The first anniversary of the lockdown for COVID-19 is upon us. As we all struggle to adapt to a new sense of “normal” in our personal lives, how has the pandemic impacted parishes?
CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate) has been studying the effects of the pandemic on parishes and dioceses in the United States. Here are some highlights on financial contributions, Mass attendance, sacramental celebrations, ministry, and diocesan assistance to parishes from the 1964 Blog on the CARA website.
Parishes indicate that school funding, fundraising income and visitor revenue has declined considerably. Even outreach funds have diminished at a time of greater than normal need. What about regular stewardship?
- About 76% of parishes benefitted initially from federal and/or state sources to fund staff salaries.
- About 50% of parishes are now allowing for online giving. CARA estimates that 45% of Catholic households contribute regularly to the weekly collection. 48% of those prefer to give in-person.
- About 22% of parishes have furloughed or laid off staff, closed their schools or eliminated programs.
The most visible sign of the pandemic’s impact nationally has been on Sunday and Holy Day Mass attendance. Here are some examples.
- Easter of 2020 Mass attendance was 15%. 48% of the Catholic population attended the year before.
- Christmas of 2020 attendance was 20%. The Christmas past saw 64% attend Mass.
These have been impacted in varying degrees.
- Confirmations across the country are down by 80%.
- Funerals have decreased by 54%.
The total impact is difficult to measure but there are some ministries which have faced significant changes.
- Religious education on all levels has moved more and more to a virtual format.
- Parish outreach programs are not only struggling for funds but are encountering difficulties in delivering services. Bishops have noted these same issues on the diocesan level for Catholic Charities.
- Pastoral care to health facilities and home visits require personal protective equipment and prevent most lay volunteers from assisting in the ministries.
- Staff morale has been diminished because of all the changes, demands and frustrations to ministry which have been encountered. Bishops have also noted a decline in staff morale at the diocesan level.
Diocesan Assistance to Parishes
The pandemic, in many locations, has provided an opportunity for the diocese and the parish to work more closely together. Dioceses have notably assisted parishes in these ways:
- Many dioceses advocated for and assisted parishes with applications for federal and state aid.
- Some adjusted diocesan assessments to ease the financial burden for a time.
- Some have helped parishes and Catholic schools acquire the technology for online Masses and distance learning.
What Should Parishes Be Ready For When the Pandemic Ends?
Financial giving and Mass attendance are likely to gradually return to levels similar to the pre-pandemic ones. The same can be projected for sacramental celebrations and ministry. Here are a few specific areas for consideration or planning:
- There will be some pent-up demand for sacramental celebrations.
- Many parishes will need to re-establish communication with all parishioners, update them about “return to normalcy” plans, and invite them to engage when it is safe to do so in larger numbers.
- People are now familiar with virtual technology which can be incorporated into ministries and regular parish meetings.
- There may be some ongoing safety practices regarding liturgical interactions with the assembly.
- The focus on sanitary supplies and sanitizing is likely here to stay.
If the past is a prelude to the future, according to the PBS documentaries on the 1918 pandemic and the 1930s through the 1950’s polio scares, people, will quickly put the COVID pandemic behind them and embrace a new “normal.”