" I want to see the parishes and the schools work together for their mission and not have to worry if their accounting is right.
" — Anne McCoy, manager of the parish support accountants
Parishes need bookkeepers. It’s a fact of life. And many cash-strapped parishes hire finance staffers of good will and good heart — but not always good accounting skill.

The Archdiocese of Portland has a solution: itinerant bookkeepers. The Parish Support Accountant Program began in 2019 with one traveling finance expert who helped parishes get the books in order. Now the program has five mobile accountants who serve to replace in-house staff at parishes.

“Parishes were struggling to keep the books well,” said Auxiliary Bishop Peter Smith, vicar general of the archdiocese. Bishop Smith said that with the archdiocese’s mobile accountants on the job, “you know that whatever is done is top standard.”

Parishes pay a fee for the services, but it’s less than funding an in-house position. The pandemic accelerated the need to save money. Parishes saw a drop in income and needed to cut staff. “How do we survive as parishes when we have limited resources?” Bishop Smith asked. “In the business world, you outsource. You don’t have to keep people on staff and have that overhead.”

The Archdiocese of St Louis has a similar program, with about 20 traveling accountants.

“For many years, financial services staff at the pastoral center felt frustration about parish accountants not having a lot of consistency,” said Jo Wilhite, chief administrative officer at the Archdiocese of Portland Pastoral Center.

Trainings helped, but in addition the archdiocese hired one roving accountant in 2019. Anne McCoy, a member of St. John the Apostle Parish in Oregon City, was so competent and friendly that word spread among pastors. McCoy now is the team’s manager.

“All of us have worked in parishes before,” said McCoy, a member of St. John the Apostle Parish in Oregon City. “We can jump right in and provide support. I want to see the parishes and the schools work together for their mission and not have to worry if their accounting is right.”

A parish can get a full-time bookkeeper for a part-time cost, said McCoy.

The traveling accountants know the rules about payroll codes, benefits and restricted funds. They can create reports for finance councils.

“One benefit for a parish is that they pay only for hours they need, maybe more in some months and fewer in other months,” said Michelle Braulick, director of finance at the pastoral center. “It saves money in the long run, and teams run more smoothly.”

Different parishes have different needs. Some want bookkeeping help four hours per week. Others need it four days per week. At the moment, the traveling accountants help in the Portland metro area and Salem.

“It’s really fun to interact with folks at the parishes,” Braulick said.

The parishes have been welcoming and grateful, said Lai McClure, a support accountant who attends Holy Trinity Parish in Beaverton. “The trust they have for us is really good,” McClure said. “We guarantee it’s worth every penny. We know how to get everything done and get it done correctly. We are the finance angels.”

The itinerant accountants benefit from being part of a team. They ask each other questions and have a close link with new information coming from the pastoral center. McClure calls McCoy “a human Google.”

A good deal of learning happens because the crew serves multiple parishes. “If we see something one place, chances are it is needed other places,” said Laura Dieken, a member of the support accountant team who is a member of Holy Rosary Parish in Northeast Portland.

“If you find a good way to do something in one parish,” added McCoy, “you share it with other parishes.”

Recent additions to the traveling corps are Judy Simmons and Rob Limont.