Heating costs nationwide have been higher than usual this winter, and the U.S. Department of Energy expects those elevated prices to continue in 2006. As a result, diocesan parishes are taking steps to avoid exorbitant heating bills, with several moving their daily Masses out of church buildings and into smaller spaces.
According to a Dec. 6 report released by the energy department, increased energy prices will cause this winter’s heating costs to exceed those of last winter’s.
“In 2006, total domestic energy demand is projected to increase at an annual rate of about 2.0 percent, despite continued concerns about tight supplies and projected high prices for oil and natural gas,” the report stated.
Some area parishes were already feeling the pinch by mid-December. The utility bills that recently arrived at All Saints Parish in Corning and Painted Post were much more expensive than those from last winter, said Sister Joan Cawley, pastoral administrator. All Saints comprises three worship sites, each of which had hosted a few of the parish’s weekday Masses until Nov. 14.
In order to cut costs, however, each weekday Mass between Nov. 14 and the end of Lent will take place at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, which is the smallest of the three worship sites.
“We kept all the same number of Masses, but we moved them all to one building, so we don’t have to heat our larger churches during the week,” noted Sister Cawley, a Sister of St. Joseph.
During the winter, St. Michael’s Parish in Rochester celebrates its two weekday Masses in a smaller chapel, said Raquel Rodriguez, parish secretary. The parish began conducting these Masses there two years ago, in part because of the cost savings, she added.
Four years ago, the two parishes that constitute the Roman Catholic Community of Geneva also began changing their weekday Mass schedules during the winter, said Father Roy Kiggins, pastor. For most of the year, weekday Masses take place at both St. Francis de Sales and St. Stephen’s parishes, but during the winter months all weekday Masses are celebrated at St. Francis because it can be heated for about half of what it costs to heat St. Stephen’s, he said.
In an effort to cut costs even more, weekday Masses during January and February will move from the church to a classroom in the former St. Francis de Sales school building, which has its own heating unit, Father Kiggins said.
Most parishioners don’t mind the changes, he added.
“I think people are flexible, especially when they realize what we’re experiencing is what they’re experiencing, except for us it’s larger. Ultimately it’s their money that supports us, and I think they would like to see us use it wisely,” he said.
Parish staff members also try to use as little heat as possible in their offices, Father Kiggins noted.
“Among the staff, the layered look is now in,” he said.
People at St. Mary’s Parish in Bath are also bundling up when they come to church. In early December Deacon Ray Defendorf, pastoral administrator, suggested that weekday Masses and Communion services take place in the parish center’s children’s chapel. This wound up being inconvenient for many people because it is on the second floor.
“They would rather be in church and wearing heavy coats,” he said.
But if current trends in cold weather and heating costs continue, Deacon Defendorf said he may be forced to find another location for weekday Masses and Communion services. During the month of November alone it cost $1,846 to heat the church, parish center and rectory, compared to $1,299 to heat the same buildings in November 2004, he said.