Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Cure one or two people of blindness and you’re a saint; prevent blindness in millions and you’re Monsanto.

I myself first felt the pull of the Church in a very, very poor place — India, as it happens — that was at the time engaged in the humane project of making itself a considerably less poor place, largely by ignoring the advice of the Hindu versions of Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga. I am grateful to our clergy, and if my criticism herein seems unduly uncharitable to these princes of the Church, it is only because their backward views on capitalism are doing real, material, irreversible damage to the world and especially to the lives of poor people, who are most in need of what only capitalism has to offer. His Eminence may not entirely understand it, but the banks and boardrooms are full of men and women doing more in real terms for the least of these than he is — more, in fact, than he would even understand how to do — and what he proposes mainly is to stand in their way.
I have worked with a few very large, and rather wealthy, congregations during my career and, in one instance, reduced my flock to shock by urging caution when engaging in acts or ministries of social good.  The thing is, as I explained to them, ministry costs money and time and energy.  If the parish ministry, be it to the homeless, the hungry, or the otherwise disadvantaged, is to be realized, those organizing that ministry have to figure out how to pay for it.

Sometimes, and this is rare, the ministry itself is self-sufficient.  More often it needs to be subsidized through fund-raising events, although this can become exhausting over time, and from funds earned by another ministry or through specific endowments.  A ministry that does not take this into account is one that is bound to struggle and ultimately fail at its mission.  I regret that this is true, but it is reality.  Since church professionals have rarely started or managed a business, they are woefully ignorant in this regard.

For example, one parish where I worked had a gymnasium and basketball court [yes, that's right] that was not being used, so the well-intentioned in the parish turned it into a homeless shelter.  It was an abysmal failure as they did not take into account how many volunteers it would require, how much it would cost to clean up after a clientele notorious for its lack of sanitation, how to prevent violence among the clients, especially given that mental illness is common among the homeless, or how to cover the boost in insurance premiums.

There was also the matter of city and state regulation that stipulated, for example, that fire safety precautions be enforced [a fire drill for a collection of deranged street people is something to behold] and that a refrigerator of a certain size and style be available for their medications; medications that had to be monitored by the host facility.  All of this required not only tremendous time and energy, but considerable expense.  Paying for the ministry became more difficult when one of the most generous donors found a deposit of human waste in the pew that had been his families' familiar perch for at least three generations.

If the ministry doesn't pay for itself, and alienates those willing to cover the costs, it's no longer a viable ministry.  Good intentions only go so far.  Proclaiming the Gospel is far more physical than many suspect, and requires capital that too many clergy regard with disdain.