Self-sustaining parishes

I was struck several weeks back to hear that a local parish rents out part of their property to a radio station and from the monies they receive in this arrangement, were able to pay for building repairs without touching their operating funds.  It brought to mind the monasteries that are self-sustaining and produce some product, which they sell to the public.

The first thought: how important to support those businesses. What better place is there to put our money and what better products could be bought?  We are lovers of mystic monk coffee and another religious orders’ products were brought to my awareness ( I think the products look amazing and the pricing is very good.  Is it not better than supporting the massive salary of a CEO or despicable advertising methods, which seek to manipulate our view of ourselves and the world, or worse, actually degrade women and men in their presentation?  We so often buy cheap as if cheap wasn’t made possible through dishonest pricing or labor.  Those companies are out to make a profit and if profits aren’t increasing the company is failing.  We have all the technology to do produce in ways and produce products that will do significantly less damage to the environment than in the past.  Religious orders seek to support their way of life, it isn’t for profit, it’s for the glory of God, and producing a good, honest product is how they can do their work well, how they can work with virtue.  We can often find this when we buy locally, whether from a religious order or not.

The second thought: what if diocesan parishes sought to be self-sustaining?  This wouldn’t be possible in the same capacity of a religious order since there are few people who live at a diocesan parish.  I see it achieved through two means: (1) if priests lived simpler and (2) making use of the property and grounds at their disposal.


(1) If priests lived simpler.  Pope Francis inspires this thought.  He has brought up the issues of clericalism in our churches.  As Archbishop he cooked his own meals and took public transportation (common in Buenos Aires, not so common in rural Stanislaus county).   Why do priests have servants (cooks and housekeepers)?  Because not all men can cook and clean?  I want to honor our priests, but if Christ came poor, a carpenter in Nazareth, priests should live like those in their parish.  Is it to free up their time to be able to serve the parish more?  While I do not harbor an ardent desire to spend hours in the kitchen cooking, there is a certain peace achieved in the act; and in cleaning I can feel the effect of my labor on my environment in satisfying ways.  Priests are men and if they can live a more balanced lifestyle they will be better men.  Many priests maintain hobbies to maintain their sanity.  This would be part of that.


(2) Making use of property.  Parishes could be more savvy in how they use their property, whether renting it for receptions or other businesses. But also this: imagine this experiment: a parish happens to have ten acres donated to them or just own that much property from the old days, or even less, may just two acres.  What if a few volunteers or employees from the parish began a garden or planted larger crops, such as fruit trees.  Not only could the products feed the priests living at the parish, and be sold (either to a separate company or through a fruit stand) but labor would need to be hired to pick the fruit.  The homeless man or woman who comes to the door for a sandwich can be given dignified work for the season.  It doesn’t tax the wealthy of the parish but can bring together the great and small in the endeavor.

It’s just a thought, and just two examples of what could be done.  In small parishes under poor management, the wealthy feel bled but not fed.  There is a lack of community.  The parish turned in on itself, becomes sick, as Pope Francis warns us will happen.  If the parish looked outward, focused not on gaining volunteers but on serving the community and evangelizing the culture; not focused on who they can ask for donations but what can the parish produce to give to the poor, I think mighty things would happen.  I believe this is part of the New Evangelization. I am so grateful for Pope Francis to take on this new step in the journey.

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