Friday, November 14, 2008

Second Collections, Mass Attendance and Religious Ed

My parish no longer has a Catholic school (thank you, Bishop Clark), but this story on stewardship, Mass attendance and Catholic schools still caught my eye.

One of the reasons is the parish's method of eliminating the need for physically taking up a second collection, a practice of which I've never been a big fan.  The money is still collected, but each parishioner just puts a single check in his/her envelope and, on the front, designates how much of that check goes to each of the various funds.

How simple!

Another interesting part of the story is the dramatic increase in Mass attendance that can come from requiring families with kids in a Catholic school to actually attend weekend Mass or risk losing their parish subsidy.

I wonder if that same approach would work for the families with kids in our religious ed program. We have a policy that kids have to attend religious ed in order to celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation - which usually happens in the 8th grade - but there is no requirement that they attend weekend Mass.  As a result, on average less than 50% of them actually do. (That's my own observation based on my 5 years as a junior high religious ed catechist.)

Maybe if a kid couldn't get confirmed without showing that he takes his faith seriously enough to attend weekly Mass, that number might go up a bit.


Rich Leonardi said...

Another interesting part of the story is the dramatic increase in Mass attendance that can come from requiring families with kids in a Catholic school to actually attend weekend Mass or risk losing their parish subsidy.

In many -- or at least some -- cases, families choose to attend Mass at other parishes throughout a diocese. We shouldn't discourage that, as we are chiefly members of our particular church, i.e., our diocese, rather than a parish.

Mike said...


I agree we shouldn't discourage people from attending Mass at other parishes, but this program does not do that.

From the pastor's letter to his parishioners,

"... if they attend Mass at a different church, or when they may be out of town, all they need to do is bring in a SIGNED (by the priest) bulletin from that church, and the bulletin will replace the need for an envelope for that Sunday. Please remember to write the child(ren)'s name on the bulletin."

Grab a bulletin, have the priest sign it, put your kid's name on it and turn it in the next week at your home parish.

A bit of extra work? Yes, but just a bit.

Rich Leonardi said...


Thanks for the follow up comment, but the approach described strikes me as patronizing and heavy-handed.

Mike said...


Heavy-handed? Of course it is! That's the whole point.

This pastor didn't institute his program because he simply wanted more people in his pews and more money in his collection plate. Yes, that was part of it but if you read through his letter you will also see that there was a deep concern for the spiritual well being of his flock.

More years ago than I care to remember I had a relatively brief but still sometimes spectacular drinking career followed by several years in the AA program. Back then if one of the newer members - and it was usually me - complained that he wasn't getting anything out of the program an old-timer was sure to chime in with, "Keep bringing the body and the mind will eventually follow." At the time that was just about the corniest thing I'd ever heard but I was desperate enough to give anything a try. Today I can gratefully say that I am living proof that that approach to sobriety works.

A similar approach seems also to have worked for Fr. Brunette. As the article says,

"There was some grumbling up front, for the first couple of weeks. But it quickly subsided. And we started to see more and more and more new, young, faces at Mass. Young families that we had never (or very seldom) seen before.

"And now, a few months in, they continue to join us every Sunday. And the less-than-enthusiastic faces are turning into happy faces, glad to be part of the community and to worship and participate in the Mass."

Preaching the gospel by example is a fine thing, but some folks just seem to need a little more "encouragement" to do what they should be doing, both for themselves and their kids.

Michael Halbrook said...

Thanks for the link and the mention of my entry about our parish's encouragement of school families attending Mass this year. It was exciting to stumble across this and to be able to join in the discussion.

Rich, I appreciate your comments... I feel Mike explained the parish's approach to the "chiefly members of the [diocese]" comment, by pointing out how students bring signed bulletins from the priest in the parish they visited. In fact, that side of the program has brought a lot of conversation between our local priests and others are looking at it, since it's actually working - helping to curb a problem (of school family Mass attendance - or lack thereof) that we've had for years.

On heavy-handed, I wouldn't characterize it as that. I think it's fair to call it "demanding", though. However, that's what the life of faith is: demanding. That's what Christ's call to be part of His Body - His Church is: demanding. That's what the Church's exhortation to attend Mass every Sunday is: demanding.

Isn't it?

My point of view flows nicely out of Mike's analysis. Being EXAMPLES of living the life of faith and being a strong community of worship is great. But if we're going to reach out to those that are missing from our pews (in our case, it was many of these school families), sometimes we might have to be "heavy-handed" in pulling them back just long enough for God's Spirit to do His work and keep them as part of our community... or not.

I'd just tag on that I'm amazed every single Sunday by the new faces, the new families, joining us from among the school population - people we had not seen in years. It's great to have them rejoin our community, and if it took this policy to provide the encouragement, then so be it!