Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Sharing poverty.

Father Frederic from Bishop’s House was due to visit St Vincent Church later in the day. He was sent by the Bishop to discuss church funds at St Vincent, or more precisely, why the church’s contribution to the Bishop’s Fund has decreased over the past year.

Father Ignatius knew all too well why his contribution to the Bishop’s Fund had decreased. They were in the middle of a severe recession. This particular town had been hit harder than most with business closures, bankruptcies and redundancies. Most of his parishioners were poor and looking for work. The Sunday collection had been getting less and less every week.

“But try telling that to a young priest fresh from College!” thought Father Ignatius.

Father Frederic had graduated as an accountant before becoming a priest; and the Bishop knew too well how to use his talents with figures.

He sent him round to all Parishes to “help improve their finances” and to encourage them to increase their annual contributions to the Bishop’s Fund.

Early on the day that Father Frederic was due to visit, Father Ignatius got in his office and waited for the Parish Treasurer to arrive.

“Have you got the map?” the priest asked Kim, the volunteer treasurer, as she entered the room.

She nodded as she unfolded a large map of the town which she pinned on a large board the priest had acquired for the purpose.

Father Ignatius pulled out four boxes of pins from his desk drawer; some with red colored heads, some blue, some green and some yellow.

He consulted the Parish Records and placed various pins on the map. Kim sat in the armchair silently until he finished. She was about to ask a question when Father Frederic was brought in by Mrs Davenport, the housekeeper.

After the introductions and coffee had been served, Father Frederic looked at the map with all the colored pins and said, “That’s impressive Ignatius. What do these pins represent?”

“Oh well … you see …” mumbled Father Ignatius politely, “Kim and I were analyzing the breakdown of our parishioners’ propensity to consume according to income just as you came in … and from that we could deduce their ability to contribute to church funds …”

Kim raised an eyebrow, not understanding a word Father Ignatius had said.

Father Frederic nodded knowledgeably and said, “That’s very useful … we could use such a system in other Parishes. Show me how it works …”

“Ehm … well, this is a map of the whole town and surrounding countryside,” explained Father Ignatius.

“These red pins all over here represent parishioners who are either out of work, or in very poorly paid jobs … you see how they’re all in the poorer inner city areas where business closures have been particularly prevalent! Sadly, they form the majority of our parishioners, and although many of them do contribute generously to the Sunday collections and other appeals there’s a limit to how much they can donate!”

“Quite so …” said the young priest, “what about the blue pins?”

“Well … they’re middle income families. Office managers, shopkeepers, factory supervisors … that sort of thing … we have a few of those in the Parish and they contribute to the church and the local Catholic schools were they send their children. There’s a limit to how much we can ask of them since they would reduce their donations to the schools to increase ours. Can’t serve two masters you understand …”

“Indeed … yes indeed …” agreed Father Frederic.

Encouraged by his visitor’s enthusiasm Father Ignatius went on.

“Now these green pins … they represent the countryside. You’ll note there’s much fewer of them and they’re all out of town. They are Catholic farmers in the main who not only donate generously financially but also in kind. Many of them donate food and produce from their farms, which is distributed by the St Vincent Society amongst poor parishioners.”

“That’s admirable Ignatius … admirable” nodded Father Frederic.

“And as you may have guessed Father,” Father Ignatius continued, “the yellow pins represent those parishioners who are helped by the church. They are recipients of our generosity rather than contributors.

“Now … would you like to see our weekly accounts of Sunday collections, and how the money is used? Kim here has prepared all the books for you to examine.”

“No that is not necessary …” said Father Frederic, “I’m in a bit of a hurry and have to visit another Parish. This is splendid Ignatius. I’ll explain to the Bishop and he’ll be most impressed ….”

After the visiting priest had left Kim spoke for the first time.

“This map Father,” she said, “and all those pins … does every pin represent a parishioner in St Vincent?”

“Of course not …” replied Father Ignatius with a smile, “I couldn’t possibly remember every parishioner and their personal circumstances and pin them on the board just a few minutes before he arrived …

“I just put a few red pins in the poor area of town. And a few green ones in the countryside … and the others I spattered here and there …

“I’ve met these young enthusiastic priests before, eager to impress the Bishop. Just show them a map with a few colored pins and they’re most impressed at your efficiency and grasp of the situation.

“Strictly speaking, what I said is correct. We have more poor people in this Parish than those able to contribute to our funds.

“If I’d said that, Father Frederic would have asked more questions and wanted more details. But show him a few colored pins on a board and he’s as happy as a child with a new toy!

“I’m far too busy looking after my parishioners, and I prefer to help them in their difficult lives rather than squeeze a few more pennies out of them.”

Father Ignatius paused for a moment or two as he took off all the pins and returned the map to Kim.

“I wonder if our Lord had a board and pins when He helped the poor and the sick …” he asked.

10 comments:

  1. Excellent!!! I even understood it. As long as I don't have to add figures I can manage. Thanks!!! Cathy

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  2. Clever man, Father Ignatius!

    Parish contributions are always a concern. Here we have an envelope system for planned giving but not many parishioners commit to it, maybe because of uncertain financial circumstances. However, when there is a big need in the parish, like the church needs a new floor or the organ needs replacing, money mysteriously appears. Our parishioners just love our church and they join together and make sacrifices to ensure the church never goes without. There is a story about the opening of the church (150 years ago or so). The priest stood up after the first Mass and told the parishioners how much money was owing on the church. Then on the way out, all the parishioners deposited money and jewellery on a table by the door. But sending money to the Bishop for the diocese, that is another story all together. No one likes doing that!

    God bless, Victor. Thanks for the story.

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  3. Hello Cathy and Sue,

    Thanx for your comments.

    We too have envelopes in our church for weekly planned giving. We also have standing orders with the bank whereby the bank pays direct into the church's account.

    The envelopes are numbered so whoever opens them knows how much you have given, (same with standing orders). This is important because in the UK the church can then claim back from the Government any tax you have paid on your donation. So your donation of £1 would get the church an extra 28 pence or so from the Government.

    Recently, the church asked parishioners to pledge for five years to donate £100 a month to the church.

    God bless.

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  4. Oh Victor, I want him as my Pastor!!! How refreshing an approach and....wonderful to see priorities in order.
    Andie

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  5. Hi Andie,

    It's great to see you visiting here again. Thanx. Much appreciated.

    Just come over from your Blog. What a coincidence. Great minds think alike.

    God bless you.

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  6. Father Ignatius is very clever, Victor :) Great story! I'm thinking that donations are probably down in most churches right now - times are tough and costs for food, gas, and other necessities are outrageous these days. It can be a struggle for many folks to contribute what they used to. The area where I live hasn't been hit as hard as many places in the US when it comes to job losses but inflation is out of sight. These are tough economic times we live in.

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  7. Hello Mary and Elizabeth,

    Thanx for calling in on me. Much appreciated.

    Yes ... we live in difficult times. That's why I was surprised when the church asked for pledges for £100 per month for five years.

    God bless.

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  8. Great story, Victor. I'm sure it is very challenging to manage the dwindling contributions coming in to the churches these days--with the needs ever increasing. When I served handing out Thanksgiving groceries this past year, I was shocked at the number of people who came through, many of them looking like businessmen, etc.I was alarmed to see such need, but glad our church was able to help.

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  9. Yes Sarah ... the economic crisis these days seems to be hitting everyone.

    God bless.

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