The Crown Jewel
When asked who are we and what we are about, I quickly brag about St. Anthony's being the crown jewel of the Archdiocese and that I am spoiled by the love of the people here. When we run into issues or problems, I know that in comparison to some of the things that have happened in the world around us, we are very fortunate.
In the 3+ years I've been here, we have been able to increase our ability to evangelize, educate, and bring Christ close to our hearts. In wonder and awe, I testify that our faith has grown as well as our joy. Three years ago, our Pastoral Council put forth a new mission statement which drives everything we do. Providentially, the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council recently did the same and set forth three pastoral goals which are akin to the direction we have already been traversing. Amazing, no? Check out our parish mission and the three goals of the Archdiocese:
St. Anthony's Parish Mission Statement
We are a welcoming and diverse community, empowered by the Spirit to carry within us the living Word of God, and sent by Jesus Christ to love and serve the Lord and each other.
1. Faith formation at all levels,
2. Youth and young adult ministry, and
3. Multicultural ministry.
Take a look at the makeup of our staff and you will see that we have all three goals present. Our mission and these goals go well together. Our staffing and the vision of the Archdiocese match. It has taken much dedication, work, and prayer in order for it all to happen. They are all a work in progress, and we still have much work to do in each of these areas. We have also put forth a Parish Offertory Program in order to increase participation in the financial stewardship of the mission of the parish. Like never before, there are more people involved in the growing ministries, and the level of involvement in the stewardship of our facilities has been extraordinary. All of these things are signs of life, vitality, and health in our faith community.
Part of that life, vitality, and health is also a continual reviewing and critique of what we are doing and where we are going. It means that we need to talk about our issues and do so truthfully with compassion. Otherwise, our mission is empty and all our words are artificial, akin to saccharine, similar taste but not real. As people of faith, we have an obligation to take a sober look at our progress towards our mission goals and refine as we go.
When we concluded the previous year's Parish Offertory Program, we noted an alarming number of pledges that went unfulfilled, thus creating a financial problem whereby our income has not kept up with our budgeted expenses. I realize that there are countless reasons why this may have happened. For every reason, there are human stories of struggle involved. Several weeks ago, I made a generic plea at Mass for families who were behind. I asked them to do what they could to complete their pledge, and some did just that, for which I am grateful. Once again, we demonstrated the greatness present in our parish. Our current dilemma certainly demonstrates that we are all in this together and that everyone's actions effect the whole. I believe, furthermore, that we have the ability to solve this situation. An ad-hoc committee gathered recently and generated a basic plan for addressing our situation. Upon their recommendations, I have agree to begin these steps immediately. First, we must cut expenses. Second, we must get creative about how we can bring up our income.
First, I have implemented many spending cuts including a 20% cut in personnel costs. That means that our core staff is working less hours with fewer resources. The philosophy in my approach to cutting has been driven by our parish mission. I believe we need to maintain, as far as possible, the ministries currently present so as to continue in the direction set by the Pastoral Council. That is why I tried to cut expenses across the board. Because of these cuts, our level of service will be diminished by a similar factor. That is why I decided to close the office one day a week (20% of the work week). Friday is our least busy day and is close to the weekend, so I chose that day for staff to be absent. Another approach is to target areas and make deeper cuts while leaving others relatively untouched. I tried to avoid this where ever possible. As with life, hard decisions had to be made. It is a matter of philosophy and it's driven by mission. Regardless, this is very difficult for all of the staff. Everyone of them works incredibly hard and is driven by the Spirit to help spread the faith. Please pray for them. Such cuts will not stop us from going forward with the life, vitality, and health of our parish. Our mission is still the same. We are still dedicated to moving forward.
Secondly, both Administrative and Pastoral Councils have been making plans to understand the root of this problem and then begin to brainstorm ways to increase the income of the parish. Part of that process is to begin a parish-wide pastoral survey. Again, please pray for them as they go about this challenging task. All of them have the best intentions for the parish community and want to be the best of stewards. They all have busy lives and are working as much as time permits to find the appropriate avenues for resolution of our financial problem. Please be patient with them as they work through the necessary processes of problems solving.
Plans are afoot to make an attempt to call every active parish household in order to get a better sense of direction. A committee will be meeting soon to determine how this could be done and what questions should be asked in order to help us gather statistically significant and relevant information. It won't be a time to air out all one's complaints or praises, but must must be concise and well directed. Please be gracious and answer the questions when our wonderful volunteers call you. You will be helping your parish family discern what road we need to take for the future. As I publish this on the internet, there are always people who are scammers. Please know that nobody at the Church will be calling you as part of this survey and ask you to divulge personal information about your bank account, credit card numbers, or the exact dollar amount of your giving.
Despair or Joy?
We may all have opinions as to why our income is down, but I caution us from drawing conclusions before we have completed this survey. In the meantime, I want to encourage every household to pray for guidance, wisdom, and joy. I mention joy because, it is in times like these that the spirit of despair can find a home in our hearts. I reject that spirit and encourage you to do the same. Furthermore, I believe that these times will bring out the best in St. Anthony's as gold is tested in fire. We will find a solution and put into place a plan to avoid such a problem in the future. Times are tough, but the Spirit of the Lord is strong. I have good reason to believe that we will be a stronger community because of this struggle. And so I also want to encourage you to reject any sentiments that tell you that the sky is falling. That simply isn't the case, and such an attitude demonstrates a sad lacking in faith. That is not who we are. It is not our struggles that define us, but our response to those struggles. It is our faith in action that defines us. So I invite you to remember who you are and set your heart steady on that vision.
On a personal note, I have come to a new realization about being dependent on God. I have worried quite a bit about this situation and conclude that this situation is beyond my ability to solve alone. Instead, I am resolved to know that I have and will continue to do what the best I can and leave the rest to the Holy Spirit. So, I choose not to worry so much anymore, but trust that God will take care of it. We are Christians. As such, we are all called to be people of faith. So, let us all do the best we can and continually give it over to God.
Our Hope is in Christ
In closing, I am reminded of so many other larger problems in our world. I think about the souls of those who suffered so greatly during the tsunamis in Southeast Asia and Africa. I look to the lives of those who are still in disrepair in the Gulf Coast. I imagine the struggles of the people who have been crushed by the earthquake in Iran. I ponder on all these things and I realize how fortunate we have it here at St. Anthony's. I turn to our Archbishop and observe his reaction to the struggles of the bankruptcy (read his latest article in the Catholic Sentinel) and I am amazed at his faith and hope. Finally, I turn to God and ask, what are you trying to tell us? Certainly, God does not cause such problems, but is always ready and deeply desiring to pour upon us even greater grace (Rom. 5:20). Let us place our hope in Christ. Let us claim that promise. Let us look for those moments. Let us show the world, our community, our loved ones just who we are and in whom we trust. We are St. Anthony's Catholic Church in Forest Grove, Oregon. We place our hope in Christ.
Fr. William Holtzinger