It’s a question of not-quite-Biblical proportions: Who carries cash anymore?
In anticipation of the day when cash no longer reigns king at Sunday morning Mass, parish leaders at the South End’s Cathedral of the Holy Cross have installed a credit card kiosk so parishioners can make donations the way they pay for most other things: with a swipe of plastic.
The debut of the electronic payment terminal is meant to bring the benefaction process into the technological age.
“It’s something we thought would be helpful,” said the Rev. Kevin O’Leary. “Cash is becoming less and less of our reality.”
O’Leary is right: According to a report by Javelin Strategy and Research, a financial consulting firm, a little more than one-quarter of domestic in-person business transactions in 2011 were made with cash.
Though parishioners have been able to make credit card donations online for years using the website ParishPay, the credit card terminal near the entrance to the church more closely reflects the collection basket tradition that many parishioners hold dear: providing an offering each time they attend Mass.
Those donations help fund community programs and cultural events sponsored by the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, O’Leary said.
The computer kiosk was installed for free by the e-donation company SecureGive, which deducts a fee from each donation. The machine functions like an ATM, with a slot for credit cards to be swiped and a debit pinpad, but it rests on a wooden shelf and looks more like a tabletop digital cash register at a take-out restaurant. Donations can be registered or given anonymously.
Since its debut five weeks ago, the credit card kiosk has been far from popular. Only two donations, one of them of $1,000, have been made so far, O’Leary said.
But St. Anthony Shrine downtown has had a similar machine since 2007, when it became one of the first Catholic churches in the world to install an e-donation kiosk, and it has been a hit with parishioners, said Nicole Aucoin, executive assistant at the parish.
Dozens of churchgoers and visitors donate via the kiosk there every week, and parish leaders are planning to expand from one machine to four, switching from the upright ATM-style kiosk to simpler, more elegant wall-mounted iPads.
“It has been very successful for us,” Aucoin said. “It’s becoming more and more popular as people deal less and less with cash.”
At Cathedral of the Holy Cross, advertising has been low-key. An announcement in this week’s parish newsletter points attention to the “rather sleek piece of the equipment” that had appeared in the foyer. A couple of posters also hang in the church lobby.
“Touch the screen. Touch lives,” the sign reads “Giving has never been easier.”
The kiosk also reflects the parish’s mission to attract more tourists and visitors, said Terrence C. Donilon, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. The automated kiosk may be particularly appealing for tourists.
“Fr. O’Leary and his staff . . . are working hard to make it both a destination for the faithful as well as a place for all people to feel welcome by the Church,” Donilon said in a statement.
On Sunday morning, not a single person made a donation using the machine. But some parishioners approached for a closer look.
One woman leaving Sunday’s Spanish-language service pointed at the computer screen. A man stopped to take a photo with his iPhone. A few made some tentative taps but didn’t go so far to take out their wallets.
And even though many appeared surprised by the new addition under a narrow stained-glass window, parishioners acknowledged that the high-tech addition made financial sense.
They did not rule out the possibility that they would use the kiosk to make their offerings in the future.
“It’s convenient,” said Anna Lukas, 30, of Winchester. “I have to say, I never seem to have cash on me.”
Remy Peña, a 31-year-old from Hyde Park, said the kiosk warranted a more attention-grabbing position.
Jose Mejia, 46, a resident of El Salvador on a weeklong trip through New England with his family, said he had never seen anything like it. It made sense, he said: Even in El Salvador, men and women who attend church service often shrug their shoulders when the collection basket comes by, saying that they just don’t have cash on them.
With the new machine, “Then you don’t have an excuse not to donate,” Mejia joked.Martine Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow her on Twitter