Friday, May 25, 2012

Seven Quick Takes Friday (v. 34): About Tithing

I can't speak for the protestant denominations, sects, and communities (I've heard that they are universally better-off financially than Catholic parishes, though how much better off probably varies), but most of the Catholic parishes which I have been a member of have budgets in the red (or perilously close to it). Yes, there are a few parishes which are (or seem to be) well-off, and there are also a few which squander what resources they have; but a great many have more expenses in the form of building maintenance and staff salaries than what they collect in voluntary donations.

Typical tithe at my parish.
Much of the problem of staff salaries comes about because the Catholic parishes are hiring professionals to fulfill those roles. I think every member of St Louis' pastoral staff has at least a master's degree in theology. In the past, these were the roles filled by the women religious and also by associate pastors. However, a smaller percentage of men are becoming priests, and a likewise smaller percentage of women are becoming consecrated religious (sisters, nuns, etc). Thus, the Catholic schools and ministry staffs are relying on secular school teachers (and principals, for that matter) who need to be paid a professional salary, because they are trying to support themselves (and often their families); the sisters, on the other hand, needed only sufficient funds to pay upkeep on their convent or religious house, to pay for meals, etc. Thus, the expense of running a parish (and school) has actually increased well above inflation during the last few decades as their are fewer and fewer priests, nuns, and sisters available for running such ministries.

If you are still convinced that the parish wastes too much money on frivolous matters--and I can attest that there are some parishes which do!--I think that it is generally possible to earmark exactly where in the parish your donations go. It is certainly possible to do this in some parishes--mine takes up special collections which go to specific projects of problems, such as the school endowment, the social ministries (outreach to the poor, infirm, etc.), and buildings maintenance, to name a few. Consider using these special envelopes to help your parish, if you want to see the Church roof in good repair but don't want to pay for the staff's salaries (despite what I've said above).

One way for people to remain attached to their church (meaning, not only to leave the community, but to not leave their faith) is to get involved at the parish by volunteering. This is also a form of tithing (you are giving time and talent) and can be more helpful to the parish than money (treasure); this is, after all, the foremost tithe made by any priest or religious. It will strengthen your faith, and it will help you to remember that you are part of the community and not only a member of the congregation. Tithing money can also give you a sense of belonging and not merely attending, since most people tend to care more about the things which they invest in (both financially and time-commitment wise).

Many parishes--I would venture to say most if not all Catholic parishes--also have various social outreach programs. Ours has a food pantry, a Saint Vincent de Paul society, a Mobile Loaves and Fishes ministry, to say nothing of ministries geared towards elderly/hospice patients, the sick, and the imprisoned. I do not think that much of the tithe money goes to these things, but there are usually special collections taken up for each. These collections make you a participant in several of the corporal works of mercy: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, and at times even harboring the harborless. I'm not sure if prison visitations count for "ransoming captives" or are funded through such collections, and I doubt that there is any provision for burying the dead, but 5/7 ain't bad. Especially in light of Matthew 25:31-45.

I've heard many fiscally conservative Christians complain about the government's social spending. Being a fiscal conservative myself, I agree with those people, but also note that there are plenty of people who can be helped by such things (others are actually hindered in the long-term, but that's for a different post). These are things that the community--in particular the local community--once could take care off absent the government. A large factor in this was the contribution of the churches; however, if the churches are reduced to a state fiscal insolvency through lack of tithing, it is hardly surprising that they are unable to do as much "social good" as they once were*, nor is it surprising that the government steps into this void**. This kicks local problems up a few levels, to the cold impersonality of the federal bureaucracy, which sometimes hurts men by making them dependent when they could be less so, and others hurts them by cutting off what really is a lifeline for them.

*They still do plenty of good "social" work, though; but my point is that they could do more if people would tithe or even approximate tithing.
** At times, the government oversteps the void and then drives the churches out, which should also be resisted

Catholics use less ornate plates in most parishes; they get less money, too!
For Catholics, tithing is one of the five precepts of the Church. The others are attending Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of obligation, confessing our sins at least once per year, receiving the Eucharist in communion at least once during Easter, and observing days of fasting and abstinence. Note that it is a grave sin to fail to do these things. Perhaps tithing might not mean giving 10% of one's income--though it is perfectly possible to do this, as many Mormons and some Christians, including some Catholics, can attest--but neither should we be excusing ourselves for tossing in $3/week* while paying several times that for cable, or for that matter in a tip for the waitress at dinner. Yes, there is for many of us a sacrifice involved in a tithe; but that is a part of the point in tithing (see Mark 12:43-44).

*The average per-person tithe at St Louis parish; per family, it was $12/week and has since declined to $9/week

Seven Quick Takes Friday is hosted by Mrs Jennifer Fulwiler at her Conversion Diary blog.

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