Since it was established in 2006, Most Holy Trinity Parish in Covington has operated under the guiding principle of stewardship – developing a spirituality among parishioners that their financial offerings are based not on “giving to a need” but on a “need to give.”
Father Rodney Bourg, the Most Holy Trinity pastor, said his parish’s stewardship practice is comprehensive and includes the parish’s finances. Over the last four years, the parish has taken a fixed percentage of its ordinary income and used that money to tithe to various ministries within and beyond the parish.
The amount has increased in the last four years. Starting at 3 percent, the parish has upped its stewardship tithe to 5 percent, 7 percent and now 10 percent.
“It comes right off the top of the collection,” Father Bourg said. “That money is put aside for the poor, and we put it into a special tithing account with the archdiocese.”
Tithing split three ways
At the end of the fiscal year, an ad hoc committee of the Most Holy Trinity Pastoral Council determines how the tithing funds will be spent. The rule of thumb is that one third will be directed to the parish’s social ministry to meet the needs of the local poor, one third goes to a needy church or churches in the U.S., and the remaining third goes to international missions.
Most Holy Trinity also uses the archdiocesan-approved option of taking up only one collection every Sunday – and fulfilling its financial obligations for second collections by taking money from the single collection, using a rolling three-year average.
“The second collections are budgeted so we’re not nickel-and-diming people,” Father Bourg said. “We occasionally do a second collection if we have a direct missionary appeal of if there is a natural disaster and the archdiocese has called for a second collection. We also do second collections at Christmas and Easter. I’m determined to get dollars from my ‘semi-annual Catholics’ – and I tell them that. They know exactly what I’m talking about, and they don’t have a problem with it.”
In 2009, Most Holy Trinity sent $12,000 to three parishes in the archdiocese of New Orleans, one parish in New York and another parish in Baton Rouge.
In 2010, the parish sent $18,000 to four local churches, an Indian school in Montana, churches in the Philippines and Tanzania and the Louisiana Prison Chapel.
In 2011, the parish distributed $38,000 to various ministries. “I think this year we’ll be over $50,000,” Father Bourg said.
Parish offers tornado relief
Some of the recent gifts went to St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Joplin, Mo., which was devastated by a tornado. The parish lost its church, school, parish center, St. Vincent de Paul house and rectory.
Father Justin Monaghan, pastor of St. Mary’s, survived the tornado by hiding in the rectory’s bathtub, and he was pulled out of the rubble by parishioners. In addition, Most Holy Trinity’s Knights of Columbus Council 14614 did separate fund-raisers to augment the recovery funds.
Some of the 2011 funds also went to help Holy Spirit Church in Tuscaloosa, Ala., recover from a tornado and to help two parishes in Vermont recover from Hurricane Irene.
Father Bourg said parishioners have found it comforting to know that their regular stewardship of finances is being used in such helpful ways. It also has been important, he said, to be transparent about all financial transactions that deal with the parish.
“I’m always talking about how God has gifted us and given us opportunities,” Father Bourg. “We deal with a God who will never let us outdo him in generosity. Time in prayer leads us into ministry, and ministry leads us into generosity and sharing our treasure.”
One of the obstacles Father Bourg has to overcome is the old Catholic notion of “giving to a need.”
“That’s what we learned growing up in Catholic school, and we were taught very well how to give to a need,” he said. “How many things did you sell in order for the church to buy an organ? That’s not really stewardship. In stewardship, there’s a joy in giving simply because we give it to God. The people have responded very well to that. Our collections, through all the financial crisis, didn’t go down.”
Transparency is the key
Father Bourg said the parish must be a good steward as well.
“We show where every penny went and tell them that every year,” Father Bourg said. “When we make a report and there’s something they don’t understand, they don’t hesitate to ask. There’s a transparency policy when it comes to money. There is no question why we spent it. If I can’t justify where it’s being spent, I shouldn’t be where I am.”
Most Holy Trinity is hoping to begin construction in the near future on a new church on property near the current worship space. The parish is waiting on clearance from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the impact of the new church on wetlands in the area.
“We’re continuing to outgrow our facility as we speak,” Father Bourg said. “We don’t have enough space for religious education. We’re OK in the church because we can do some additional Masses. We’re up to almost 900 registered families. I’m hoping within three years we’ll be in our new facility.”
Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at email@example.com.