Demonetisation: United in faith, divided by cash

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Chennai, November 20
With the turn in tides after last week’s demonetisation, the tithes too are in flux at Chennai’s churches.
While the Sunday offertory amount has more than doubled in churches populated by people from high income groups, at parishes in poorer neighbourhoods, parishioners who usually tithe or give one-tenth of their income to the church during the first two weeks of the month, have begun cutting back on their offerings. At St Teresa’s Church in Nungambakkam, considered a parish of the posh, the inflow into the offertory last Sunday hit an all-time high of `4 lakh, most of it in `500 and `1000 notes. At the other end, in a Valasaravakkam parish, po pulated by those from poorer neighbourhoods, Sunday collections were at `1,500 –the lowest ever –with the priest even opening up boxes and handing out notes to help members in dire straits.
“We were very surprised when we counted the offertory money , the Sunday after the demonetisation announcement,” says Rev Fr Stanley Sebastian of St Teresa’s Church. “Our Sunday offertory is usually around `1.5 lakh but that week, it was `4 lakh. Most of the offertory was in `500 and `1000 notes. And when we were noting down the serial numbers, which is required by banks now to deposit these notes, we found most were in sequential order. So they clearly came from the same bundles,” he adds.
Owing to its central location, old world ambience and ample parking space, St Teresa’s Church, says Fr Sebastian, has Catholics from all over the city coming for the Sunday service. “The congregation is cosmopolitan with several businessmen and professionals choosing to worship here. I would assume that is why the offertory has doubled after the demonetisation drive,” he says.
At Little Flower Syromalabar Catholic Church in Valsaravakkam though, demonetisation has rendered it more desolate. With the parish members mostly from the lower income group, offertory amounts have dipped by more than half. The offertory, which usually got around `5,000 a week, received only `2000 last Sunday , says Fr Sojo Kannampuzha. “In fact, I am trying to help parish members who don’t have any money by giving them lower denomination notes and telling them they can give it back to the church later. The people need it more now,” says Fr Sojo.
“I don’t have much to give, but am helping whoever I can,” he says, and adds that despite most parishioners being from the lower income group, he sees a few hundred rupee notes in the offertory box every week, especially at the beginning of the month. “Last week, there not even one hundred rupee note. It was mostly tens,” Fr Sojo Kannampuzha adds.
But for Fr Sebastian of St Teresa’s Church, the problem is over dealing with the cash, “Since most of the offertory is in tender that is no longer legal, I had to consult with the church auditor to make sure it would not be a problem to still accept them.
I’m glad it is not, because this money can be put to good use for the church,” he said.

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