On the weekend, I attended a first communion at a Catholic church in Wollongong. To be upfront about my views, I am an atheist but attended out of respect for others’ beliefs in my extended family.
I noticed two things whilst at the church that showed that for all of its supposed emphasis on humanity and relationships, religion is still, at its core, a business.
The first thing that I observed was this sign at the entrance of the church.
Yes, that’s right, you’re looking at a tap-payment facility in a church. In case it is hard to see, the text on the sign reads as follows:
‘Help support St Francis Xavier Cathedral. ‘Tap and Go’ is an easy and safe way to donate. Each tap of your credit card will deposit $10 straight into the St Francis Xavier Cathedral account. Your donation will help us continue our work. Thank you for your support.’
If you ever needed evidence of the massive success of tap payments in Australia, then here it is. Whilst the United States struggles to achieve widespread adoption of things like Apple Pay with retailers, banks and so on, Australian Catholics are tapping their cards happily as they dip their fingers into holy water. (I’m not being facetious here… the holy water really was adjacent to it at the entrance.)
Now I accept that churches require money to operate. What frustrated me about this was that it also stood next to a donation slot for church restoration and a slot for the church’s regular newsletter plus during the service I witnessed an additional two rounds of of the collection plate. Add all of this together to the fact that any voluntary contribution through this payment machine must be $10 and it all seems like a bit much. The icing on the cake was the point during the service in which the priest declared that we should look beyond money in our lives and find meaning in relationships and God. Somewhat mixed messaging, if you ask me…
This brings me to the second thing, which was a sign that stood in the aisle between the pews.
Here I was thinking that LinkedIn was the most effective way to build your professional network in the 21st century… I was wrong! By joining Catholic Business Connections, business and spirituality combined conveniently: ‘Are you looking for an opportunity to enhance your faith life and build your professional network?’. I would never have thought to put all of those words together to form that sentence.
Beyond the evident focus on business, work and money, this sign also presented a bit of an issue with representation of the local Catholic community. The priest and all of his assistants and altar boys during the service clearly had Asian backgrounds. The attending parishioners were also very diverse in cultural background and dress. Every single person in this advertisement above for Catholic Business Connections appears to be a white Australian with presumably Celtic (or perhaps Anglo-Saxon) heritage. Clearly, the Catholic Diocese in Wollongong, which runs these business events, not only has an issue with the representation of diversity but also in understanding the very make-up of its own clergy and community. (Don’t even get me started on the thing that looks like a mullet coming out of the guy in the bottom-right image.)
In a time when people around the world are becoming ever more aware and critical of business practice, the representation of minorities and the conduct of major religions, what I saw at this church seems to be a bizarre anachronism.