Over at the blorg I put up a quick note about something that caught my eye: Best Practices in Evangelization = Unintended Lesson in Homelessness. The trouble with things you dash off, as a friend so tactfully put it in a comment, “I need to be awake to really see what she is saying clearly.” Ha. What I say is:
- Hey look! The Archdiocese of Baltimore is doing something awesome.
- Notice what their missionaries need to live on? What does that tell us about living wages for families?
- And that reminds me of a fresh new rant I’ve cultivated lately . . .
Allow me to tell you about #3. Recently someone posed the question: What do you think of holding abc parish ministry at xyz commercial venue? The primary concern was that the venue might be suitably excellent for the ministry, or maybe the nature of the location was potentially problematic for some participants. Charitable discussion ensued. The one small thing I had to add: Is it possible for people to attend without having to pay for the privilege?
I find with surprising consistency that among American Catholic parishes there’s an expectation that people who love Jesus will cough up money for dinner or drinks or babysitting so that they can participate in parish life. There’s an assumption that if your child desires a sacrament, you will be able to get free from work and find transportation on a day and hour of the week chosen for you without consulting you — nearly always an hour when service workers are expected to be on the job, and when special-needs kids are melting down after a long day of pretending to be normal. My rant reaches its peak when friends tell me about their parishes where mandatory sacramental prep costs the equivalent of a month’s rent on affordable housing.
The assumption is that most participants will have the money, and if you really cared you would reorganize to find the money and clear your calendar; in the unlikely event poor persons should want to do the parish thing, then the poor persons can beg the proper authorities so that a patron steps forward to pay their way.
Now let me be clear: I am not against Theology on Tap. I am not against Ladies’ Night Out at the local restaurant. I totally get that someone’s got to buy the books and craft paper and the new boxes of markers for religious ed.
But let me also be clear: When we make the decision to center parish life on pay-to-pray events, we are making the decision to exclude the people who don’t have money for that.
What with it being Mother Theresa’s feast day yesterday, and what with the Gospel reading this past Sunday, it is more and more on my mind how much our default mode of operating in the American Church is to center parish life on the needs and abilities of an affluent, able-bodied, main audience. People who can’t keep up with that lifestyle are often an afterthought and an exception.
The article I cited caught my eye because in the midst of explaining a ministry that is exactly the opposite of all this — true evangelization of the poorest of the poor — there was a sobering reminder that yes, the cost of living is high. Take a look at some income charts from the Census Bureau. A very rough statistic is that about 1/3 of American households earn the same or less than what it costs to sponsor a healthy, single young adult with no children living as a missionary in church-provided housing. Here’s a short discussion of the prevalance of credit card debt among Americans (Money tip: If you can’t pay off your credit card bills, you can’t afford to go out to dinner at the restaurant).
I think we should change this. I think I am as bad as anyone about building my life around my comfortable little middle-class bubble. But the Gospel says what it does, and to paraphrase my pastor yesterday, “Things go better when you do what God tells you to do.” So I’m thinking the US Church in general needs to reorganize parish life so that people who are resource-thin are the center, not the periphery, of our faith community.