Brian T. Olszewski, The Catholic Virginian

 

When the celebration of public Masses stopped on March 16, so, too, did the traditional Sunday collection. No congregations. No baskets to pass. No in-person contributions.

For parishes that did not have a system for online giving, the Catholic Community Foundation established offertory.richmonddiocese.org so parishioners could still contribute to their respective parishes.

According to Margaret Keightley, executive director of the CCF, when the site was launched, fewer than half of the 138 parishes offered an online giving option. Now, 98 parishes provide it.

Keightley said pastors “got outside their comfort zone” during the suspension as they learned a different way of asking people for money.

“They reminded people that the lights had to stay on and ministries needed to continue,” she said. “People have responded to supporting ministry during the shutdown.”

Noting that CCF was “100% focused” on helping pastors with the offertory, Keightley said, “Offertory is only down 5% as a whole. Some are up. Some are down more than that. This compares very favorably nationally as many dioceses are reporting 20-30% down.”

Alex Previtera, CCF’s director of development and operations, credited a “tremendous spirit of goodwill built between the diocese, CCF, the pastors and parishes” for people contributing.

‘Not a suggestion; an obligation’

According to Father Esteban “Steve” DeLeon, pastor of Star of the Sea, Virginia Beach, his parish established e-giving the week before Masses were suspended.

“We worked hard, and we were able to set it up, and it’s working very well,” he said. “People are still very generous. We have not increased significantly, but I am very happy about it.”

Most of the time, whether it was at a livestreamed Mass or on one of the other video projects he undertook, Father Nick Redmond, parochial vicar at St. Joseph, Petersburg, encouraged viewers to give.

“I remind them to give because giving is something that God has asked them to do,” he said, noting giving “is not a suggestion, but an obligation.”

“The work of the Church is essential for the salvation of souls. And if we want the salvation of souls, then the Church has to be supported,” Father Redmond said. “So I have no problem telling that to people.”

He said St. Joseph parishioners have been “very, very generous.”

“My understanding is that our numbers are holding steady, if not going up in some cases,” Father Redmond said. “A lot of people have shifted to online giving, and especially recurring giving, and that’s really helpful because it allows us to plan and to be assured of the continued financial support.”

More donors

At St. Bede, Williamsburg, development director Sam Samorian said offertory numbers “definitely went up” as a result of e-giving.

“Our number of online donors between April 1 and May 31 increased by 55%,” he said, noting that the parish, with a little more than 3,000 families, went from 25-27% giving online to 45-50%. “The good news about that is that it’s more sustainable. When folks are gone (on vacation), donations continue.”

Samorian credited the diocese for its help.

“Their feedback to the parishes was extremely valuable,” he said. “They provided us with the tools we needed.”

Sacred Heart, Danville, had online contributors before the economic impact of COVID hit, but according to Father Jonathan Goertz, pastor, “It has grown tremendously over the past weeks.”

“There’s always a bit of an odd experience when folks are in the pew and the basket goes by and you don’t put anything in it and you wonder, ‘Are people looking at me not putting anything in the basket?’” he said. “So once we had nobody in the pews and no baskets, that whole issue fell away and people eagerly signed up.”

Father Goertz said the amount contributed was higher than it was a year ago.

“We did an increased offertory campaign in the fall with the support from the diocese, and that has borne great fruit ever since then,” he said.

‘Saves our bacon’

At St. Thomas More, Lynchburg, Msgr. Michael McCarron said there was no “drop off” in offertory income, nor did the parish experience its annual “seasonal dip” in contributions.

“People were very aware that this was an essential thing,” said the pastor. “Some of the cash flow coming in was smaller, but it got made up by people who were more ardent about putting in their envelopes and checks, and then of course the e-giving is a constant. And so that’s extremely helpful.”

While e-giving has been an option at the parish for at least three years, the suspension of parish Masses had an impact on it.

“We got up to about 40% of e-giving and 60% of offertory giving. With the shutdown, we basically just said if you want what you have to continue, you’ve got to give, and e-giving is the way to do it — and it flipped,” he said. “We have about 65% e-giving and about 35% coming in from offertory and the mail. And it is a backbone. It is every single week. It saves our bacon.”