On Thursday, February 22, we held two parish meetings, one in the morning and one in the evening to talk about the parish survey we conducted last November – the reasons we conducted the survey, what we found, and next steps. Both meetings were held in Anthony Hall Founders Room, which was filled for both meetings. Here’s a summary of what we talked about:

Why the survey?

We did the survey as part of an overall feasibility study on the recommendation of the parish Finance Council to see if the parish were open to a debt reduction or debt elimination capital campaign. St.  Francis currently holds around $4.7 million in debt related to past building projects and that debt is being carried by parish and school budgets. We adapted the survey, which was developed by Lynch Development Associates to include questions not only about willingness or ability to conduct a capital campaign, but also to include questions about your overall experience of our parish and schools. The survey was sent out to more than 4,500 parish families. We received nearly 700 responses in return. In those responses we received over 1,500 written comments which were reviewed and compiled.

What did we find overall?

We found that 97% of our respondents rated the parish as either “excellent” or “good.” That’s a good starting point, and reinforces my sense that St. Francis in many ways is doing just fine. However, “doing just fine” is not a place to rest –we want to continually be looking at our parish, where we’ve been, where we are now, what we do well, what we could be doing better at, what/who God is calling us to be. I began each of the sessions with a
reflection on the prayer of St. Francis before the crucifix, a short, simple prayer that Francis himself used to pray in front of the crucifix in the humble church of San Damiano outside the walls of Assisi:

“Most high, glorious God, enlighten the
darkness of my heart, and give me Lord,
a correct faith, certain hope, and perfect
charity, sense and knowledge, so that
I may carry out your holy and true
command.”

It’s important to remember that we always root ourselves in our Franciscan tradition. 

Some of the things we learned about our finances:

• We need to find better ways of communicating our financial status. St.Francis, between the parish, school,  preschool, and columbarium has an annual budget of over $13 million/year. Every year, we pay $818,000 toward our mortgage obligations. The mortgages are for past building projects, including the Siena building which houses classrooms for grades 6-8 and also office space for teachers and parish staff; the gym and community center; the chapel, and also Elizabeth Hall, which houses many of our preschool classrooms.

• We found that many people simply did not know we had debt or where it came from. Those past building projects are from nearly ten years ago, so anyone arriving after that time would not necessarily know we had the debt or why we have it.

• We found that many people did not realize that the parish, through an annual 10% tithe, provides tuition assistance to both the school and preschool.

• Although the parish, school, and preschool are each their own entity, they are deeply interconnected and reliant on one another and we need to continually communicate that relationship.

• We need to form our community in the meaning of stewardship. The word stewardship means that our parish and schools are gifts from God and that we are all called to care for what we have received through the giving of our time, our talent, and our treasure.

• As for the question of a capital campaign and whether to have one: there were mixed feelings on the question. It’s not off the table, but for now we need to do a better job of communicating/educating the parish on our financial status and also articulating a vision of what reducing or eliminating our debt would do for us. We will
continue to look at ways to address this.

What else did we learn?

We heard many comments about “wanting to know the pastor and the friars better.” Over the past year or so, with the help of a member of the parish with a Human Resources background, I have been working to structure the staff in a way that helps me better manage the parish. We are making strides in that area. I also acknowledged in the meetings that there has been much change among the friars over the past few years. For many years, this parish knew three friars very well: Mark Reamer, David McBriar, and Bill McConville. Those three friars – all good friars, all friends of mine – were here, collectively, for over 50 years if you add up the numbers (Mark, 19, David, 20+, Bill, 14). Mark left in 2014, Bill in 2015, David in 2016. I arrived in 2014, Steve Kluge in 2015, and Jim Sabak in 2017. Collectively, that’s about 7 years. That’s a major shift in a short period of time, and it feels like the parish is still learning us, and we are still learning the parish.

As you would expect, with well over a thousand comments, people had all kinds of things to say about what they
liked or didn’t like. All to be expected in a  survey this large. But in both the survey and in the parish meetings, what came through was a deep affection for this parish, that beginning with its foundation in the early 1980s and continuing through the decades, St. Francis has become known throughout the Diocese of Raleigh as a destination parish. We stand on the foundation of the poor man from Assisi, St. Francis, who himself looked upon the crucifix in that ruined chapel outside Assisi, and followed Jesus on his way.

With that in mind, what comes next?

My own sense is that we have a lot of good things happening here every day of every week and I am not sure how many people in the parish know about these things – the outreach to the wider community, the pastoral care, the faith formation opportunities, the education that happens in our schools. St. Francis is a strong, vital parish within the Diocese of Raleigh. In the past year we have added a new position on our staff, Director
of Strategic Planning and Communications, and that position is being held by Tricia Henry, who you may know from her prior position here as coordinator of our community center. Tricia and I, along with staff and councils, will be looking in the coming months to develop a pastoral planning process that acknowledges our parish’s rich past, looks closely at our current status, and imagines where we want to go in the coming years. And we will be looking at ways to communicate that, and involve people, along the way.

Thank you, and blessings on your week!