The traditional Holy Week starts tomorrow with Palm Sunday, and across the country, many churches are shuttered — most voluntarily but some by decree of the government.
That’s certainly a debate to be had once the crisis is past. But in the meantime, churches have watched as their Sunday gift collection plates have disappeared with nothing to replace them. This has led to a financial crisis for many churches that depend almost solely on donations from worshippers for their survival.
There’s no government bailout in the offing either.
The Archdiocese of Newark (New Jersey) set up an online GoFundMe donation page where anyone can contribute to specific parishes or to a more general “Parishes in Need Fund.”
“Our parishes face increased risk of financial shortfalls due to Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and its effects on everyday life,” said Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin in a statement on the page.
It’s a fact of financial life for these churches that Holy Week brings in a large amount in donations, much of which goes to fund important charity work. Priests and clergy tend their flocks, giving food to hungry families, paying the occasional monthly rent for others, and a thousand other uses that those donations allow.
“It’s a concern for our pastors in our churches because the celebrations of Holy Week bring together a great number of people,” said Bishop Robert Casey of the Archdiocese of Chicago.
“It’s a homecoming time for us, but it’s also a very important fundraising time that allows us to continue with our mission and our ministries. And so this Holy Week will be especially worrisome for our parishes.”
Other critical needs met by the donations include payroll for church employees and third-party employee contracts, including maintenance workers and cleaning staff.
“The last thing we want to do is lay off anyone or furlough especially during this time,” said Father Paul Vigil of St. Timothy’s Catholic Church in Los Angeles. He echoes the wishes of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles which said it is “encouraging parishes and schools to avoid furloughs and layoffs.” It is also calling on parishioners to support extending unemployment benefits to church workers which in many states do not have access to state unemployment insurance.
Money is tight all around and asking parishioners to dig deep in tough economic times has always been hard. When families barely have enough to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads, as much as they may love the church, they just can’t give what they might normally give.
The churches will survive. They’ve survived depressions, wars, and now, a pandemic presents the latest challenge. The historic goodness and generosity of the American people will see them through. There are still enough devout believers to continue what they see as God’s work on earth.