandating us to incorporate green areas, incorporate drainage and curbage, all of which Tony says will quadruple the original cost we outlined in Witness to Hope.
We all know that the cost of human resources is another huge part of a budget and rightly so because they are our most valuable resource, but because of our limited funding, we do not pay our employees enough both here at the church and at the school. Mrs. Blair over at the school has wonderful teachers, and we have such an incredible parish staff now, who are good stewards of the part of the budget they oversee. We do not want to lose the good people we have just because we can’t pay them enough.
In fact, a big part of why we have not hired anyone to replace Andy’s position of Director of Parish Operations is because we can’t afford it. And as I’ve said before, we won’t spend money we don’t have. Andy’s void, however, has placed an immense burden on our current staff, and it’s simply not healthy. And so, for them and for my own health, which some of you have heard is not the best, and for the sanity of your pastor, I sincerely urge you to respond to the invitation I am about to offer and explain now.
St. Mary, Star of the Sea, the parish down the street, had also run into some financial struggles. But then, Fr. Tim Nelson issued a challenge to which their parishioners readily responded, and it is making all the difference. As a result, their financial situation has improved immensely and has continued to stabilize over the last two years. Their parish membership is much smaller than ours, but even so, with their increase in offertory, they have enough to keep improving their own big church and school.
What did he do? He got up and asked everyone to participate in an experiment. He had people at Mass anonymously write down their gross household income. Don’t worry, I’m not going to do this experiment here. So he had the ushers collect everyone’s pieces of paper. He then calculated the average of everyone’s household income, which came to about $50,000.
Fr. Tim Nelson then took the average annual total contribution to the Sunday collection, which many do online these days. The average contribution came to about $1500, which was 3% of the average household income. So what he challenged everyone to do was to increase that by just 2%, and give 5% of your income to the parish and give 5% to other causes and collections like Catholic charities, the school, the DSA, etc. And they did; they responded. So I’m confident that you will too.
Tony Shaughnessy had mentioned that, throughout the generations, the people of St. John respond, as long as we let them know the need is there. So that is what we are doing. And I’ve seen your faithfulness for myself. When I first got here in 2014, you responded with getting our parish out of the debt we inherited, along with some heavenly help from Fr. Frank Murray. You responded with our Witness to Hope Capital Campaign and continue to do so.
So similar to Fr. Tim at St. Mary, Star of the Sea, we are having our own “Generosity Challenge” by embracing the “5-4-1” model of stewardship that some parishes in the region are adopting, including Queens. The 5 in “5-4-1” stands for 5% of our gross income to our Sunday offertory, which I highly encourage you to do by automatic withdrawal through online giving, which helps tremendously. The bad weather when we had those two storms when a lot of people missed Mass, for example, really hurt our collections because people forgot to send in their regular donation or didn’t make up for it the following week.
The 4 in 5-4-1 stands for 4% going to other causes and collections we have throughout the year, whether it’s for our Witness to Hope projects, the Organ Fund, Catholic Charities of Jackson County, our Catholic schools, etc. For example, after Mass today, there will be tickets to the Draw Down Dinner fundraiser for our St. John School.
And finally, the 1 in 5-4-1 stand for 1% going to our Diocesan Services Appeal, our DSA. I know this 1% is the part that we might be tempted to skimp on, given all that’s going on with the clergy abuse scandal. The thought came to my mind honestly regarding my annual contribution. But if we are tempted to do that, we’re really shooting ourselves in the foot because the money from the DSA supports the very things that are improving the situation and are the most effective responses to the situation. It supports our seminarians like Mark Martin and Tyler Arens and their formation to be good and healthy priests. It supports the corporal and spiritual works of mercy provided by our Catholic Charities agencies, who have also beefed up the number of their counselors due to the addictions that plague our area. It supports our Office of Child and Youth Protection and our Safe Environment initiative that provides the education every employee is required to have to be able to spot predatory behavior. So let’s voice our concerns to the bishop by letter, not by refusing to support these preventative measures.
So that’s the 5-4-1 model. In fact, we have summarized it for you on the “Generosity” cards that you have at the ends of your pew. So, would the folks at the ends of the pews please pass down those Generosity cards so that the people in their pews can have a copy? So you can see there: 5% to our Sunday offertory, 4% to other Catholic collections and fundraisers, and 1% to the DSA.
When you add up 5, 4, and 1, you come to the 10% tithe. By no means is 10% the limit because, for some of us, we may still have quite a bit even after our necessities are met because we have been entrusted with more resources than others. That’s a blessing, but also a responsibility. As Matthew Kelly shared a quote in his Four Signs book:
“Never measure your generosity by what you give, but rather by what you have left.” Like the rich young man, I find I have much.
So the 10% is what we set aside as our first fruits to God right off the top. First fruits is that biblical practice of giving to God not what is leftover, but the very first tenth of our produce, which is of course now measured by dollars rather than crops. Once we have set that aside as our tithe, we prayerfully discern how to be the best stewards of the blessings we have left.
And as our Bishop Boyea encourages that we do, I want you to know that I don’t exempt myself from this just because I’m the pastor. You can ask Jean Howe, our Finance Manager, I too tithe to our parish, well beyond 10% because I also consider the fact that I already have a roof over my head and food on the table. And I don’t consider my Witness to Hope pledge to be a part of that 10%. So know that I am not just preaching stewardship, but I am living it with you, so that we can keep this good thing we’ve got going. We are in it together.
Notice that we don’t have DSA envelopes in the pews as we normally do on DSA weekend. That’s because we are mailing you not only the DSA pledge envelope, but also a St. John pledge card to write down what you commit to giving for your Sunday offertory. Your pledge not only helps us in the office with our annual budget planning, but it also helps you be intentional about your giving, for your giving to truly be a spiritual practice, a spiritual sacrifice offered to the Lord.
So for now, take home one of the generosity cards, and use this week to take your level of generosity to prayer and discuss with your spouse if you’re married, and when you receive the parish pledge card and the DSA envelope in the mail, please come back with them next Sunday and place both of them in the collection basket, or you can put both pieces in the DSA envelope and send it to the parish office. Please do NOT send it to the diocese, as we need to count the DSA donation as part of meeting St. John’s goal.
Some of you may be hesitant in pledging 5% of your income to your Sunday offering. Maybe you’ve never surrendered that part of your life over to the Lord, but have just given from your surplus or your leftovers. The whole money thing is commonly the last part of us that we want to surrender to the Lord. But I encourage you not to be divided, but to trust in God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. You cannot serve both God and mammon, so do not serve two masters. Choose to serve God alone, and he will provide for you. God cannot be outdone in generosity.
And that’s not just a saying because we are willing to do what Fr. Tim Nelson did in his parish, which is to guarantee that God isn’t outdone in his generosity. So if you find yourself in a financial crisis and you need the increased amount that you gave to the parish offertory, we will give that amount back to you. We have record of each parishioner’s offerings, so you have my word that, any increase in offertory you have from your past offerings, we will return if you truly find yourself in financial need.
That has yet to happen to Fr. Tim, but what he has told me is that parishioners have come up to tell him that not only have I found myself not needing the money, but that they have been blessed with even more ever since they surrendered that part of their life to God.
So, once again, we have the call, the challenge, to put out into the deep, to give yourself wholly to the Lord, and enter into an intimate relationship of trust with him. In doing so, we can hope to hear those beautiful words of Scripture apply to us when our time comes: “Well done, good and faithful servant. Since you have been faithful over small matters, I will set you over much. Come, share your master’s joy.”