|"Pope Benedict XVI: No rant, No slant."|
With that introduction began a surprising new approach to meeting fiscal end of year budgets: putting a hold on church programming until the parish had 50% "sustaining members" (tithing 5% of their take home salary a year). As the 15 elderly ladies in the Church Hall stared in disbelief, Ms. Tulio-Jones and the pastor, Fr. Philip Anderson, began to enthusiastically discuss the advantages to being a sustaining member of St. Gregory the Great, complete with special gifts for signing up in the Bible Study hour (a package of free trade coffee, with a coffee mug emblazoned with 'It's 7:01 and the Holy Mass is next'.)
"It's taking stewardship to the next level," said Fr. Anderson. "We know those public radio campaigns are effective, I mean look, they're still on the air! I was listening one day and thought, there's almost a religious fervor about this promotion--I wish we had as good evangelizers in our Church--and then I thought, if you can't beat them, join them. I mean, we are in the red and I didn't want to do Bingo. So, we're interrupting all our programming--CCD, Bible Studies, RCIA, confirmation prep, youth group, Befrienders ministry, AA, various prayer groups, the social justice committee--and asking people to pledge. And if they don't, well...we may be 'off the air'. And that's just the truth."
The mass is not included in the interruption campaign, since it is not programming, although reminders of the membership drive grace the doors as neon posters when you exit the church.
Parishioners have had mixed reactions to the campaign. "On one hand, I can't tell you how much I loathe membership weeks on NPR," said Martha Jorgenson, a long time parishioner and sustaining member of both St. Greg's and her local NPR station. "On the other hand, The Catholic Church has a nuanced touch with guilt. It's our strength, everyone knows it, so playing to our strengths makes sense. Plus, I kinda like the new Church slogan that's come of this: Pope Benedict XVI: no rant, no slant. I was willing to pay up to alleviate some guilt and get that on a T-shirt."
"I got freaked out when it looked like they may not run the Vacation Bible Study next week," said Leanna Hathaway, mother of seven. "I was fine ponying up to be a sustaining member and getting that 'Get Holier' T-Shirt so I can have five mornings of peace."
Tulio-Jones said she is pleased with the results so far. "We're on track, and we thank everyone who has contributed, but we need 357 more sustaining members to sign up in the next hour," she said. "What are you doing? Pick up the phone and let's go, people. We're doing this to keep St. Greg's strong, pay for the programming, and hand on a solid parish to our children. Call right now!"
p.s. If you're outside the USA you won't get this one. Sorry!