Financial Challenges to our Parishes during the COVID-19 Pandemic
It is difficult to fathom that we are moving into our fifth month affected by the Corona Virus Pandemic, though there are also times that I feel like it has been years. There are few, if any areas of our world that have not been affected by the pandemic. In late March, as we were prepared to announce staff reductions as a response to our reduced income, we applied for a “forgivable loan,” used mostly to assist with salaries, called the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). All three of our parishes qualified, which allowed us to continue to compensate our staff though the end of June.
The end of this program has forced us to revisit those April staff reductions, and unfortunately we could not avoid some difficult decisions, though with your continued generosity to our parishes we were able to reduce the original cuts proposed. We have communicated these changes to our staff, which take the form of permanent layoffs, furloughs, and reduction in compensation/hours. All the decisions were solely due to our reduced income, restrictions, and adjustments on how we can minister, as well as budgeted income projections caused by the pandemic. They do not reflect the job performance of any affected employee.
Liturgical Ministry Cost Reductions
As you know, the largest effect in our parishes has been felt in our public liturgies. Though we have now offer public Masses, Confession, Funerals, Weddings and Baptisms, the way we gather and celebrate continues to be restricted by the Archdiocese in response to the public health restrictions set forth by federal, state and local governments. We experience these restrictions in a significant way in the music at our liturgy. These restrictions do not look as though they will be lifted or eased until the distant future.
As a result, we have regretfully informed Rick Scalise (accompanist at St. Theresa) and Terry O’Donnell (accompanist at St. Theresa at the 5pm Mass) that we have had to eliminate their positions. We have benefitted from, and appreciate, that Rick and Terry have shared their talent and ministry with us for many years. We pray for continued blessings in their lives. Other music ministers’ compensation has been reduced to meet the reduced liturgical schedule.
Billerica Catholic Religious Education Cost Reductions
We are beginning to piece together how we will be able to gather our young people for Religious Education. Like our Billerica Schools, we will need to make significant adaptations to the program that we have offer. The Archdiocese is still assessing how the preliminary guidelines set by the state for schools affect how we can implement our religious education program for all ages. With as much uncertainty as our families are facing with their many changes in schedules and how school will start in September, there has been a significant reluctance in registering for Religious Education. With enrollment down and tentative plans on what we can offer in our program, we are not able to maintain the level of staffing in our Religious Education program that we had in the past.
That being said, it is with regret that we have informed Jim Spinale that we have eliminated his position as coordinator of the Confirmation program. We appreciate Jim’s many years of dedicated ministry to our teens, first at Saint Mary and most recently for the collaborative. We pray for continued blessings in his life. Additionally, we have reduced the compensation for all Youth Faith Formation staff, either through summer furloughs or compensation reduction or both.
Operational Cost Reductions
Along with staff, we have reduced our operational costs.
o We have consolidated our three parish offices into one office, significantly eliminating costs such as phone lines, fax lines, office equipment leases, and heating and utilities.
o We have reduced expenses by reducing our office hours to Monday through Wednesday from 10am to 1pm. Our one office is located at the Offices at 1 Grace Ave, behind St. Theresa Church. Parishioners continue to be able to contact or leave a message a priest for sacramental emergencies by calling our office and following the prompts.
o In response of the pandemic we have significantly reduced unnecessary spending in all areas of our operation. Due to reduced income, these cost reductions are needed to help us meet the additional expenses that have been imposed related to the cleaning requirements we now face, as well as the technology needed for virtual meetings and recorded Masses.
As has been the case everywhere, the COVID-19 Pandemic has upended our lives in so many ways, and our parishes are no exception. Our parishes have had to adjust to significant reductions in income adapt the way that we have ministered for years, to meet the needs of this particular time.
We continue to adapt to perform Ministry with COVID-19.
o We will be resuming our Baptism liturgies, adapting our schedule, as we can only baptize one baby at a liturgy.
o Weddings, Baptisms, Confessions and Funerals, can be celebrated, but must be adapted to meet safe distancing guidelines.
o Our Parish celebrations of First Holy Communion and Confirmation, originally scheduled for the spring are still being reorganized, with provisions for gathering that seem to change by the day.
Your patience, understanding and prayers are particularly invited and appreciated at this time as we work to minister to God’s people in these difficult circumstances.
– Father Paul Aveni