Get all the latest news on coronavirus and more delivered daily to your inbox. Sign up here.
Easter Sunday is a celebration. Church pews overflow with parishioners seated in pastel-colored reverence of the risen Christ.
This year Easter is entering a virtual reality that may hurt some churches financially.
“We are not any different from anyone else at the moment,” said Father Mike Biewend of The Madeleine Church in Portland, Oregon. “So, yes we’re taking big financial losses.”
Easter and Holy Week, which commences with Palm Sunday, is generally a time when churches see a boost in attendance and donations. To slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, churches nationwide have shut their doors leaving some church leaders looking for other ways to secure donations.
The Archdiocese of Newark (New Jersey) set up an online GoFundMe donation page where anyone can contribute to specific parishes or to a more general “Parishes in Need Fund.”
“Our parishes face increased risk of financial shortfalls due to Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and its effects on everyday life,” said Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin in a statement on the page.
“It’s a concern for our pastors in our churches because the celebrations of Holy Week bring together a great number of people,” said Bishop Robert Casey of the Archdiocese of Chicago.
“It’s a homecoming time for us, but it’s also a very important fundraising time that allows us to continue with our mission and our ministries. And so this Holy Week will be especially worrisome for our parishes.”
Bishop Casey went on to say that for the Archdiocese of Chicago, contributions received on Thursday of Holy Week are used to support charities and social outreach ministries.
“A number of those not-for-profits and church-based outreach programs are nervous because they depend on those Holy Thursday collections to support their work,” said Bishop Casey.
The Archdiocese of Chicago also has an online donation page with links to its Universal Offertory Program and Coronavirus Emergency Fund.
“We just have to continue to encourage people through new ways of giving that are different than tossing your donation in a collection plate. I think now more than ever we need those services and our communities are benefiting from those services—our soup kitchens, our food pantries. These ministries are all such an important thing for people at this time.”
In addition to charitable activities, church donations support “critical needs” that are defined by the Archdiocese of Newark as “parish employee payroll, parish utilities [e.g., electricity, heating] and third-party employee contracts [e.g., maintenance, cleaning staff].”
“I have a savings that we save for a rainy day and this is a rainy day."
“The last thing we want to do is lay off anyone or furlough especially during this time,” said Father Paul Vigil of St. Timothy’s Catholic Church in Los Angeles. He echoes the wishes of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles which said it is “encouraging parishes and schools to avoid furloughs and layoffs.” It is also calling on parishioners to support extending unemployment benefits to church workers which in many states do not have access to state unemployment insurance.
“I have a savings that we save for a rainy day and this is a rainy day,” said Father Vigil.
While many churches have online platforms for donations parishes do expect to experience a significant decline in overall contributions.
“Everything about these days is odd,” said Father Kurt Hartrich of St. Peter’s Church in Chicago.
“Who knows what financial circumstances they’re [parishioners] going to be in. They maybe have been laid off for the same period of time. Some of them are probably going to be struggling much more than they were so how all of this is going to play out is pretty hard to really determine. It’s going to be a hardship no doubt about it.”