Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Economy of Salvation

Our Religious Ed program has been undergoing some chaotic change in the past weeks, of a piece with some change in the parish. We are in the strange position of not planning to have a DRE next year due to financial constraints, and it seems that the same people who made that decision have also set the pricing for Religious Ed classes next year.

$200/child, with a $500 family cap.

A $500 family cap.

Perhaps there is some way that this made sense in committee, as people reviewed our dropping contributions and made desperate suggestions to bring the budget back into line. We need to bring in money somehow -- how 'bout making those Religious Ed families contribute their fair share? And surely people ought to be willing to pay for their child to have a religious education, because religious education is important, important enough to be worth paying for.*

In a purely human economics, raising prices does several things: reflect a more accurate cost structure; create scarcity, indicate desirability. I'm not sure how this price increase works on any of these levels. Since the full-time staffer was laid off due to financial constraints, surely these constraints have now been somewhat eased. Since most of the volunteers who actually teach the classes are parents, creating scarcity will drive families away to other parishes with less expensive religious ed programs, depleting our source of teachers. And instead of indicating that our Religious Ed program is so essential and high-quality that we can afford to charge top dollar, an extremely high price says that classes aren't really for everyone, but only for the rich people who can afford to fork out this much for a once-a-week class run by volunteers. The high cost, in fact, has the effect of making Religious Ed look optional, and making our parish look far wealthier than the weekly collection would seem to indicate.

The economy of salvation runs on a different price structure. "You who have no money, come, buy grain and eat," says the prophet (Is. 55:1). The grain is not worthless; indeed, it has a price and must be bought. But that price is paid not by the recipient, but by the seller, the only one who truly understands the work it took to bring forth the grain. The more valuable and essential something is in the economy of salvation, the less it costs. God's grace is freely bestowed for the asking. Not only is the message of salvation free, we who are Christians are tasked with evangelizing.

"If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it! If I do so willingly, I have a recompense, but if unwillingly, then I have been entrusted with a stewardship. What then is my recompense? That, when I preach, I offer the gospel free of charge so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel." (1 Cor. 9:16-18)

Our Religious Ed programs must not be tasked with breaking even, or paying for themselves. They are designed to deliver the gospel.

It is one of the precepts of the Church that Catholics are obliged to provide for the material needs of the Church, according to their means. Parishes have a reasonable expectation that parishioners and those who receive the benefit of parish life will contribute to the support of the parish, out of gratitude for the free gift of God. "How can I make a return to the Lord for all the good he has done for me?" (Ps. 116:12, my translation). But we don't charge admission to mass, despite the many expenses of keeping the building in good order, maintaining the vessels and books, repairing the organ, and compensating the priest for his essential work.

It's not unreasonable for a Religious Ed program to have a fee to cover the costs of materials, books,  and some operating costs (always assuming, of course, that a parish hasn't chosen an outrageously expensive curriculum). When a program is completely free, showing up can seem optional, since families don't have any skin in the game. But when a parish is trying to balance its budget on the back of the Religious Ed department, while requiring participation in Religious Ed classes in order to have access to sacramental prep, it is binding up heavy burdens on parents' shoulders without lifting a finger to lift them.

*These rationales are sheer conjecture, and I have no idea if they accurately reflect my parish's financial discernment process.


mandamum said...

Wow. Do you teachers get a break?

Makes me feel a little better about our $180 2nd yr confirmation price tag (charged AFTER the fact, because in the fall we were told that 2nd year people were "all set", which apparently meant only that we didn't have to sign up again and pick a time again, not that we didn't have to pay... but since they're keeping our certificates hostage until we pay, well, we'll all pay now after the fact). So: $135 for 1/2 yr "1st yr" program + $180 for 1/2 yr "2nd yr" program, because the archdiocese demands 2 yrs of prep and the parish can only manage so many people in classrooms at any given time..... Almost seems like simony after a while, although I guess they're charging not EXACTLY for the sacrament.

Sometimes I get the feeling that those in charge of parish life have a strong desire to help us understand the parable of the Prodigal Son - from the standpoint of the elder son. Like when the 2nd graders coming into the Church at Easter get confirmed before any of my kids, without all the extra hoop-jumping, simply because I was a good Catholic mom and had my children baptized as infants. And when the Very Important assistants insist that my husband and I (and my siblings from far away who are visiting to be godparents - ie all the adults available in our family at the moment) sit one place for the baptism of one of those infants, while the rest of my (generously large as encouraged by Church teaching, but still 15 and under) family sit, well, somewhere else, because there's no room for siblings in the mid-Mass baptisms at our parish. BUT (!) I had a lovely experience recently with a DRE/Sacramental prep head who allowed me to stay for the 2nd grade retreat when I pointed out that I am my daughter's catechist, and the other catechists were there working with their classes. She handed me a catechist sheet of reflection questions and set me loose with my class-of-one! Such a blessing. It would be nice if more parish interactions (other than Mass) were a cause of joy rather than something to be endured. I guess that is often the way with family life, though.

Foxfier said...

*shudder* That's terrible.

Our best parish had something like a $50/family charge per family for the religious ed, with discrete help available by dropping a word to Father. (Who quietly took my husband aside to make sure he knew about it, too.)

Our last parish was charging people $50 and requiring weekday, daytime classes to volunteer to serve....

Kelly said...

When I moved here from Kentucky I was shocked at the price of religious ed at our parish. It wasn't quite that high, but within the ballpark. You could get half off by volunteering. I feel like this will accomplish nothing but to cause families to decide catechesis is optional outside of what is required for the sacraments. And let's face it, the need for confirmation is already a little shaky when they get a list of the long list of so-called requirements in order to receive it. I've noticed more parishes requiring two years of religious education for both First Communion and Confirmation. Doesn't that point to a growing number of families showing up for only sacrament years?

I agree that you have to charge something, but it needs to be affordable. There's no point in saying "But these families don't blink at paying this much a month for sports or lessons, or this much a week for a summer camp." Parents will never look at it with that perspective.

Coming from a very small church that operated on a shoestring budget (I was actually the volunteer DRE), I think these larger parishes could cut the budget a number of ways that they really don't even think about because they've gotten used to the idea that some things are a required cost. Part of the high fees at my current parish is to buy a new book for every student every year. We reused our books for a couple of years before buying new ones. No, the paper books don't last as long, but you don't actually have to write in them just because they're made that way. We had students write answers on notebook paper. You could say, charge a $20 deposit which you get back if you return the book in useable condition. I think there's a lot of different ways you could approach it to make it more affordable. But if you aren't charging fees to pay a DRE salary there no reason at all to be charging hundreds of dollars per family. Books aren't that expensive!

Foxfier said...

The more I think about it, the more "appreciating the parable of the prodigal son from the perspective of the older brother" makes sense.

I know that when Elf and I tried to do it correctly, I looked at the long list of required classes and counseling for a Catholic to a non-Catholic who thinks Catholicism is a highly useful philosophy, and stuff and sighed, but set to it.
We couldn't get a call back. I got publicly scolded for trying to bypass it (by asking the parish secretary if there was anybody I could talk to, after two weeks of calling the line and leaving numbers). Then my mom chewed me out for not trying hard enough, and she tried, and her brother tried, and I tried from her brother's house....

Not so much as a returned phone call. So we had a civil marriage. Years pass, with my going to mass because it's the truth, but not receiving communion, and Elf reverts himself to the Church.

Took two meetings with the priest and like ten minutes of paperwork to get done. Just got a simple blessing. My aunt and uncle's re-dedication ceremony took longer.
(Let us not speak of my attempt to actually volunteer at the food pantry.)

And they wonder why young people leave the church.

mandamum said...

Oh, Foxfier, that's heartbreaking. I married a non-baptized person (so disparity of cult) and it was frustrating trying to find someone to do actual marriage prep with us (as opposed to "listen to this, checklist that, thank you for not embarrassing us by putting down the same address on your form, goodbye") but getting the bishop's OK for getting married was so smooth, thank God for my pastor!

Right now we're dealing with my daughter trying to get a call-back (just about lectoring and teaching in the religious ed program, now that she's fully initiated as a confirmed Catholic) and ... we're only into Week..5? of the wait on one, and week 2 of the wait on the other. Grrr.... And I don't want her to give up! But she (and I) have other things to do than make weekly phone calls.

Anonymous said...

I'm a convert from a confessional Protestant denomination, and one of the things that is hard for me to get used to is how many things you have to pay for. My parents never had to pay for me to go to Sunday School, so when I hear people say, 'well, I guess they have to charge something', I'm nonplussed. I guess Catholic parishes just have a different financial structure.

Still grateful every day that my son gets to be raised Catholic. Sometimes I'm almost envious of him for that.