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Ideas for growing stewardship with parishes

Our parishes carry out an enormous social work and help thousands of families in need, through our parish missions. Parish Caritas. For this help, means are needed, and during these months it has not been possible to make the usual collections. Here are some ideas, taken from the Code of Canon Law, to grow in co-responsibility.

Diego Zalbidea-June 3, 2020-Reading time: 10 minutes

Surely the situation of confinement and the health crisis we are experiencing will provoke, if it has not already begun, a significant economic crisis. Faced with this challenge, parishes are wondering how they are going to survive. They have been unable to collect the offerings that the faithful generously deposit in the baskets every Sunday for almost three months. Although some have opted for bizum and donations online not all parishes have these possibilities. Moreover, not all parishioners are able to make such donations. 

In order to facilitate co-responsibility, these lines suggest some ideas taken from the Code of Canon Law. Although I have tried to make them practical, there is a risk, and I say it clearly: they are thought from the academic field, from the university. They are not mine, but I have sought them out and studied them in parishes all over the world. 

At the end of each idea is an example of a parish that has implemented it. They may not be very applicable to all parishes, perhaps none at all. That is why they are written briefly so as not to at least waste time. If any of them are helpful or if anyone would like more information or assistance, I am available to try to help. 

Involvement

The supreme law of the Church is the salvation of souls. This is what canon 1752 says at the end of the Code, trying to summarize it. It is obvious and I am even ashamed to say it, because it is known and practiced: in this time of progressive recovery of normality, what really concerns us and above all occupies us is the salvation of every soul. We are excited about increasing the co-responsibility of each of the faithful, their sense of belonging to the People of God, their commitment to the mission of the Church and their proactive participation in evangelization. The consequence of all this will be that they will also want to participate in sustaining the needs of the Church. If this collaboration is not a consequence of their encounter with Jesus Christ, we can consider their time and money wasted. 

If we only ask for money, the faithful will give us what they can spare. If, on the other hand, we help them to give their lives, they will feel part of a family, of a project for the future and they will share their time, their talent and their money with the Church. They will have made their own the mission that Christ has given them. Perhaps that is also why our churches must now more than ever be open, clean, welcoming and safe. If we have social media accounts, or simply an email, it is great to respond to everything the faithful request through that medium. It goes without saying, because it is so lived and obvious, that answering the phone and returning calls is a great way to keep the Church's mission active 24 hours a day. 

Practical proposalAt this time there are people who cannot immediately rejoin the life of the parish in person, because they belong to groups at risk. A good way to show our closeness to them is to pray for them expressly in the celebrations and to find a way to make them feel our affection together with our care for their health. They are the most fragile part of our community and the ones who support us now with their dedication to others. Accompanying them with letters, messages, calls and making them feel close to us is the best sign that our priority is the salvation of souls, of those so needy at this time. For example: parishesarria.net/parish-big-family-parish/

Needs: talent, time...

Let us now speak of the right and duty to support the needs of the Church. The Code of Canon Law encourages the faithful to support the mission of the Church. It does so with such a universal and global vision that canon 222 § 1 is an entire catechesis on the identity of Christ's disciples. "The faithful have the duty to help the Church in her needs, so that she may have what is necessary for divine worship, the works of the apostolate and charity, and the suitable support of the ministers."

This canon has often been misinterpreted. It has suffered three simplistic reductions: a) this participation in the support has been considered only as a duty, forgetting that it is included in the part of the Code that gathers the fundamental rights of the faithful; b) it has been interpreted as directed only to the laity, when the canon expressly says that the support corresponds to each and every one of the faithful; and c) finally, this participation has been interpreted as referring to economic support when the canon does not speak at all of economic needs. 

What the Church needs most now is the talent and time of its members, living stones, to build the Kingdom of God. If the faithful only collaborate economically, they will do so from a distance, without "attachment". It will be an external contribution, not the support of something of our own. That is why it is very important that our request for the collaboration of the faithful be centered on their talent and their time. If their involvement is genuine, they will realize that the Church also appreciates their money, but only when they can no longer give any more talent or time. 

Mechanism of generosity

Therefore, at this moment it is useful to keep in mind that this right of the faithful is not limited to the moment of need we are living in now, but that they will always be able to exercise it. The mission of the Church also belongs to them, and when it comes to asking for their collaboration, we cannot place them outside this perspective. If we ask out of necessity, because we are in dire straits, it is very easy for us to do so in a way that does not help the faithful to understand the nature of their contribution. It is normal that in such a situation we ask urgently. Unintentionally, we can demand that the faithful collaborate to support a necessary expense. 

We may also focus our message on money. We may also try to show how dramatic the situation is. Paradoxically, these attitudes could provoke the opposite reaction to the one we are trying to achieve. Generosity has a very different mechanism. In the face of obligation, it contracts. In the face of sad faces it withdraws. In the face of demands, it withdraws. In the face of an exclusively economic demand, it gives what is left over. 

Practical proposalWrite a letter to the faithful showing them the moment of grace the Church is facing in these circumstances and how valuable their talents are now for the new stage: for example, their prayers for those who are ill or have died. Asking them only for money can give them an unfocused idea of their participation in the mission of the Church. 

For example: parroquiamaravillas.es/index.php/quiero-ayudar; parroquiacarballo.com/banco-de-tiempo-libre

Transparency and accountability

But let's continue with the argument. If the Church recognizes that the goods are not hers, then she understands and admits that she must be accountable to the faithful for the help she receives from them. It understands this as part of its mission. It does so as an act of gratitude and correspondence for the generosity shown by the faithful. In short, he tries not to interrupt the dynamic of the gift. The Latin term for accountability used in canon 1287 § 2 is reddere rationes. Reddere means to give back, that is, to give back. 

A virtuous circle is thus formed in which the faithful gain in trust with the Church and offer her their gifts (time, talent and money). They are convinced that no one will make such a delicate and diligent use of their own life, given and placed at the service of Christ. That is why transparency is also evangelization, it is showing the mission so that many more can be enthusiastic about carrying it out. In these months we will have faced many expenses with the resources provided by the faithful and it will be good for them to know how their offerings were used. Thus they will understand that now the Church needs to continue working for the salvation of souls. 

Practical proposalFind a parishioner to be in charge of the website, so that it reflects everything the parish does and how it uses the money it receives from the faithful. If the budget allows it, it would be easier to hire a website manager. For example:parroquiasantamaria.net/wp-content/uploads/

You can consult here for examples of transparency of the Episcopal Conference: conferenciaepiscopal.es/financing-the-church

Working with a budget

Canon 1284 § 3 strongly recommends the preparation of a budget for the material needs of the Church. The Latin word used in the original version of the Code is "provisions". A provision is to anticipate a need. The dictionary says that to provide is to prepare something, to gather what is necessary for an end. The Church is always thinking about its mission and how to make the Good News of the Risen Jesus Christ reach every corner. 

In order to count on the collaboration of the faithful in this exciting mission, it is very opportune to involve the faithful in this provision. But this leads us to ask for their help in advance, planning the expenses. We do not ask for "pay debts", but to face investments, projects. It is much easier to get involved in a new project than to avoid the ruin of another one. If what we need are resources for conservation, it would be good to be able to explain it as growth. Mere administration does not generate enthusiasm if we do not see the impact on the mission that this collaboration generates. 

Practical proposalTo present next year's budget before approving it so that the faithful can make suggestions and explain well where the resources come from to face these new projects. For example: parroquiaclaret.org/2020/02/06/rendición-de-cuentas-2019-y-presupuesto-2020

The initiative and will of the faithful

The will of the donor is the fundamental norm for the use of his offerings. Canon 1267 § 3 establishes one of the principal laws that the Church lives by with respect to her goods and resources. This norm is significant and permeates all canonical regulation on the administration of goods. The initiative of the faithful and donors is crucial. And the activity of the Church must be guided by this will because it interprets, in some way, that therein lies the divine Will. 

These offerings are the fruit of the gratitude of the faithful for the gifts received from God, the source of all good. It is for this reason that the Church respects this will with very strict measures and norms. 

Practical proposal: Keep a detailed record of all donations and their conditions to account for how that will has been fulfilled. Of course, this is already done with Mass stipends. For example: sanbartolomeysanesteban.org/parish-life/liturgy-and-sacraments/eucharist/mass-intensions

Advice from the laity 

The opinion of the laity in matters where they are truly experts. Canon 212 § 3 recognizes that they have this right and that at times it can become a duty. In economic and complex matters, this advice is very useful and necessary and will save us a lot of headaches. This requires a change of mentality.   

This was stated by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in a meeting with the diocese of Rome to discuss stewardship: "At the same time, it is necessary to improve pastoral plans so that, while respecting the vocations and roles of consecrated persons and the laity, the co-responsibility of all the members of the People of God is gradually promoted. This requires a change of mentality, especially with regard to the laity, from considering them as "collaborators" of the clergy to recognizing them as truly 'co-responsible' for the being and action of the Church, favoring the consolidation of a mature and committed laity".

Practical proposal: Whenever a member makes a suggestion, take it seriously, write it down and think about it. If we are not going to follow the idea, it pays to explain why and thank them very much for the initiative. That way they will come back to make suggestions because they see that we appreciate them. For example: parroquialasfuentes.com/?page_idªªªª=320

Facilitating the right to support the Church

Not to refuse the oblations of the faithful without just cause. Canon 1267 § 2 requires the permission of the Ordinary in cases where it is deemed necessary to refuse an offering of the faithful. Here lies another general principle of canon law. The Church is not empowered, unless a just cause recommends it, to hinder the mission of the faithful. This norm goes to the very heart of canon law's conception of generosity. 

It is so much a part of the essence of being a disciple to collaborate financially that one cannot refuse such help unless there is another greater good at stake. We cannot stand in the way of the gratitude of the faithful. We cannot put up roadblocks to the growth of the Church's mission. We cannot build walls in the face of the uncontrollable creativity of the Spirit.  

Practical proposal: Facilitate the exercise by the faithful of their right to the support of the Church by means of the necessary technical and telematic means.bizum, transfer, NFC (wireless technology Near Field Communication (near field communication), mobile, platforms, paypal, Point of Sale Terminals (POS), etc. -. It is possible that coins will gradually disappear for hygienic and practical reasons. For example: smcana.es/donations/

An increasingly widespread initiative is the electronic lecterns, piggy banks and lamp boxes that many Spanish parishes have installed at the entrance to their churches, allowing parishioners to make instant donations on their cards and cell phones. As the churches have normalized their activity, there is a great wave of solidarity, and "the average amount has risen by more than 35 percent, and is expected to be higher now that donations can be made on our devices up to 45 euros, without having to enter the card pin"Santiago Portas, director of Religious Institutions at Banco Sabadell, explains.

The sacraments are free of charge

No one can doubt the great truth of the gratuitousness of the sacraments. The Code is categorical in this regard. Canon 947 establishes that "in the matter of Mass offerings, avoid even the smallest appearance of negotiation or commerce".. This is how the sacraments have always been administered in the Church. 

On the other hand, canon law foresees the possibility of encouraging the faithful to make a voluntary and spontaneous offering on the occasion of the reception of certain sacraments. The bishops usually indicate the possible amount of such an offering, but this does not change its status. In fact, the Code is very rigorous in not allowing anyone to remain without sacraments for not offering this voluntary gift. 

Perhaps we can do even better catechesis on this point. Many pastors know that the most voluminous offerings come from those moments when the faithful have truly understood what it is all about. Sometimes we may be asked how much a Mass is worth, but we must not fail to help the faithful understand the nature of these offerings. In this way, the Church will never resemble a supermarket. Again, it is well established empirically that obligation discourages generosity. Exigency poisons the seeds of gratitude which is what truly sustains the Church. 

Practical proposal: Never answer the question of how much a Mass, funeral or wedding costs without explaining that its value cannot be paid. Have some material to explain the meaning of these offerings. Perhaps a simple pamphlet detailing the support of the clergy would suffice.

Economic Affairs Council

The owner of ecclesiastical goods is the juridical person. It is very striking that no natural person is the owner of ecclesiastical goods. According to canon 1257 these goods belong to public juridical persons. Usually a juridical person is formed by a group of faithful who carry out their activity in the name of the Church. The mission does not belong exclusively to anyone. We cannot develop it alone and in isolation. Communion serves to express with great depth the mystery of the Church and is also manifested in the fact that it belongs equally to all. 

Each one fulfills his function, but all are necessary, from the Pope down to the last of the faithful (cf. canon 208). 

Therefore, no one can appropriate the goods, nor the mission, nor the decisions about them. Canon law establishes a series of controls and aids so that the pastor can carry out this function with professionalism. In particular, he must have a Parish Council for Financial Affairs. 

Practical proposalTo publish on the web the decisions of the Economic Affairs Council, as well as the names of its members and the dates on which it meets.

For example: parishvalle.wixsite.com/parish-parish-council-of-econo-affairs site

Thanking the faithful for their generosity

This is the last point, but perhaps the most important and the one that sums up all of them. If we want the faithful to respond to God's call, to be generous, to correspond to his infinite gifts, there is nothing better than helping them to be grateful. One way to do this is to be very grateful ourselves. We cannot take for granted the offerings of the faithful, even the most insignificant ones. 

Appreciation is the right way to build donor loyalty and, above all, it is a matter of justice for the irreplaceable contribution they make. Appreciation multiplies the gifts exponentially. 

Practical proposalWrite a letter periodically to the faithful thanking them for their offerings and keep a record of the most significant donations, not only from a quantitative point of view, to thank them personally. 

Throughout the year it would be good to have more thank you letters (and homilies) than those requesting your collaboration of time, talent and money. For example: sanmanuelgonzalez.archimadrid.es/charta-del-parroco-con-motivo-de-la-bendicion-de-obras.

The authorDiego Zalbidea

Professor of Canon Property Law, University of Navarra, Spain

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