A small percentage that makes a big difference

| August 17, 2010 | 0 Comments

What Works LogoThe weekend Mass collection at St. Victoria in Victoria looks typical: Parishioners deposit donation envelopes, crumpled bills and loose change in baskets that weave their way to the back of the church.

What is unusual is where that money goes.

At St. Victoria, parishioners’ monetary contributions reach beyond the needs of their parish to the surrounding community. Ten percent of a third of the year’s collections are given to organizations serving those in need.

Of the $1,815 tithed from the June 19-20 weekend, for example, $500 supported Guardian Angels in Chaska’s Hispanic mission, $200 went to cleaning supplies for a Love INC, and $300 was sent to an Appalachian mission to help a young girl stay in school. The rest was put away for future charitable requests.

On the weekend of July 4-5, $1,785 went to Bountiful Basket, the Chaska area emergency food shelf. On the weekend of July 29-Aug. 1, $1,940 went to Simpson Housing to fund several of the program’s meals.

In the past 11 years, St. Victoria has donated more than $538,000 to 143 local, national and international organizations, including those reached through archdiocesan second collections.

The tithing began in 1999 as brainchild of then parish business administrator Gene O’Chocki, who easily convinced the parish’s pastor, Father Bob White. The two were inspired by the parish’s mission statement, which said the parish wanted to be “the face and hands of Jesus.”

The phrase has become the an them of sorts for the 1,061-family parish, Father White said.

“If we wanted to be that, it can’t just be for ourselves,” he said. “We need to go beyond our borders, we need to stay connected to the larger world that we’re part of.”

Parish communications supervisor Mary Harvey put it simply: “Part of being good Christians, or Catholics . . . or good members of the community is helping those in need.”

Looking beyond parish walls

Father White formed a Tithing Advisory Group, which has ranged in size from five to nine parishioners over the years, to discern where the money should go.

At the tithing’s inception, the parish gave away 5 percent. Over the course of several years, the tithing increased until the parish donated 10 percent of every weekend’s collection.

“It’s basically understanding that you have to look beyond your own walls to help people in need,” Harvey said.

The tithing also supports the parish’s St. Vincent de Paul fund, which aids people in the parish and community who ask the church for help.

The parish prefers to give to grassroots organizations, Father White added, since he appreciates having a “relational partnership” with the organizations that receive funding, like Sharing and Caring Hands and Simpson Housing, both in Minneapolis, Bountiful Basket and the archdiocesan mission in Venezuela.

“We not only support them, we can do hands-on, we can join them,” he said. “That’s an even more powerful experience [rather] than sometimes keeping [them] at a distance.”

St. Victoria doesn’t have a parish school, which frees the parish to do something different to reach out to the community, said the parish business administrator, Deacon Ray Ortman.

“Tithing is well received by the parish,” he said. “People really understand the importance of it. And I think people really like the opportunity to have a voice to where it goes.”

Giving in hard times

For many years, the tithing program allowed the parish to discontinue second collections, although the current economic downturn has led to their resurgence for archdiocesan collections, Harvey said.

Like many other parishes, St. Victoria saw contributions dip with the recession.

In response, St. Victoria reduced its weekly tithing to about once a month so the recession would not impact other areas of the parish’s ministry.

Fewer tithing dollars means help for fewer organizations, and it’s difficult to pick who gets the donation, said Harvey, an advisory group member.

“We want to pay our bills, and we want to reach out. In hard economic times, there will be some necessary adjustments,” Father White said.

Father White looks forward to the day the parish can return to tithing from every Mass, he said.

“I feel that God has blessed us, in that [tithing] has created a good spirit,” Father White said. “We don’t exist for ourselves. A community that ‘it’s all about us’ implodes after time.”

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