It's time to address parish needs in a new way, say parish leaders and officials from the Albany Diocese working on the "Re-Igniting Our Faith" campaign.

Now getting underway, the diocesan-wide campaign is more than a financial fundraiser, the officials noted. While the Diocese hopes to raise $45 million by early 2019, 70 percent of that will go back to the parishes to address their needs.

"It's overdue," said John Murray of Our Lady of Victory parish in Troy, who's helping to spearhead the campaign at his parish (see sidebar). "This Church has needs. Other organizations are sophisticated in how they ask donors to support their mission. It's time our Diocese asked donors to support [the Church's] mission."

Parishes may use some funds raised through Re-Igniting Our Faith to address practical concerns like repaving a parking lot or fixing the church organ, said those working on the campaign, but the real goal is to foster dynamic parish communities.

In his column in The Evangelist's Oct. 12 issue, Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger declared that "our future is dawning and within our sight. We are embarking on a campaign to secure the foundation for our future, which will fuel our larger vision of growing and enhancing our Catholic community of faith for current and future generations."

Already begun
The Bishop noted that "everything good you can imagine about our 'faith on fire' already exists somewhere in many parishes of our Diocese! We are blessed with laypersons and religious, deacons and priests with talents, experience and passion who can inspire others in our faith that moves mountains."

Re-Igniting Our Faith began during the summer with a pilot phase in about a dozen parishes. Each parish has been working to create a unique plan to address its specific needs, both economic and spiritual. Pastors have consulted with parish councils and finance committees to define what their parish needs are, what the cost of meeting those needs would be and what they want to prioritize.

The Re-Igniting Our Faith campaign is different from the annual Bishop's Appeal, which is the main funding stream for the Diocese. Bishop's Appeal pledges support the Diocese in maintaining Catholic education, parish faith formation, Catholic Charities, technology, communications, vocations and more.

Diocesan portion
With Re-Igniting Our Faith, less than a third of the funds raised will go to the Diocese, and that $13.5 million will be targeted at several areas that also benefit parishes:

•  assisting retired priests, who continue to serve;

•  supporting vocations, which have been on the rise in the Diocese;

•  updating resources like video, web and distance learning, retreats and speakers;

•  boosting youth and young adult ministries with events and financial aid for young people to attend rallies and conferences;

•  sponsoring evangelization and communications efforts like workshops, mentoring for parish leaders, marketing and universal access to video and communications resources; and

•  developing resources for Catholic schools, including scholarships for families in need.

Parish perspective
"I think it's a great idea," said Deacon Gregory Mansfield, parish life director for St. John the Evangelist and St. Joseph's parish in Rensselaer. At the diocesan level, "we have the larger needs; those are all worthy of being supported. Couple that with parish needs and it's a very viable, worthwhile program."

When word went out that several parishes were being sought to pilot the Re-Igniting Our Faith campaign, St. John the Evangelist and St. Joseph's volunteered. Deacon Mansfield said the parish was already dealing with the need to replace shingles on the church roof -- something that, as a safety issue, had to be dealt with immediately -- so it was easy to see that a campaign would help with other basic needs, and with the larger picture of serving the parish and community.

"Older churches have structural needs, but a greater need is evangelization," the PLD explained. "A good building is important; you want to have an environment that's pleasing and presentable. But we're also looking at what we can do to attract and engage younger families. That's the future."

In its Re-Igniting Our Faith plan, St. John the Evangelist and St. Joseph's is looking at issues like the need for additional parking near its inner-city church, the need to make the church building more accessible to persons with disabilities and the need to find "nones" -- people who don't identify with a faith community -- and welcome them back to the parish.

Coming up
Re-Igniting Our Faith asks every parish to set the same goal: raising 125 percent of its average of regular ordinary income over a three-year period. All parishioners are asked to make a pledge; parishes can take three to five years to work toward their goal.

For St. John the Evangelist and St. Joseph's, that means raising $320,000. Deacon Mansfield said the parish will start in November by approaching its top 30 percent of supporters; by February, the rest of the parishioners will be asked to commit to a pledge. Campaign directors will partner with each parish to help manage the campaign.

Deacon Mansfield said his parishioners liked the idea that the Re-Igniting Our Faith campaign is not a straight assessment of what the parish must raise, but a way to both amass more resources that will stay in the parish and learn to use them effectively.

"Rensselaer is a small city, 10,000-plus," he said. "But, if we consider the immediate area, there's certainly a pool of people out there" who could become a vital part of parish life.

"We have modest goals: Put it out there and see who might be interested and open to reestablishing a connection with their faith," the PLD said.

As the pilot phase concludes for the first sampling of parishes around the Diocese, another 49 parishes or so will have already begun working on their campaigns. Next June, a third phase will begin, with the remaining approximately 65 parishes preparing for and implementing their campaigns.

Campaign materials note that the effort will "support parishes [and] ensure parish communities are dynamic, welcoming and well-positioned to spread the joy of the Gospel, now and in the future."