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A turn to the parish benefice

A turn to the parish benefice

In National Catholic Reporter, Tom Gallagher profiles some parishes that are moving to adapt their own practices of “making.” The benefice model encourages churches to produce goods for sale – not merely because it helps even out the budget during times of economic distress, but also because it’s close to the heart of what drives churches.

The epic economic crisis in the United States has prompted dioceses and parishes to help its parishioners find work. Networking events, resumé-writing seminars, and career coaching are common activities. Unemployment remains highest among minority groups. But what if parishes actually created manufacturing jobs and produced goods in a sustainable, local manner? Can this actually be done?

One priest thinks so.

In 2005, Fr. Andrew O’Connor of Holy Family Church in Bronx, N.Y., founded Goods of Conscience, a parish-based workshop that employs members of the local community to produce garments from fabric woven in Guatemala.

“The soul of a parish is making,” O’Connor said. “This follows the medieval tradition of the parish benefice, or one in which a parish produces a good to support the parish.”

O’Connor points out that St. Paul made tents (Acts 18:1-3) and the Rule of St. Benedict is modeled on monks earning their own living by producing goods such as cheese, bread, cloth, wine and now even ink-jet print cartridges.

He also sees a parish benefice as being directly tied to the Eucharist. “The community that makes bread and wine that is to be transformed and consumed is also the community that is more appreciative and awed by the mystery of the bread and wine becoming the body and blood of Christ,” O’Connor said.


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Elisabeth Brauza

Perhaps I’m missing something here, but how does this differ from the parish that opens a bookstore or a coffee shop? If a certain threshold of revenue is reached, then taxes on that revenue would have to be paid, and the church might want to consider this when deciding whether to run the business as a non-profit or for-profit venture. That’s what tax advisers are for.

Attention should also be paid to where the money goes. There’s a big difference between raising wealth for the sake of wealth, and finding new ways to fund outreach.

I think this is an excellent example of a church identifying a community need and working to meet it.

Lionel Deimel

St. Paul did not have to deal with the IRS. Are we talking about churches using their tax-exempt status to compete in the world of commerce? This proposal needs to be thought through very carefully.

John D. Andrews

I think this is a wonderful idea. Churches can reach out to their members that need jobs, as well as reaching out to others in the community. This would also be a great way to foster community.

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