Clergy defend asking parishioners to donate £5,000 each to church projects
The importance of parishioners making donations to church projects has been defended by Northern Ireland clergy after a Catholic parish in Belfast called for people to make a contribution of £5,000 each.
Mass-goers at Holy Family in the north of the city received a letter suggesting a contribution of £1,000 each year for the next five years to help reduce the body's £1.7m debts.
The debt comes from building a new church on the Limestone Road and maintenance of the parish's two other churches, St Therese of Lisieux and the Church of the Resurrection, which is now closed and in disrepair.
The letter said: "Potentially, 100 such pledges, whether by individual parishioners or households, could reduce parish debt by more than one-third within five years."
The missive also explained that the donation request for the initiative, which was said to have come from a parishioner last November, would be over and above existing financial support. It added that more modest sums were also welcome.
Holy Family administrator Fr Paul Strain said several parishioners have already signed up for the pledge. He said: "Bearing in mind the financial constraints upon families at this time, whilst the pledge amount of £5,000 is suggested, individuals or groups are at liberty to consider making some other level of contribution to this debt reduction initiative."
The case is the latest example of how much churches rely on the generosity of their congregation in times of need.
Six years ago, Orangefield Presbyterian Church on the Castlereagh Road in Belfast had a £3.7m refurbishment from donations gathered from members.
This paid for the upgrading of the church building to meet modern requirements, and a new suite of halls, plus a cafe and a pre-school nursery. Orangefield's administration facilities manager David Irvine said donations of money and time were vital.
"These projects are specifically looking for community outreach," he said. "Donations are essential, not only in terms of financial contributions but also the aspect of keeping church life going."
Some smaller churches may ask their members to pay a tithe or a percentage of their income into their church to fund it.
Eric Marshall, the treasurer at St Patrick's Church of Ireland Cathedral in Armagh, said donations were vital even for larger denominations.
He said: "We have a small congregation and they are very faithful. Their generous offerings meet day-to-day expenses."
Belfast Telegraph religious affairs correspondent Alf McCreary said: "Some people may feel aggrieved at the level of donations being asked for in these tough economic times, but it's also tough for the churches, with rising maintenance and running costs as well as trying to build new facilities."
Members of Orangefield Presbyterian Church funded a £3.7m project to upgrade the church building, a new suite of halls, a cafe and a pre-school nursery. Parishioners of St Elizabeth Church of Ireland in Dundonald recently made financial contributions through special events to help build a new entrance pavilion and hall. There has been refurbishment work to Catholic churches across Northern Ireland, funded by the lottery, rent from lands and mainly parishioners. This includes St Anne's and St Patrick's in Derriaghy. There is ongoing work to the spire and facade at St Patrick's in Donegall Street, Belfast and a new porch at St Joseph's in Kircubbin.