Back in the day when I was a parishioner at a small country parish in Northern Virginia, once a year the chairperson of the parish council would speak during the Masses about parish finances. There were several handouts about assets, cash flow, expenses and revenues. All true and necessary things. Even though a parish is meant to be a center of worship, ministry, faith, and life – there are still budgets to make, bills to pay and plans to make.
I remember the person next to me sighing deeply, fidgeting, and finally leaning over to wonder why we were doing all this. The question carried all the smaller wonderings: why are we doing this at all, why are we doing this during Mass, and why are there so many numbers? The last question was the easiest: it’s financial reporting and there are always numbers. That’s just the way it is.
Why do parishes report annually to its parishioners on the state of the parish? Lots of reasons: (a) its your parish, (b) you have a stewardship role as regards to the financial aspects to ensure the parish resources are being well spent, and (c) it’s required by diocesan policy. That is why we report to you. How we report is a different matter.
Back in the small country parish they chose to speak during Mass. It is very hard to be sitting there with handouts, lots of numbers being bantered about, and odd accounting terms being explained. It was the 1980s, email was not “a thing,” we were out in the country, and Mass was the only time the community easily and readily came together. And so, during Mass seemed like an opportune time.
It is 30 years later and the “how” of reporting is still a challenge. Over my time as pastor we have tried several different ways. One year I stood before the people just before the final blessings and knew what that small country parish finance chairperson felt. People fidgeted in the pews, bulletins came out for another read, watches were checked, and people in the back pews began to escape. At least they got good seats at First Watch. Last time I did that.
We have made single sheet copies of the financial statements and notes and made them available in the church. We have prepared a “State of the Parish” report and included it in the bulletin. Over the years we have tried all manner of things. What is interesting to me is that in the last 9 years we have only gotten one question on the report. Last year with the “State of the Parish” report we thought we would get questions and feedback. Nada.
While it is not the most dynamic of topics… ok, it is perhaps the least interesting of things to talk about at church…it is still a good thing, a necessary thing to do. Maybe y’all just trust us to be good stewards of your contributions. If so, thank you…but as they say, trust but verify. You might ask, “does someone do an audit?” Not in the way of audits where a public accounting firm comes in and takes a deep dive into the “books.” The diocese sends accountants each year for an on-going procedures review. This year they looked at a year’s worth of accounts payable, vendor W-9s, and monthly reconciliations. On an ongoing basis the parish Finance Council reviews the reports and details of parish finances on a quarterly basis, reviews the budgets, and certifies to the diocese that we are in compliance and prudently operating.
In addition, we make the details available to you. We have the last three years of reports (July to June fiscal year) online at https://sacredheartfla.org/financial/. We will send out a parish-wide email to let people know they can take a look (and a link will be embedded in the email). It will be interesting to see how many visitors “click” to go to the page. Of course, you might be thinking, “Hey padre, just give me the big picture.” Here’s what I can say:
- The parishioners of this parish are wonderfully generous contributing to Offertory, the True North vision, and other-directed giving. Thank you.
- The church is beautiful and some years it takes a lot of resources to keep it that way. Between the church and the North Campus, this past year was a record high for on-going maintenance expenses. How many priests does it take to change a lightbulb? Take a look at where our lights are. The first question is how to get up there to change them at all. Changing light bulbs is part of life in our beautiful church. Remember the scaffolding outside and inside the church last year? $130,000. It adds up.
- The largest expense is maintenance followed quickly by insurance and salaries (with more people working on the staff.)
- Still, thanks to you, income was greater than expenses, and we can continue to prepare for the arrival of a bazillion new Catholics as downtown Tampa blossoms into a wonderland of newbies!
We are committed to being good stewards of your contributions. You have our promise, but still… take a moment and look at the details. And ask questions.