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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