BY JOHN HORGAN
IN the past two years over 120 of the 2,500-odd parishes in England, Scotland and Wales have called in one or other of several fund-raising bodies to help them coordinate their efforts to increased parish income to meet demands for church, school, parish hall and other financial commitments.
In many cases, the campaigns have been a great suc
cess. In some, they have, com paratively speaking, failed. And in general there is still a great deal of ignorance and misunderstanding about their aims, their methods and their results.
A survey of about a score of parishes where the cam
paign has been in operation reveals that they succeed best where the parish priest personally controls them and adapts them to local needs.
The average Catholic in this country puts less than the price of a packet of cigarettes into the collection plate. And this, under normal conditions, is not enough to provide for the running of a parish as well as for the burden of the many Catholic building projects, which, in the long run, are subsidised by the contributions of individual Catholics.
Remedying this problem is not simply a matter of applying a professional remedy to a material problem. It goes deeper and brings to people's minds their true obligations. This, however, can cause misunderstanding, and, as experience has shown in several of the parishes surveyed, if attempted by the inexperienced it can do harm.
Employing professional help means bringing in experts who assist in the organising of a parish committee and in the training of individual parishioners to help the priest in this side of his work.
As some of these experts came in the first place from the New World, several of their techniques were found to he unsuiled to Britain and resented, but enormous modifications have been made, The fact remains that a campaign of this sort results in the people contributing more than they did previously—sometimes twice and three times as much— but not more than they can afford, " In the end," as one parish priest said, " they grow accustomed to the idea," and the majority like it.
To examine the effect of such a campaign at work I visited a parish where two years ago a campaign was started. There are 1,000 Catholics, of mixed occupations. In this parish the parish priest told me! 1. Before the scheme started, we were saving less than £300 a year for the Building Fund. Now we are saving £5,000.
2. It meant more, not less work for the priest and his parishioners, and he did not find himself with more time for purely spiritual work. But there has been proportionately greater results for
greater work, and the parishioners themselves have done a tremendous amount.
3. Among the duties of the parish priest at the beginning of the campaign was that of taking round the campaign director for many hours each evening to call on a cross-section of the parishioners.
To have let him operate with nothing but a card index of addresses would have been fatal.
4. The scheme itself had to be adapted to local conditions.
S. Fetes and other moneyraising activities have not been abandoned, since the facing of a big debt requires all that can be raised. Moreover, the parishioners enjoy the social activities involved.
6. The organisers' fee (£1,000 in this case) was based on the number of parishioners and would vary in different parishes. There are also expenses involved in the eampaign itself. including a oonsiderable stationery bill and a great parish "get-together" which usually takes the form of a supper. The organisers assert that this money is recovered in about six months and this is normally SO.
The method as worked out in this particular parish was as follows: 1. A professional organiser with a secretary spent eight weeks in the parish to get to know the people and select volunteers for the work involved. A series of meetings was held in which every aspect of the campaign was fully explained.
2. Various temporary committees were formed to organise a social evening to which every parishioner was personally invited. 3. About 400 parishioners attended this function at which the needs of the parish were gone into and their co-operation invited.
4. Subsequently every Catholic home was visited and each family asked to discuss among themselves a regular contribution to the church.
In no case was any particular sum suggested to them. Then, if they were agreeable to the idea, people were asked to sign a card, signifying their willingness to continue this contribution for a period of three years. This VHS to enable the parish priest to assess the parish income with some degree of certainty.
It was emphasised that this involved no moral obligation, and that the promise could be changed if circumstances required it.
5. Collections were taken up every Sunday in envelopes issued to parishioners.
6. There was a minority who preferred not to enter the scheme, hut the response from the parish as a whole was very good. As one person put it: " I put aside my H.P. instalments for each week, why not for the church? "
7. In return for this, appeals for money from the pulpit have ended, as have second collections, and collections on all other days but Sundays. Each parishioner receives from the parish priest every quarter a personal letter enclosing a monthly balance sheet
showing the amounts raised and how they are being spent.
I Apart from the fact that the financial situation has improved, the campaign has had many other beneficial effects. It has unified the parish, brought people together, and sonic !aimed have returned to their duties.
"The core of the matter is deeply spiritual," said the parish priest, " In fact, several parishioners compared it to a mission.
" The meaning of the Mass is gone into and the place of the Offertory in the Mass; the meaning and place in life of one's church: the meaning of the priesthood and its relationship to the Catholic family; the mutual obligations of priest and people, and the Church's social teaching on the value of earnings and their right disposal."
It has been suggested that in many cases the parish itself or a voluntary organisation could do the same thing without outside help. In most cases, however, all sorts of schemes have been tried within the parish itself to raise the parish income before the idea of employing professional help is considered.
" Do-it-yourself " kits are obtainable, with complete Instrecdons, and although in some parishes a measure of success has been achieved using these Methods, It Is not certain that any parish priest or voluntary helper has the time to organise a full-scale campaign that will have lasting results.
"These men are experienced and painstaking," said the parish priest, " they work eight hours a day. They have special training and an ability for selecting personnel, and a large amount of latent talent was discovered during the campaign.
" Moreover,'' he added, " a stranger can often say things at a parish meeting that would be embarrassing from anyone else,"
Once the work these people do is finished a permanent committee is set up under the parish priest to help keep things " ticking over". In practice, little further is heard from the firm once the campaign has been launched,
Parish priests all over the country, asked to comment on the working of similar schemes in their parishes, expressed general approval.
Sample reactions Were
WHITTON (Middlesex): " As far as I'm concerned, it's working very well."
PIMLICO: " It's a great success."
GUNNERSBURY: " Half way through I thought everyone was against it—they all said it was 'commercial' — hut this died down.
"Some people did not want to sign the Offertory promise, but did NO eventually. All this has happened as the campaign director forecasted, We have doubled, and more than doubled, oar offertories in the first two envelope collections."
"I'm very satisfied. Collections have risen from £79 per week to about £250. Some people didn't like it at first. I told them that it was a free country and, if they didn't like it, they needn't join it.".
WFSTBUR Y-ON-TRYM (Bristol): "Offertory collections are three times higher than they used to be. 1 am very satisfied. Sonic of the parishioners are better pleased than others."
PADIHAM (Lancashire): " It's running very smoothly. Our weekly target of £60 has been exceeded— some people give even more than they have promised. There was a little opposition at first, but after it had got under way most of the people said that they would rather have this than anything else."
ROCHDALE (St, Petrick's): " The parish priest is very pleased with it and we arc doing very well in spite of depopulation caused by slum clearance."
PAISLEY: "It's working. Offertory collections are up."
EAST HAM (St. Michael's); Fr. Denis Petry, who has operated an " envelope " offertory scheme of his own for the last two years, says that the parish income has " considerably improved "! "Our debt is now being paid off at the rate of £200 a month," he stated. The fees charged by professional firms he thought were " very high ".
Generally, the scheme and its measure of success is felt by the parish priests concerned to be a domestic matter between priest and people.
The organisets feel that what is involved above all is an education. Mr. John McPhail. Scots-Canadian director of one of the firms who do this sort of work, holds that many Catholics do not understand what the Offertory collection means.
"They see it as a sort of subscription," he said. "not as the thank-offering it should be. The giving of money is as important as the giving of prayer."
He believes that there is about £150,000 a week In England and Wales which could and should be given to the Church. " Unless something is done about it," he says, " it will never be given."
A campaign of this kind has as two of its main objects " the promotion of parish unity and understanding".
No " advertising techniques" were used during his campaigns, and the question of the fees charged, he said, was " irrelevant ". "The relevant thing is," he added, " that the parish priests are satisfied that we do what we say we will do, and that they get a good professional service for their money."
There were no trade secrets. Anyone attending one of these campaigns, said Mr. McPhail, would be in possession of all the necessary information to start one of his own. If he were able to do so, there would be nothing to stop him. Parishes by themselves could probably not work the scheme, he thought. " As far as I am concerned," he stated, "we are in business only until mob time as the Church can do this alone. When this happens, we will he out of a job."