Stronger parishes, stronger Church

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cover_photo_for_conis_storyDiocese kicks off Increased Offering Program

By Connie Berry
Sun editor

When people face economic challenges they find a way to make ends meet. It follows that parishes face the same scenario during an economic downturn.

January 2011 will mark the beginning of a new diocesan undertaking, Together in Faith for the Future, an increased offering program (IOP) developed by the Cunneen Company.

Bishop Robert Cunningham met with pastors from across the diocese on Nov. 30 to discuss the program and introduce John Cunneen, president of the company.

Because each parish in the diocese is different, the bishop said his hope is that this particular program will offer the flexibility required for the diocesan churches. The Cunneen Company will manage most of aspects of the process, which will last 14 months, from January 2011 to March 2012. Pastors will choose a nine-week time period within that 14 month frame. The core elements of the IOP, such as presenting it to the parishioners, will take place within approximately three weeks, but to implement the program in its entirety takes about nine weeks. There will be a blackout period during the HOPE Appeal campaign during March, April and May so the two events do not conflict.

Basically, an IOP is a plan for intentional giving — a plan where parishioners are asked to look at what they currently give, reflect on the possibility that they might be able to give a little more and that the collective “little  more” can mean a major difference in the life of their parish.

It is not a diocesan appeal such as the HOPE Appeal, but a parish appeal that brings an increase in the weekly offering of each individual parish. Some parishes might use the extra money to pay their current operating bills and another parish might be able to increase its outreach ministries or add a youth minister.

“Since I’ve come to the Diocese of Syracuse a number of priests and parish leaders have spoken about the need to increase the revenue of the parishes in order to meet the needs of the people they serve,” Bishop Cunningham explained. “The Diocesan Council of Priests and the Diocesan Finance Council, as well as the Diocesan Pastoral Council, have all recommended an increased offering program.”

He said a number of dioceses across the country have implemented similar programs successfully.

“I have no doubt this program in the Diocese of Syracuse will be successful because of the generosity of our people,” the bishop said. “And again, the use of the money will be determined at the parish level as they continue to serve the people of the community.”

The bishop said he expects all parishes to participate, which will allow a significant discount in the cost of the program. The total cost is $6 per family in each parish but the diocese will pay 25 percent of the cost reducing the price to $4.50 per family. Each parish will contract individually with the Cunneen Company. Similar programs can cost as much as $12 or $14 per family when parishes participate individually.

The Cunneen Company has been around since 1981 when John Cunneen’s father, Frank, started the business. The elder Cunneen was director of development for the Diocese of Erie, Pa. in the 1960s and worked in other dioceses where he saw a need to increase the amount of the parish offering. John Cunneen explained that Together in Faith isn’t a capital campaign that focuses on a need such as putting on a new roof or purchasing new windows, although if that’s a parish goal, it’s perfectly fine, too.

“This is a parish program that the diocese has organized and coordinated for its parishes,” Cunneen said. “The increased offering can be used now, today. It can be used to pay increased utility bills, to help stock food pantries. The money goes to meet the current needs of the parish.”

For Father Andrew Baranski, pastor of St. Stephen’s and St. Joseph’s in Oswego, the new program is an exciting option. He plans to be one of the first pastors to start the program.

“We need an increased offering. It will help us pay the bills and maintenance on the churches,” Father Baranski said. “It will help us pay our diocesan assessments.”

Beth Lucia is the regional director of the Cunneen Company. She is based in Buffalo but covers all of Central New York for the company. She said she is already familiar with some of the pastors in the Syracuse Diocese.

“Each diocese is different, but they all need more offertory so parishes can fill their needs and the diocese over all can stay strong,” Lucia told the priests of the diocese.

John Cunneen spoke further describing Together in Faith as an IOP that is designed to fit each parish’s needs.

“Our goal is to build an individual parish offertory appeal for your individual parish at a time of your own choosing. We want you to have the conversation about giving with your parishioners the way you want to have it. Some of you may just want to move the parish from the red to the black, some might want to expand ministry, or for some it might be about bricks and mortar. Every parish is different,” he said.

The Cunneen Company states parish income increases an average of 23 percent as a result of the IOP. The timeline of the appeal includes enough time for the pastor to work with the Cunneen Company to develop his individual campaign. The pastor and lay people will explain Together in Faith for the Future and ask parishioners to consider increasing their weekly offering. If a parishioner currently gives $1 per week, the increase might be to add another dollar. If a family gives $50 each week, they may be asked to give another five or 10 dollars each week. Granted during tough economic times, any increase is a sacrifice for some families, but, according to Diocesan Director of Stewardship and Development Kit Parker, there is really never a “good” time to ask people to give.

“The conception of stewardship is that we all have an obligation to share our gifts with others and the church is a good place to share our gifts with our faith community,” Parker said. “And stewardship is not just giving money — time and talent are also very important.”

While many families across the diocese are facing economic challenges, there are families who might be able to step in and give a little added help at a time when it is needed.

Father John Finnegan is administrator of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Baldwinsville. His parish is made up of many young families and he said after the presentation that many of them are struggling. “I hope it [Together in Faith] will be met with a good response,” Father Finnegan said. “Our parishioners are strapped but it never hurts to ask. It is an ambitious program and it might depend on the parish community.”

John Cunneen said asking parishioners to support their church is best if done with honesty. “A pastor really can only get up in front of his people and tell them that he knows they are struggling but that the church is struggling as well. He might ask if those who can, give, and of those that can’t, he can only ask, ‘What can we do for you?’” he said. “I happen to think in fundraising the best case is the truth. There are people who have lost jobs but there are others who are still working and if they are doing well, we hope they’d consider doing more for those who are struggling. As church we don’t ask you to do what you can’t do, but we do ask you to do more to help others.”

For pastors who face asking parishioners to give more when they are unsure of the future of their church through linkage or merger, the conversation might be even more challenging. One positive aspect of the IOP is that the funds raised are immediately available to that parish. The realization of the success of the campaign comes as soon as the parishioners make the commitment to increase their offering.

Parishioners will have the option of giving electronically through automatic regular withdrawals from their checking or savings accounts, or through a regular payment on their credit cards. The mindset of paying a cable bill, utility bill or other payment each month can also be adopted when it comes to parish giving. If parishioners do not want to give electronically, there will still be the traditional envelope option.

For more information about Together in Faith for the Future, call the diocesan Office of Stewardship and Development at (315) 472-0203 or check the diocesan Web site, www.syrdio.org.

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