Opinion

IFRC from a pastor's viewpoint

byMsgr. Francis H. Kelley
8/19/2011

In the fall of 2008 Cardinal Sen O'Malley asked a group of pastors, lay men and women and Pastoral Center officials to propose a new model of the financial relationship between parishes and the archdiocese. This committee became known as the IFRC (Improved Financial Relationship Committee), an unwieldy title if ever there was one! Nonetheless, the committee set its sights on a major conflict point in the archdiocese: the finances of parishes and the archdiocese. Each parish has complained about how the Pastoral Center has not served parish needs. And the Pastoral Center offices have complained often about how the parishes are not managing their financial resources.

The IFRC began with some new approaches to the old arguments. First, the chancellor, Mr. James McDonough, said that the Pastoral Center serves parishes and schools that are doing the mission of the Church. Secondly, Mr. Steve Barrett brought to our task a set of management skills. He taught us how to break down seemingly insurmountable points of conflict into solvable pieces. Thirdly, the members of the IFRC gave a good deal of their time to find equitable, efficient, transparent, and robust approaches to these complex issues.

By July of 2010 the first 33 parishes of the archdiocese began to implement an improved financial relationship model between the individual parish and the archdiocese. As of this date, July 2011, the second group of 45 parishes are beginning to implement these changes in how a parish manages itself. We cannot say that the conflict points have all disappeared, but Pastoral Center and parishes are learning new ways to work together.

As a pastor, I have found that the IFRC offers our parish an opportunity to get a real handle on our expenses; to work with the archdiocese to manage insurances, benefits, personnel, and audits; to fund raise; and to increase our offertory. That sounds like a tall order, but I have found that these management skills, the fund raising program, and the consistent support from the Pastoral Center's financial personnel yield these results. One surprising point to me was that good stewardship of a parish's resources does not depend upon having a lot of money. When we look at the financial situation of the 290 parishes of the archdiocese, there is a very clear breakdown. We look like this: one third of the parishes cannot meet their expenses, one third of the parishes are on the edge, and one third of the parishes have a surplus. Now the surprising fact about this 'one-third' break down is that things like location or wealth or poverty of a parish has little to do with whether a parish is broke, just making it, or well off. More often the issue is that of management, or ''stewardship'' of resources, in order to serve a mission.

I have learned a number of lessons at this IFRC table. First, financial management or "stewardship" has to be joined to the parish's mission. Often a pastor speaks of the mission because he is uncomfortable with asking for or speaking about money. But I find business people talk of mission and management in the same breath. The business personnel easily combine mission and management together. As a pastor I need to acquire this skill. The pastor and the people must discuss and plan what they want to do for the mission and at same time discuss how they can accomplish the management or stewardship of the parish community.

A second lesson is that some parish members buy into the "mission" of a parish, while other parish members buy into a mission when they feel they have an "ownership" of the parish. Ownership comes not simply from belief in a "mission" but also from being asked to contribute time, talent, and treasure to the management or stewardship. Ownership in a parish community gives parish members a stake in their own faith formation. For example, my mission as a pastor in Sacred Heart Church in Roslindale is to form a people of God, to build up a Church. We do this through worship, education, witness and service. One pastor cannot form a people of God. This calls for many people. The demands of fund raising -- increased giving in the offertory and capital fund raising -- draw people into the mission. Ask anyone who has been involved in a capital campaign in a parish or a school or a charity: raising money changes how members see their organization. Members of our finance council responded to the IFRC proposals by a general consensus that the archdiocese is listening to the concerns of the parish. As well, the parish council sees this as a positive step forward for our parish's mission and its stewardship.

A third lesson we are learning is that "a rising tide floats all boats." This is a hard lesson to learn. If a parish increases its offertory income, then the archdiocese benefits as well. And if the archdiocese is financially sound, then the parishes will benefit. The parish is asked to undertake an "increased giving" program as part of the IFRC program. Increased giving asks the parish members to make an increase of 20 percent to 50 percent in their offertory, (if a parish member is giving $10 a week, he/she is asked to increase to $12 a week). This attention to regular fund raising develops more parish involvement in the community. Catholic laity wants to be asked, but they want to be asked for more than their money. In the first year we have seen parishes increase their offertory capacity and meet its obligations to the archdiocese. In Sacred Heart we have seen our offertory increase by 20 percent over last year. At the same time we have been able to meet our obligation to the archdiocese.

The difficulty with "a rising tide floating all boats" approach is that this takes time. And when an organization is struggling for income -- be it a parish or an archdiocese -- patience is not in great supply. It will take time for all of the parishes to come on board with this program. In addition, the archdiocesan fund raising efforts are not aimed at increasing parish revenue alone. They are looking for larger gifts, capitol campaigns, and large donors. It is difficult for a large body such as the archdiocese to work with 290 small parishes. This is where mission and management part ways. We want to participate in the mission "to form me a People, to build up a Church," but size and time give us very different viewpoints.

These first steps of the IFRC have shown the way for parishes to take control of their management and still be responsible to the mission. As well, I think the archdiocese is learning new ways to support the Church's mission in its local parish settings. We have not reached a solution to all of the financial issues, but we are in a better place than four years ago. This work gives us hope for the future.

Msgr. Francis H. Kelley is pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Roslindale.