Monday, September 19, 2016

Dollars and Sense

My homily for this past weekend, talking about financial prudence in general and about the financial health of the parish specifically. 

I'm including my notes from the homily for those who aren't in a position to listen to it. (Caveat: these are just the notes I worked from; they are not a perfect transcription of what I said in the recording.)

Two weeks ago I preached to you about Prudence. 

If you missed it you can find it on my blog. 

Prudence is not a bad thing. 

It's the queen of the virtues

I cannot be just or loving or even courageous without prudence

Prudence is the virtue that tells me what to do *in this specific situation* 

Today Jesus talks about it by name:

For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light."

This brings up a hard truth:

That often Christians—probably because we're called to be "in the world but not of the world"—don't really keep our shop in good order. 

People think:

"I'm a good person. I pray. I go to church every Sunday. Well, most Sundays at least. That's what God wants, right?" And not worry about anything else.


"I don't really need to worry about picking up after myself or taking good care of things because surely there's someone at the parish who does those things."


"The church has a lot of money. They have to right? Look at all the buildings they have."

Or very commonly

"I'm not really a business type person. I don't really understand parish finances. Those end-of-the-year things are too complex. I'll let the pros care about that stuff."

And so we can't really be surprised when churches are run substantially less well—less prudently—than comparable businesses. 

Now let's admit: Churches and Christian people can bring this on ourselves. 

Sometimes we do imprudent things because as Christians we don't want to blunt and honest and we worry about ever looking like the bad guy. We are great at making bad business decisions because we want to be nice. 

Very real. 

Also, being a Christian institution requires Christian faith and love. So we're never going to be trying to amass a huge nest egg at the cost of helping people now (not faith) nor are we going to be cutthroat in business (not love) 

Finally, we have to admit, and church leaders have to be foremost in this, we are not always good at being transparent with the people in the pews about where we're at, what we're facing down the road, and what we need to do. 

Sometimes that's because financial stuff actually is quite complex. 

Sometimes it's because we're like "Look, I was ordained to preach the gospel. And people come to Mass to hear about Jesus, not money stuff. This isn't my job."

Sometimes it's because priests assume the more you talk about money the more likely you are to turn people off to it—or the Faith in general—because they feel browbeat. 

All of the these are at least partially true. 

But as the Roman playwright said "There is nothing that is human that is alien to me," so too I as a priest must  say "There is nothing that matters to my parish that should be below my priestly dignity to talk about."

Besides, ⅓ of the parables are about money. 

Every seventh verse in Luke deals with material possessions or the lack thereof.  

So the answer—as the children of the world already know—is not talk about financials more, it's to talk about financials with great courage and transparency. 

And here is the transparent, honest, unvarnished truth

St. Wenceslaus parish, every year is just barely making it, and many years is not making it, and is eating into what little savings it has. 

Last 3 years, income of an average of 1.14 M

But spent an average of 1.26 M

That's an average of $120,000 in the red every year. 

The only reason we still have lights on and A/C running are because we've gotten generous bequests and memorials in people's will and some other unrestricted donations. 

So thank God that Fr. Townsend for a decade has preached about the importance of leaving the church in your will. And if you haven't done that yet, prayerfully consider it. 

But you can't run a parish on people passing away. 

And besides, that's not consistent. 

In 2015 we received $111K in donations, bequests, and memorials. 

But in 2014 we only received $21K. 

A less than a 1/5 of 2015's. 

The finance council has calculated that if our current income and expenses continue as they are, we are going to be running a yearly deficit of 150-200K per year. 

If that's true, we'd be $1 million on the hole by 2021. 

You might remember that the the last time St. W had a big financial crisis was around 2004-2005. 

Do you remember what the debt was then?

It was $300K. 

Only ⅓ of where we could be in 5 years. 

I was warned on Friday that this homily might see weird to preach on Saturday night when there would be a lot of Bishop Neumann students and families here, all ready for homecoming dance. 

I didn't feel bad about it. 

If we want Catholic schools for these high schooler's kids to attend in 8-10 years, we need to take the blinders off. 

And if we want this church open in 20 years we need to be honest about what that requires. 

And here's the thing:

There's no safety net. 

The diocese doesn't currently have the funds to loan to building projects, yes, but that also means the diocese doesn't have the funds to save us if we run in the red. 

I'm trying to be 100% transparent here. 

We have to be as prudent as the children of the world. 

We know that our expenses, not unlike other businesses, have gone up about 4% a year, and will keep doing that. 

For awhile, we were matching that as our yearly tithes and fundraisers went up as we dug out of that 2005 debt. 

I have to give big credit to the Stewardship Committee and having an annual stewardship renewal. 

We grew Sunday giving at over 4% from 2005-2011. 

But from 2011 to 2016 we've only been growing Sunday giving by less than 1.5%

At this point, even getting back up to 4% won't save us. 

Because of the downward trend we would need either a big one-time bump this year of almost 200K and THEN grow at 4% the next 5 years. 

Or, more realistically, we need to grow Sunday giving and other income sources by a total of 8% for these next five years. 

To break even. 

That's not fun to say. 

But you'll dislike me more in 5 years if we're shuttering things. 

There are other hard truths, but need to be said in the interest of transparency: 

1) It would be the height of imprudence to take bids for building construction for this coming spring. 

That's something I so badly want to do, and having talked very positively about it when I got here, this is hard to admit. 

But if it were only a matter of getting that $400K that's already been pledged in in 6 months, that'd be one thing. 

I could saddle up for that task with ease. 

But my optimism was before I really understood the razor's edge we already stand on in yearly expenses.

That was before I was shown what an uptick in operational expenses more construction would cost. 

An example of this already exists in the very nice new front steps we have. They are beautiful, functional, and have an ingenious heater in them to keep ice and snow off them. But that heater also raises operational costs because we have to choose between running it sometimes, which causes the concrete to get warm then cold again (which wears on concrete) or to leave it  on all winter (which runs up the electric bill). 

To start taking construction bids we would be like the man in the parable 2 weeks ago who started the tower but couldn't afford to finish it (or in our case, do anything with it).  

You may ask what about building now? Are we not going to build?

No we need to build, but given our current bleeding we can't build this spring. 

It's like the kid asking if we're not going to Disneyland now. 

"We're going to Disneyland son, but not this summer. Your brother backed into the garage door and your sister needs braces. We want to go to Disneyland but we can't go there this summer."

In the meantime we're going to move the money from the building fund into a special savings account, separate from other savings, that can't be accessed for other things, and that can get us the highest return we can get on it in the meantime. 

Yes, nothing is growing that fast these days, but we have to not be starting something we can't finish, AND we know can't we just pocket that without a massive loss of trust. 

Two more things, for the sake of transparency, but only briefly. 

2) My excitement for building was also before I knew how much the diocesan assessments are going up this year. 

The main assessment: our tax, if you will, has to go up about $30K a year

We actually get off better than most parishes because we support 2 schools at such a high rate. 

Many parishes are at about 6.5%, we are about 3.5%

But also seminary appeal. 

The seminary has come a long way to balance their budget and keep the Sems responsible for much more than when I went through, but still every parish has a goal and what we don't collect is assessed. 

So give generously to that collection this weekend.

3) Final thing, and this deserves a homily of its own someday soon, is school tuition.  

The balance of our families' tuition and of a parish's portion of the cost of education is always tricky. But we have to ask hard questions about this and be very transparent. 

Almost certainly tuition will have to go up in some way. 

What do we do:

1) Hope 

Jesus is hope. The church has survived much worse than this. 

YOU have survived worse than this. 

2) Pray

And not just for an easy resolution. 

Not for a million dollar gift or lottery 

Pray for prudence and courage. 

Pray for your neighbors and pray for yourself. 

Commit to coming to parish mission October 15,16,17

A crisis in giving is often a crisis in faith 

"Do I trust God to be generous with me if I am generous with him?"

3) Be honest with yourself

I'm looking at my expenses, personally and I'm rectory and trying to be honest about my needs and my giving

Ask: am I doing my part?

Am I still giving what I gave when had 3 in grade school but now my kids are out of college?

Am I a young family playing keeping up with the Jones' but letting other people pull my weight?

Am I getting close to retirement and starting to get nervous and so trying to hold on to more and more? 

Do I not give because I don't know where it goes, and am I willing to change if things are made more transparent to me? 

Ask now, and in November act on it. 

4) Reevangelize  

How many people have fallen away or drifted away?

A little bit ago the finance council ran some numbers on our Sunday giving. 

There's always going to be that chunk that don't give anything, or give very minimally, or has been giving and then stopped. 

But also they found that there were about 200 families over the last 5 years whose giving dropped. 

When you look at giving dropping or stopping one naturally asks: What happened there?

Did the person feel hurt by the church?

Angered by something they heard?

Discouraged about religion in general?

A messy marriage, divorce, remarriage situation?

A personal struggle or crisis of faith? 

We don't know

But we know nationwide there are lots who don't practice, 
Don't practice like they used to,
Practice but that fervor has being snuffed out. 

That's the task of everybody. 

Christian re evangelization 

Tell them the good news that you've experienced

Get them excited again 

Promise to walk with them. 

If you're like "I can't deal with their issues" them point them to us. 

Fr. Rowan and I would so much rather meet with people who are sad, or broken, or have beefs they want to get off their chests, than to just sit crunching numbers all day. 

We'd way rather be doing spiritual direction and pastoral counseling than "spending all our lives trying to figure out how to save 3¢ on a length of pipe." (To quote George Bailey)

Do your best, because you're the natural connection to the church, but don't be afraid to refer. 

We care first and foremost about their souls, but a secondary benefit is how it helps the parish. 

Because you know who doesn't give?

People who are hurting. 

People who are in marriages that are crumbling. 

People who are angry or have lost trust. 

People who have addictions: alcohol, drugs, pornography. 

We as a parish—if we can help with those wounds—will find we also have a more robust, joyful, generous parish. 

So take courage and have hope. 

I'm not going to lose sleep over this; we have overcome worse.

It's not a matter of absolute crisis but it is a matter of digging down and finding the faith, courage, and prudence to do the right thing: As individuals, as a parish, and as a community. 

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