More than a call for Catholics’ time, talent and treasure, stewardship is spiritual and should not only bring us closer to God but also permeate all areas of a parish, according to Professor Charles Zech, who spoke at the April 20 Stewardship Day at St. Peter in Mendota.
The gathering brought together representatives from parishes in dioceses around the region to discuss best stewardship practices.
“If you do it right on the spiritual side, teaching people about the need to give to the parish as opposed to simply giving to a need, the money will follow. But it’s first and foremost a spiritual activity,” said Zech, who directs the Center for the Study of Church Management at Villanova University in Philadelphia, during a separate interview.
Discussing not only the spiritual underpinnings of stewardship but ways to develop overall parish involvement and giving, and how parishes can help their congregations learn to communicate about their finances, values and charitable contributions, Zech and two other presenters gave practical ideas to the 300 attendees, including representatives of 72 parishes within the archdiocese.
Stewardship is a great way to build community and bring a parish together, said Mary Kennedy, who chairs the Archdiocesan Stewardship Committee that hosted the event along with nine other dioceses in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.
“I hope [attendees] gain confidence to bring different stewardship concepts back to their parishes — best practices to live, learn and lead stewardship,” said Kennedy, who is also stewardship director at Pax Christi in Eden Prairie.
Resources for ministry
Stewardship has played an important role in the Church from the time of Christ’s earthly ministry when he made use of a borrowed colt for his procession into Jerusalem and a boy’s loaves and fishes to feed 5,000, according to Archbishop John Nienstedt, who presided at Mass during the event.
“Just so today, Christ’s body, the Church, needs various resources to carry out her ministry: catechetical books for religious education, endowments to support our schools, food and clothing for the poor and immigrants, appropriate spaces in which to celebrate the liturgy, vessels of honor for the Eucharist,” he said. “These are not just incidentals for the work of ministry, but important tools by which it is achieved.”
Stewardship is the “soul of our Church,” said Father Darrin J.G. Gurr of Winnipeg, Canada, who has written and taught about stewardship. He described the foundation of stewardship as gratitude, generosity and living in the present moment. “We gift not because there’s a need out there, but within us,” he said.
Not only does stewardship involve the heart, it also needs to come from the heart of the parish, Zech said. “To take hold, it really has to affect the entire life of the parish. Every ministry in the parish should understand their role in promoting stewardship in the parish.”
Among activities to advance parish stewardship, Zech cited the need for community building, a stewardship council, including stewardship as a part of the parish plan, emphasis in all formation and education programs and minimizing the use of “volunteers” in favor of engaging parishioners in ministry.
The “treasure” part of the stewardship equation “gets most people tied up in knots pretty quickly,” said Nathan Dungan, founder and president of Minneapolis-based Share Save Spend, which helps youth and adults develop and maintain values-related money habits.
“What role can congregations play to help both more proactively address the topic and also understand that it is a subject that is just an enormous source of stress for so many people,” he said during an interview.
Parish leaders should not be asking parishioners for money as much as offering formation on how to give, he said, citing the need for families to have conversations about money that reflect their values.
The conversation about stewardship and money should be multigenerational, Dungan said. Youth should be encouraged to get involved at least in offering their time if they’re not yet able to contribute financially.
The focus can’t just be on money, however, said Tommy Rose, client manager at Catholic Stewardship Consultants, an Evans, Ga.-based firm that provides customized stewardship services to about 70 parishes nationwide.
“It’s a challenge because parishes do have a financial need to talk about a fix but they don’t talk about what God is pressing on their heart to see,” he said. “Stewardship is helping to have a conversation of the heart to help see God’s love.”
Another challenge parishes face is communicating ideas about stewardship to parishioners of other cultures. “Because we are multicultural, a Spanish-speaking parish, how do we communicate that stewardship is a way of life,” said Miguel Salinas, administrator at Assumption in Richfield, where 50 percent of parishioners are Spanish speakers.
Many first-generation immigrants have a different idea of how the Church connects with the community, and for them, stewardship might have more to do with time than money because the government financially supports the Church in their country, he said.
Salinas said ideas he found at the event about gratitude, generating trust and encouraging formation will help with the parish’s upcoming fall stewardship campaign.
Kathleen Langer of St. Odilia said she came away from the event with enthusiasm and the idea that generosity is not an option because God made us to be generous. Langer, who serves on the parish’s stewardship council, said one challenge is to show that stewardship involves all aspects of life.
We’re “trying to put into words that no, it’s not just all about money,” she said. “It’s about a way of life. It’s about a way of giving back in all areas of our life in the ways that God has gifted us.”
The archdiocesan Office of Development and Stewardship’s stewardship toolkit is available to help parishes teach principles of Christian stewardship and how to grow stewardship as a way of life. The free toolkit can be downloaded at: http://www.archspm.org/departments/development-stewardship/stewardship-toolkit.php.
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