Give to the people who are always there for you

by the Rev. Paul Jarvis
Special to Sun Thisweek

It’s 1:58 a.m.

Saturday, early early morning or late late night.

I just returned home from an emergency visit to a hospital. The family of a patient was concerned that their loved one might be dying in the next few days. And so they naturally called their priest.

I, of course, spent more time with the family – talking with them and counseling them and praying with them – than I did with the comatose patient. I have a hard time imagining the president of a national charity or the management of some nonprofit cultural institution or the chair of a political party visiting a hospital patient past midnight. If at all.

Then again, that type of self-sacrificing service is why I and most other clergy went into “church work” or ministry.

When there’s a problem within a marriage or with a troubled teen … when someone needs a reference for college … when a recovering alcoholic needs to do their Fifth Step … when extremely busy parents need someone to help pass on the faith to their kids … when someone burdened by guilt needs an ear to confess to …  when someone wants to get married in the church …

when someone is lonely and requires a visit or a social network … when a first-time volunteer needs someone to mentor them in a service project … when a Boy Scout needs an idea for his Eagle Scout project … when a family needs to grieve in a healing way … when a friend needs a fund raiser for mounting bills…

when a parent wants their kids educated in not just the 3 Rs, but to be immersed in the fourth R of religion through a parochial school … when new parents want to initiate their children in the way of God … when empty nesters want to really delve into Sacred Scripture … when some doubting young adults need to ask some tough questions … when a young child dies … when a soldier comes home handicapped … when disaster strikes …

Well, I could go on. But you know where I am going with this. You know the usual answer to the question, “Where do they go?” And it of course is “Their parish.” Or their congregation or temple or masjid.

I bring up all this because I just read a fantastic opinion piece by Ken Stern in the Star Tribune: “Know how to make that year-end charity count.” You can read it at

Stern lists five things to remember when deciding upon which charity or nonprofit to support. 1) Charities that principally serve the poor. 2) Donors should reward charities with low overhead. 3) Tax incentives are critical to charitable giving. 4) Nonprofits are not profitable. 5) It is easy to find a good charity to support.

You name the parish or congregation or temple or masjid, and I can virtually guarantee you that a significant portion of their budgets as well as the funds from their special collections support local food shelves and aid agencies, as well as many international relief efforts. Members of parishes and congregations and temples also provide innumerable volunteers for great organizations like Loaves and Fishes, Caring and Sharing Hands, Goodwill stores, Salvation Army centers, Dorothy Day centers, etc.

Trust me, there is no organization with a lower overhead than the typical church or temple. After all, church staffers and parochial school teachers are well known to be paid significantly lower than the norm for their expertise and experience.

In the Catholic world, most of what is done within or through a nonprofit faith community is done by the active 7 percent of its membership. At St. Joseph in Rosemount, for example, that’s about 140 households. And then there are those one-third of any Catholic parish who are periodically helping out with volunteering in events and a growing number of ministries. That’s more than 600 households at St. Joseph.

Though it is true that the American Red Cross president made in excess of a $1 million in total compensation in 2010, the typical Catholic priest in this region makes a salary a little more than than $20,000/year. Yep, their housing and health insurance are paid for. But remember this, they have no home equity at the end of their productive work lives – which is the typical American’s primary source of retirement savings. It’s also my experience that the typical priest works way past normal retirement age for Americans: 65. I know I plan to die with my priestly boots on.

Believe me, no one works in the church or temple – whether as clergy or lay ministers – for the salary.

As Stern suggests, it is indeed very easy to find the most important charity in your life, throughout your life, and is there for you at the most important moments of your life. But it seems that this nonprofit is like the air we breathe.

There. But often unnoticed. Until it is gone.

In the past eight-plus years of my priesthood, I can think of just two deceased people who’ve remembered either their parish or their parochial school in their estate planning.

When I read the obituaries of faithful members, I read how various health research nonprofits are mentioned as preferred recipients of memorials … but rarely do I read someone remembering their parish or parochial school … their temple or their masjid. Even though millions nationally support worthy and much-needed organizations like cancer research nonprofits and cultural institutions … and even though churches and temples are really only supported by hundreds of households. If that.

If only the dollar equivalent of a single funeral flower arrangement were gifted as a memorial to the faith community hosting the deceased’s funeral celebration, the church or temple would be greatly helped.

Read Stern’s article. And if you are a member of a faith community, then I know for sure which is the best place to make your contributions. Just follow Stern’s advice.

The Rev. Paul Jarvis is pastor of St. Joseph Parish and School in Rosemount. More is at Columns reflect the opinion of the author.