‘Impossible’ campaign succeeds in Cobourg

The inside worship space of a church with people sitting in pews looking toward the front.
The interior of St. Peter, Cobourg before the renovations.
 on January 30, 2023
Heather Windsor

Parish makes bold choice after pandemic threatens plans

St. Peter, Cobourg had been in a period of discernment since 2017 about what to do about its overall campus, its declining buildings needing repair, and whether it was a sustainable congregation for the future. And then the plaster in the church itself began to fall.

The congregation moved its services into what is often called the Great Hall but really is a gymnasium. The discernment led to a decision to focus first on the reconstruction of the roof, ceiling and bell tower to bring the church structure to a point of safety. Only when the structure was safe could partners be found to share the spaces available for programs that would fulfil God’s call to mission and bring in future revenue.

A small group was set up to determine exactly how to do the reconstruction, and how to fund it, too. Another small group looked at a vision for the whole property once the repairs on the church were completed. Both pieces of work were compiled and enhanced in a plan for mission that the church adopted.

And then came the pandemic.

At exactly the time when it seemed essential to start a capital campaign, visits to parishioners (the tried-and-true model for such campaigns) were not possible. So, a bold choice was made to go ahead anyway and do the campaign virtually! Phone calls, Zoom meetings and packages dropped at doors by masked team members were the order of the day.

The feasibility study had indicated that parishioners might be able to raise $750,000 from within the parish and $100,000 in the community. Today, the parish pledges are close to $900,000 and the community campaign is at almost $240,000! The diocese has contributed a significant amount as well. Even though much more money is needed, it is important to explore how this impossible campaign happened.

St. Peter’s campaign team would recommend that any parish interested in a capital campaign under such awkward circumstances pay attention to these actions:

  • Spend as much time as needed in discernment, even if some think it’s wasted time – it is invaluable. This makes the written “case” for donors much more persuasive.
  • Hire a good fundraising firm to coach the parish team. We used M & M International led by Martha Asselin, and we are deeply grateful.
  • Set up a small team to do the calls and train them well.
  • Choose a fearless, articulate and hard-working leader for the team. And we got one: Henry Knight, worth his weight in gold.
  • Develop the theme and prepare good-looking but not expensive materials. Our team wanted to reflect the fact that the campaign wasn’t just about the current roof and ceiling issues, but about growing faith and demonstrating that the future for St. Peter’s was to follow God’s call to live into God’s mission in the community. The team chose “Transforming: Space, Lives and Faith.”
  • Map out the virtual visits, assign the team members, keep track of the number of visits and keep up the momentum. The fundraising professionals from M & M almost turned into cheerleaders for the callers so their energy would be kept alive and visits completed.
  • Thank all donors quickly with a personalized card.

An important point: no parishioner was ever given a suggested amount they should consider. In fact, the callers were instructed to leave behind the pledge form, and one of the options indicated that the gift of prayers for the campaign was certainly a valued gift if money wasn’t possible.

At its heart, this work was successful because it re-connected and continues to connect with parishioners with whom we’d lost touch during the beginning of the pandemic, supporting our community members through a difficult time. A series of online conversations to talk about the plan for mission brought light and hope to what seemed like never-ending isolation, with more than 40 people participating and 80 gathering for the campaign kick-off on Zoom.

The community campaign took quite a different perspective, highlighting the historic value of the church building in the Cobourg streetscape. The theme was all about “Preserving,” and it struck a chord. The community campaign team was a winner. A former mayor, Peter Delanty, took the helm. A strong supporter of Cobourg’s architectural history, he spoke loudly and passionately about the place of St. Peter’s. As a person of faith, he also was able to speak of the contributions the parish was making to the town’s vulnerable population. Somehow it rang extra true because people knew he was a Roman Catholic, not a member of the St. Peter’s congregation.

So, the impossible campaign was more than successful and the reconstruction has not only begun, but is progressing. Even the huge winds of the winter storms have not caused major problems to the scaffolding and tarps, a sign to all that the church building is being restored to last yet another 100 years.

Financial success aside, we have built a strong community and invited new people into the mission of this historical building that houses so many important stories and memories of Cobourg. The first huge step is being taken towards a reimagined St. Peter’s campus and congregation, eager to continuing to serve God and neighbour in new and exciting ways.


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