Parishes need accountants. It’s a reality. And many cash-strapped parishes hire financial staff with good will and heart — but not always good bookkeeping skills.

The Archdiocese of Portland has a solution: traveling accountants. The Parish Support Accountant program began in 2019 with a traveling financial expert who helped parishes get their books in order. Today, the program has five mobile accountants who replace internal parish staff.

“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 everything being done is of the highest quality.”

Parishes pay a fee for services, but this is less than funding an in-house position. The pandemic has accelerated the need to save money. Parishes have seen their income fall and have had to downsize. “How do we survive as parishes when we have limited resources? asked Bishop Smith. “In the business world, you outsource. You don’t need 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 have felt frustrated with the lack of consistency from parish accountants,” said Jo Wilhite, administrative director of the Pastoral Center for the Archdiocese of Portland.

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

“We’ve all worked in parishes before,” said McCoy, a member of St. John the Apostle Parish in Oregon City. “We can intervene directly and provide support. I want to see parishes and schools working together for their mission and not having to worry about whether their accounting is fair.

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

Traveling accountants know the rules about pay codes, benefits, and restricted funds. They can create reports for finance boards.

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

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

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

Parishes have been welcoming and grateful, said Lai McClure, a support accountant who attends Holy Trinity Parish in Beaverton. “The confidence they have in us is really good,” McClure said. “We guarantee that every penny is worth it. We know how to do it all and do it right. We are the financial angels.

Traveling accountants have the advantage of being part of a team. They interrogate each other and have a close connection to new information coming from the pastoral center. McClure calls McCoy “a human Google”.

Much of the learning occurs because the crew serves multiple parishes. “If we see something in one place, there’s a good chance it’s needed somewhere else,” said Laura Dieken, a support accountant team member who is a member of Holy Rosary Parish in Northeast. east of Portland.

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

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