As you pick up the bulletin this week, you might notice that it’s a little bit thicker than usual! Inside you’ll find all sorts of boring numbers that for some reason I decided to put into the bulletin this year! In all seriousness, I really do believe it’s important that we be as transparent as possible in our finances as a Church and that we do what we can to help you, the people, be part of the decision-making. To paraphrase one of my favorite Catholic writers, GK Chesterton: Democracy is a wonderful thing that works very well, when you're not in a hurry. Then he goes on to explain that sometimes we need to let everyone in on the decision, but when we do that it takes a long time. Other times, we need a decision right away and someone has to make the decision. It’s a balance.
Over the course of this year, there’s been a lot of decisions that simply had to be made on the spot. Every so often though, it’s good to stop and get input, to set our priorities, and to look forward together at how we’re doing and where we’re heading. That’s part of what I hope to do this weekend and through restarting our parish council. This year has been quite the experience for me. We had quite a few routines I had to learn, others that simply weren't working that we had to revise and lots of systems to change.
We’ve accomplished quite a bit this year. In the office, we’ve completely updated our parish registrations and moved them into a new, manageable system. We’ve revised our mass intention process and gotten that into a manageable process. We’ve gotten our minister schedules working well, we’ve dramatically straightened out our bookkeeping, we’ve redone our website into something useful, and we’ve completely redesigned our bulletin.
In terms of the facility, we’ve sadly had to close the activity building to programming, but we managed to negotiate a lease with the Library, giving them an area to store their extra books, and keeping the building from being a drain on us. We’ve fixed up some, but not all of the indoor and outdoor lighting, both at the Church and at the Chapel. We had an amazing Christmas display, most of which was purchased and constructed this year. We did have to replace a water tank in the rectory, but we also installed a heat pump system in the rectory, giving us both air conditioning and more efficient heating.
In terms of programming, with the retirement of our DRE, we’ve revamped our religious education program with new books and programming. I’ve very excited for the future there. We’ve secured an online subscription to FORMED, which gives our parishoners access to some amazing Catholic materials, talks, videos, books, and more. We’ve also implemented a new sacramental prep program for Marriage Prep and Baptism Prep. We started a few adult education classes through the use of FORMED. One got cut short due to Covid, but then we hosted another class on prayer entirely online through Zoom. We’ve purchased and installed equipment to do online streaming and we’ve begun streaming both weekend and daily masses, reaching as many as 350 simultaneous viewers during holy week. Even now with things mostly opened up, we still reach around 50 viewers daily. We hired a new Maintenance Man who started just this past week and will be beginning to work on a lot of long-deferred minor repairs and upkeep to our facilities that have needed done for quite a long time. Finally, we’re starting to move on those things.
We had two wonderful dinners, Turkey in the Fall, and Halupki in the Spring. I was so very impressed with all the baskets and all the help. Each of those dinners brought in just about $12,000 a piece to help with the expenses of our parish. I want to offer a special thank you to everyone who was involved with those in any way.
When it comes to our Cemeteries, we’ve come a long way. We’ve gotten our policies firmly straightened out and clarified so that they’re clear, public, and consistent for everyone. When I started, we quite a few maps and no one was quite sure how to make sense of them. We revised our records, our easement forms and clarified processes so that we have clear records when easements are sold or transferred. We raised money for mapping software that’s now purchased and ready. We have aerial photos of the Cemeteries and are nearly ready to enlist volunteers to begin to walk the various sections, identify stones and input data to our new system.
When I look at that, it’s quite a bit to manage in just a year. I’m thankful to everyone who has helped with that process. On the next few pages, you’ll see the various budget numbers. As I prepared my notes on finances, I realized that there was quite a bit to talk about and explain, so I recorded a series of YouTube videos explaining our finances and budget in detail. If you’d like all the nitty-gritty details, please check those out via our website. Here in the bulletin, I’ll just hit some of the highlights.
Overall we’re doing relatively well as a parish. We’re not rich, but we’re stable and able to pay all of our bills. This year we’re up just about $4,000 from last year. With our new bulletins and the restriction of putting out hymnals, we cut our hymnal order for this year. Between savings from the hymnals, income from bulletin advertisement, the cost of licensing for printing the music, and the cost of printing the bulletin, we should come out just a little bit ahead.
This year we received an estate gift that really helped us out, and we had two large diocesan assessments that were not billed due to a change in accounting. Put together that makes us look a bit better than we really are this year. Next year, we’ll be adding a maintenance person, and a bit to the Religious Education budget for the new materials. We will be installing the new heat-pump in the Church. It’s been ordered and is currently being shipped to the vendor who will install it. The Church heat-pump will be paid out of our monthly maintenance savings. So when you see those monthly envelopes, that’s the sort of major repair they go towards. For this upcoming year, we also renegotiated our school assessment. Moving forward, we should be much more in-line with what other sending parishes pay.
I know that’s a lot of information, and I still need to say a few words about the cemetery, but I just want to offer a heart-felt thank you to everyone here at Prince of Peace in the last year. We’ve done some amazing things this year. I know we’re only just getting started, but I want to thank everyone for what they’ve done so far and I’m looking forward to what we can do in this coming year.
Whenever we put together our financial reports for the Parish, I'm very happy to report that while we're not rich, our parish is now in reasonably healthy financial shape. I wish I could say the same about our cemetery. In the year I've been here, there's been a lot of mis-information making the rounds about our cemeteries and I wanted to wait until now, a year later to set some of the record straight and share some of the real numbers with you.
We do have a few pretty serious concerns with our cemeteries, but I'm hopeful that we have some reasonable strategies to begin addressing those concerns.
Before I get too far, I think it's helpful to give a little bit of an overview of how cemetery finances are supposed to work. I hope that will clear up some of the conflicting pieces you may have heard in the past and help us all get onto the same page making a path forward.
A well run cemetery has two main accounts: An ordinary fund and a perpetual care fund. The ordinary fund is the checking account we use to pay all of the normal bills for the cemetery, things like paying the people who cut the grass and maintaining the equipment they use.
The perpetual care fund is something called an endowment. It's money that's permanently invested and the interest on that investment goes into the ordinary fund to pay the bills. By design, we can never take out the principal from that fund so that it will continue to produce interest funding the cemetery's operations perpetually, hence, "perpetual care"
The perpetual care fund is supposed to be managed by a foundation on our behalf. In our case, the Independent Foundation for the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown manages our perpetual care fund. Every time an easement is sold for that cemetery, a percentage of that sale goes into that perpetual care fund. That way, there's enough money to pay for the grass-cutting and any needed repairs for the cemetery.
That's how it's supposed to work, but now comes the part where things get interesting. I can't speak for how things were handled before my arrival here at Prince of Peace. It’s easy to go round-and-round talking about things should have been done. Yet, we can’t change the past, we can only examine where we are and look forward. With that in mind, I'd like to give you an honest accounting of where we are right now.
When I arrived, we had just about $250,000 in our perpetual care fund. That fund typically pays out around 4.5% interest every year. In a normal year that would give us around $11,250 in interest. In 2018, Fr Don had moved the money into the Independent Foundation as it should have always been. That move happened mid-way through the year. That’s why last year we only received about 1/2 of a typical year's interest. When we combine that with the instability fo the market this year, our perpetual care fund gave us just about $4,600. This fiscal year, we just recently received the endowment check for a little over $8,600 or about 3.3% interest. Considering the current state of the market, that’s still a pretty good return. The only other major income the cemetery has are grave sales and our parish cemetery collection. This year, Grave sales, grave opening feesbrought in $4800 and our parish collection brought in $3,200. Not counting our special projects, that brings us to about $12,600 total annual income.
Here's the problem. We have 5 Cemeteries. Just the mowing and trimming costs between $250-$400 per cemetery, per cut. Currently we have each of the cemeteries cut and trimmed every other week. When we consider a cutting season of March through October our grass cutting costs come to around $27k. It doesn't take an accountant to figure out that it's pretty hard to manage a cemetery when our income on a good year would be $19k, and our regular expenses not counting improvements are around $27k.
For many years, the cemetery had simply paid the bills out of the grave sales for the year and did not invest any money in the perpetual care fund. Over time, that sort of band-aid gradually made the problem grow bigger and bigger. Combine that with the fact that as that budget became tighter and tighter, there weren't funds to properly maintain the cemetery records, volunteers from before the merger grew older and older, and it became more and more difficult to locate and sell graves. That meant the cemetery gradually had less and less income.
That pretty much describes the problem as well as I can put it. You're welcome to look at the numbers to get a good sense of what I'm describing.
So I’m proposing we work toward a realistic long-term solution for the problem. The reality is, if we keep doing what we're doing, the problem is only going to get worse. I'm proposing that in the short-term, we as a parish, need to assume the responsibility for the bills the cemetery can't afford to pay right now. If we do that, we'll be able to start to properly fund our perpetual care fund from the sale of graves, the way it was supposed to happen in the first place. If we are consistent, over the next few years, we will be able to build up our perpetual care fund to the point where the cemetery will be self-sustaining in the way it's supposed to be.
In real numbers, I believe that's going to cost the parish around a $10k-15k per year. Thankfully, since we've restructured our Catholic School assessment this year, we'll basically be swapping some of what we used to pay toward Catholic Education with this new cemetery assessment. We estimate that it’s going to take around $700k in the perpetual care fund for the cemetery to be fully funded and fully self-sufficient. Obviously that's not going to happen in one year. It’s going to be a process that will take many years. Still, it’s not an all-or-nothing solution. Every time we add money to that perpetual care fund, we get a little more in interest the following year. Each year can move us closer and closer to sustainability.
I have to be realistic that it’s going to take a long time to build that fund up to where it should be, but like most things that take a long time, they won't ever happen unless we start somewhere. I know it’s not the most pleasant news, but I really think we can do it, and leave things set up well for the next generation.
God Bless You—Fr Matt
Father Matthew Baum is the Parish Administrator at Prince of Peace Church in Northern Cambria, PA.