Friday, October 18, 2013

The Ghetto of the Soul

A Theater of the Word supporter, who has been trying to drum up business for us, writes to me (emphasis mine) ...

... the folks up this way completely balk at the price [of your shows], and this is unlikely to change if I try the pitch ten more times.  The youth / young adults ministry chap, though already familiar with you and your work, which he likes, said that $2500 is a youth ministry position for a year.  Indeed even if you were to halve the asking price for the show itself, then adding in the travel expenses, I have seen no indication that there would be any takers.  

What he's referring to is that if a parish in his neck of the woods booked us to perform one of our four-person touring shows, we would charge $1900 for the show plus travel.  Travel is our biggest expense.  To get four actors to his location (if we're not already on tour) would cost us at least $2,000.  But if we're on tour, the travel can be much less - and I often sell shows for whatever the parish or school can pay, if we can afford to do so on our end.

Out of the base price of the show (not including travel), we pay for actors, costumes, lights, a sound system, and the hundreds of hours it takes to research, write, cast, rehearse, market and schedule our performances.  Since my actors and I are all human beings, we need food, shelter and transportation, which means we must be paid money for the time we put in - not big money, but subsistence money, poverty-level money.  One of my actors has a good day job and can rarely afford to travel with us, for he loses money while on a Theater of the Word tour.

So I responded to my supporter ...

I'd love to lower the price of our shows.  The problem is, if I tried to get four actors to [your location] and have them perform one or more shows for less than $2500 including travel, I'd be more broke than I am.  It's just not possible to pay travel and also eat for less than what we charge.  ...  So it's a sad situation.
The sadder thing here is that $2500 will pay for a Youth Minister.  

I mean, really.

$2500 is the annual Youth Minister budget?  I know that's part-time money, and I understand a parish not giving a damn about Theater of the Word "evangelizing through drama".

But Youth Ministry?  The future of the Church?  Youth Ministry is this unimportant?

How does $2500 for a Youth Minister compare to the average parish budget? reports

In the average American parish, the total operating revenue of about $695,000 exceeds expenses of $626,500. The average surplus is 4.3 percent of revenue.  [or about $70,000 left over at the end of the year].

The report goes on to stress than 30% of American parishes have a shortfall.  But of the 70% that have revenues exceeding expenses, is it too much to ask that more than a token of good will (which $2500 represents) be offered to someone as important as a Youth Minister?  I'm not saying any of us are in this to make money, but I am saying we all have to eat, and perpetuating the Catholic Ghetto is no way to run a Church.  Are our parishes run by pastors or slumlords?

But the problem here goes deeper than money.  Money is just a way to measure the problem, to talk about it.  The problem is more than financial.


During the Year of St. Paul, we offered performances of our show The Journey of St. Paul free of charge to parishes in my home archdiocese of St. Louis.  Fifty or so St. Louis parishes booked this free show, and audiences loved it.  We were able to do this because of generous financial support from Ignatius Press.

But that's one out of four parishes - willing to take a free show.  About a seminal apostle in the Church in the midst of a year devoted to him and his life.

The following year (which was the Year of Nothing), we called back every parish that had a good turnout during the Year of St. Paul and that had audiences raving about our show and building shrines to Kevin O'Brien in their back yards - and offered another show at a token price, $300 (which would not have covered actors and gas; in other words almost-free-of-charge) and we got two takers - perhaps because it was the Year of Nothing, and so there was no reason to book any of our dozen other shows - or perhaps because nobody really gives a damn - about Theater of the Word or Youth Ministry or much of anything.

Meanwhile, this year the affluent parish up the road from us (in the neighborhood where Joyce Meyer lives) recently had a capital campaign to raise $350,000 to re-pave their parking lot.  

And they raised it.

Of course "plant maintenance" is a real world legitimate expense.  And a church must have a parking lot.  But this parish is about two miles from my front door.  Ask me if they've ever booked a Theater of the Word show - even a free one.

Um.  No.

I don't think they have a paid Youth Minister.  I know the teachers in their Catholic grade school are paid, but not paid well.  Their Director of Religious Education is probably a volunteer position (many of them are in this archdiocese).

But they have a really nice parking lot.  A really nice damn parking lot.

And I'd venture to guess that 90% of the kids who attend the parish school there have no idea who Jesus really is or what He asks of us.  And I'm certain that they will grow up to have as much extramarital sex and as many abortions as the public school kids surrounding them.

This is an affluent parish, all right.  But a very poor one, too, it seems.

Because we are living in a Ghetto of the Soul.


But life in the Ghetto ain't so bad for some.  One can make money off of all this, if you tell the people what they want to hear.  Moralistic Therapeutic Deism sells, even if Christ and Christ crucified doesn't.

Following the adverse publicity about [Joyce Meyer's] lifestyle and Ministry Watch's request for an IRS probe, Meyer announced in 2004 plans to take a salary reduction from the $900,000 per year she had been receiving from Joyce Meyer Ministries (in addition to the $450,000 her husband received)[11] and instead personally keep more of the royalties from her outside book sales which Meyer had previously donated back to Joyce Meyer Ministries. She now retains royalties on books sold outside the ministry through retail outlets such as, and bookstores, while continuing to donate to her ministry royalties from books sold through her conferences, catalogues, website, and television program.[12] "The net effect of all of this," notes Ministry Watch,[10] "was most likely a sizable increase in the personal compensation of Joyce Meyer and reduced revenues for [her ministry]." In an article in the St. Louis Business Journal, Meyer's public relations director, Mark Sutherland, confirmed that her new income would be "way above" her previous levels.[13] Joyce Meyer Ministries says it has made a commitment to maintain transparency in financial dealings,[14] publish their annual reports,[14] have a Board majority who are not Meyer relatives[15] and submit to a voluntary annual audit.[14][16] On December 18, 2008, this ministry received a "C" grade (71–80 score) for financial transparency from Ministry Watch.[17]

I just wonder where the middle ground lies, that place between a televangelist who (apparently)

  • Does it all for money


  • a Christian with an apostolate who is expected to feed the 5,000 without the original few loaves and fishes even being paid for.

It is a frustrating situation.  


Tom Leith said...

> The sadder thing here is that
> $2500 will pay for a
> Youth Minister.

But it doesn't pay for a Youth Minister.

You have put your finger on it -- nobody gives a damn about religious education. Credo offered to take a DVD presentation Breaking the Spiral of Silence and lead a discussion afterwards free of charge to any parish and got no takers. But we're not as entertaining as TWINC -- at least you got two during The Year of Nothing.

But I see a nearby Catholic High School's football team practicing under lights that surely cost $50/hour to operate with a paid coaching staff. Oh sure, they don't make much...

Christian LeBlanc said...

As a longtime catechist I'm never surprised to learn that Sports Trumps God.

o said...

Can you spread hot asphalt while you do that? Parking Lot Re-pavers Theater (of the Word)?

Wow, talking about crimes that scream to heaven, this is a subtle one of similar devastation soul-wise.

It's the parents lack of support that causes this. Look how parents support sports and only tolerate, slightly, CCD - that's why the kids know they can misbehave.

If the kids want it, the parents will ask. How to get the kids to plead. Justin Bieber wig?

Anonymous said...

The Greek Orthodox pay their parish priests $135,000 per year with five week vacation after their fifteenth year of ordination. Our parishes are being mismanaged.

Dr. Eric