Without offertory, parishes rely heavily on online, mailed-in gifts to fund ministry

Across the Archdiocese of Detroit, parishes have continued to minister through livestreams, phone calls and service outreach, even as collections have slowed by as much as 50 percent. With online giving needed more than ever, the archdiocese has developed a webpage, give.aod.org, to help Catholics support their parishes in a time of need. (Naomi Vrazo | Detroit Catholic)

Archdiocese launches webpage, give.aod.org, to help Catholics financially support their parishes during COVID-19 crisis

DETROIT — As the coronavirus pandemic suspends public Masses for the third straight week — and with little end in sight — parish collections across the Archdiocese of Detroit are taking a significant hit.

“It can have a dramatic impact on our budget and our operating income when something like this happens. Right now, it’s about a 50 percent drop,” George Eichorn, business manager at SS. John and Paul Parish in Washington Township, told Detroit Catholic.

With no weekly offertory, the primary source of income for most parishes, meeting bottom-line expenses such as electric bills, staffing and ministry costs has become an immediate challenge.

As a result, parishes are now looking to online giving and mailed-in donations as a lifeline.

Eichorn said online giving at SS. John and Paul Parish has traditionally accounted for just 15 to 20 percent of the weekly offertory — which means the parish has a significant shortfall if parishioners used to donating at Mass don’t give via other means.

As many as two-thirds of parishes in the Archdiocese of Detroit offer some form of online giving, but collections at Mass still account for the vast majority of most parishes’ budgets, in some cases as high as 80 percent.

“We’ve seen a slight increase in online giving,” Eichorn said. “Not a dramatic increase, but we are encouraging our faithful to at least try it out. Fr. Festus (Ejimadu) has done a good job informing our parishioners how to do it.”

As many as two-thirds of parishes in the Archdiocese of Detroit already offer some form of online giving, said Jim Thomas, director of mission advancement for the archdiocese. In addition, the archdiocese has created an easy-to-use webpage, give.aod.org, that allows gifts to any parish, or for gifts directly to the Archdiocese of Detroit. 

“The work of the Church, the work of evangelization and outreach to me is the No. 1 priority,” Thomas said. “If a parishioner wants to make a gift, we want to make it very easy for them to do so. People are responding in a meaningful way, and we’re blessed and hope they will continue to do that.”

Thomas said the archdiocese is working to understand the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on each parish’s budget, “so we can address the issues in a calm, measured and reasonable way.”

Ministry shines, even as collections slow

While the shutdown has created budgetary and ministerial challenges, it also is bringing out the best of pastors and parish staffs as they find creative ways serve those who depend on them, Thomas said.

Many parishes have kept their churches open for private prayer during the coronavirus crisis, and bills such as heating, power and payroll must still be met, despite the decreased income. 

“I had one pastor tell me that this is why he was ordained. He said, ‘I’m connecting one at a time with people and having powerful conversations. I feel like I’m really doing God’s work,’” Thomas said. “I’ve had donors tell me they’re praying more. They’re focused on how they can help those who need it most, especially their parish.”

“There’s a lot of grace that’s becoming easy to see,” Thomas added.

Fr. Joseph Gembala, pastor of St. Malachy Parish in Sterling Heights, said his parish’s weekly income has also fallen by 50 percent since Masses were suspended.

St. Malachy already had a robust technology strategy even before the coronavirus hit, which has enabled the parish to continue ministering through a variety of livestreams, online videos and direct messages to the faithful, Fr. Gembala said.

St. Malachy switched its online giving platform last fall, and since then has received about 30 percent of its weekly income through online donations. Since the coronavirus crisis began, that number has jumped by about 20 percent, Fr. Gembala said.

“Online giving is carrying us through. Just in these past few days, Ken, my business manager, is giving me reports that more and more people are signing up,” Fr. Gembala said. “Our ability to connect with people through streaming, and then to connect through online giving, has kept us together even though physically we’re apart.”

Fr. Joseph Gembala, pastor of St. Malachy Parish in Sterling Heights, greets parishioners after Mass in this 2019 file photo. Fr. Gembala said his parish has a robust technology plan to continue to minister during the crisis. (Matthew Rich | Special to Detroit Catholic)

Eichorn said SS. John and Paul also is offering video services and mailings to keep parishioners engaged, but added the parish has had to make cuts to meet its bills as offertory income has slowed. 

“There are some fixed costs you can try to bring down a little bit (during the crisis), but some are going to be the same each month,” Eichorn said. “That being said, we’re optimistic people will continue to give sacrificially, and that if possible in their situation, to maybe make up for some of the weeks that they missed because of the virus.”

Adapting to a new generation

Fr. Gembala said he came to the conclusion years ago — at the urging of millennial volunteers in the parish — that St. Malachy needed to adapt its evangelization tactics.

“Our young people were crystal clear when they said, ‘Fr. Joe, the people who are 40 and younger, you have to reach them where they are. And where they are is on their phones,’” Fr. Gembala said. “I always say, ‘St. Paul went to Corinth; Corinth didn’t come to St. Paul.’”

At. St. Malachy, Fr. Gembala said parishioners have been tuning in to the parish’s weekly livestreams and other events, and the plan is to continue to broadcast liturgies and devotions — including those during Holy Week — for the foreseeable future. He encouraged parishes to “look seriously” at creating a technology plan even after the COVID-19 crisis ends.

As much as they are able, parishioners are asked to continue to support their parishes during the COVID-19 crisis, whether via online giving through give.aod.org or offertory envelopes mailed to the parish.

Still, “at the end of the day, all the technology is just the means,” Fr. Gembala said. “Behind that has to be a genuine sincerity that you want people to encounter the Lord.”

Even as the crisis continues, Fr. Gembala said he plans to reach out to sick parishioners with phone calls, texts and emails, and the parish’s Marian shrine has been a frequent place of refuge.

Thomas, the archdiocese’s mission advancement director, said the coronavirus crisis is creating a keen awareness of how critical consistent giving is to the life of the Church.

“In some respects, maybe in the past we’ve taken it for granted. Now, it’s an opportunity for us to really be grateful for what these offertory gifts make possible,” Thomas said. “We’re seeing evangelization taking place in really creative ways, and it’s funding the operations of the home base, the parish, that makes that possible.”

How to give

To give a gift directly to support your parish, or to donate to the Archdiocese of Detroit, visit give.aod.org or check with your parish for online giving options. Mailed-in donations are also encouraged.