Churches Show How to Financially Survive During Pandemic

Parishioners at St. Anselm Church are using Go Fund Me as a vehicle to seek donations for the parish during COVID-19. (Photo: Go Fund Me)

WINDSOR TERRACE — As the COVID-19 rages on, pastors in the Diocese of Brooklyn and elsewhere are coming up with all sorts of ways to keep their churches financially afloat during the pandemic when social distancing rules are sharply curtailing attendance at Masses and most revenue streams have been brought to a grinding halt.

Churches are busy forging relationships with banks, offering historic tours, and using the internet to sponsor donation drives, among other money-making activities to help raise funds to keep parishes alive.

Msgr. Jamie Gigantiello, the pastor of the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Williamsburg, has formed an alliance with the local branch of Investors Bank that could generate funds for the parish.

When a client opens an account at the Williamsburg branch, at 236 Broadway, Investors Bank will donate $25 to Our Lady of Mount Carmel on the client’s behalf. The branch, which recently celebrated its grand opening, has started a similar donation program with Satmar Bikur Cholim, a local non-profit that serves the Jewish community.

Msgr. Gigantiello was on hand at the grand opening to welcome Investors Bank to the community. “I came to offer a blessing,” he told The Tablet.

Msgr. Gigantiello is no stranger to Investors Bank. He and Domenick Cama, the bank’s president and chief operating officer, have worked together on community improvement projects in other Brooklyn neighborhoods over the years.

It’s important for pastors to work with the local business community, according to Msgr. Gigantiello. “It’s good to support each other. The church supports the local businesses and the businesses support the parish,” he said.

One church in the diocese used sports to bring in money and keep its young people engaged.

Through luck and determination, the Church of St. Francis de Sales, Belle Harbor, managed to keep its St. Francis Summer Classic going. The classic is a summer basketball league. This year, the church ran the sports program not only as a way to bring in money but to give athletes an outlet during a tough time. The program generates money for the church because the players pay registration fees to take part in the league.

While most church sports programs take place indoors, in gyms, St. Francis de Sales has an outdoor basketball court — a factor that allowed the Summer Classic to go on, even in a pandemic. The practices and games took place outdoors. Spectators were required to wear face masks and keep a safe distance from the players on the basketball court.

“It was delayed until August. But we wanted to keep it going. It’s so much a part of the parish,” Father William Sweeney, the pastor, told The Tablet.

Prior to setting up the schedule of games, the parish consulted with Joseph Esposito, the former commissioner of the New York City Office of Emergency Management, on safety protocol. Esposito was the leader of a commission formed by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio to ensure the safe reopening of Masses at churches earlier this year.

The summer basketball league is organized by Keith Goldberg, sports coordinator of the Catholic Youth Organization. “It’s showing that the kids can play safely and have fun and the community can enjoy it,” Goldberg told The Tablet in August.

In addition to sports, Father Sweeney found that live-streaming Masses to be a way to bring in additional funds. The Masses, which are live-streamed on St. Francis de Sales’ Facebook page, have a wide reach. “It’s not just parishioners watching. There are people from California and Ireland watching,” he said. Viewers have been sending donations.

The priests sometimes announce the names of people watching the live stream to make them feel like they’re a part of the celebration. “We try to personalize it. People sometimes can’t relate to a church but they can relate to Father Bill or Father Jim,” he said, referring to Associate Pastor Father Jim Cunningham.

Churches are also taking advantage of their unique histories to generate revenue.

The Basilica of Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Little Italy, for example, opens its catacombs to allow walking tours conducted by Tommy’s New York. Tommy Wilkinson, the tour director, takes visitors underground to view the final resting places of bishops, politicians, and musicians.

“Catacombs by Candlelight,” a 90-minute walking tour that includes two walled-off cemeteries as well as the catacombs, is a popular excursion. Ticket prices start at $37 for adults and $30 for senior citizens and children. Wilkinson, who is a parishioner, shares the proceeds with Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

“Within the Catholic Church, every parish has to stand on its own legs, and every parish has to come up with ways to support itself,” Wilkinson told Current News.

Back in Brooklyn, St. Anselm Church, Bay Ridge, started a Go Fund Me campaign with the goal of raising $10,000 for the parish. Parishioner John Quaglione organized the fundraising drive eight months ago.

“I’m raising money to benefit St. Anselm’s Roman Catholic Church, to help offset the loss in donations they will endure during this time of the coronavirus epidemic. Any donation will help make an impact,” wrote Quaglione, who is also the deputy press secretary of the Diocese of Brooklyn.

The church has raised $9,085 to date, surpassing its goal of $8,500.