“As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied Grace”
1 Peter 4:10
I was recently talking with a colleague about accompanying parishes during the pandemic and what we saw as key steps to move forward as thriving parish communities. We happened to be at ICSC, so after we covered big topics like “global peace,” we quickly moved on to the topics of engagement and stewardship. We observed that in our current conversations with parish leaders, we are noticing that lay people who have become parish leaders over the past few years do not seem to understand stewardship. For those of us who have been part of the inspiring stewardship community, this is surprising. When asked, one pastor explained “we already taught everyone, so we stopped doing it”. The real surprise is that parishes have stopped teaching stewardship as integral to living as a disciple of Christ. As a result, younger Catholics have not been educated on stewardship and we are losing the understanding of stewardship as a way of life.
The conversation inspired me to revisit the 1992 Bishop’s pastoral letter Stewardship: A Disciples Response. Maybe your parish should too. I was not familiar with the concept of stewardship until well into my working adult life. When introduced to stewardship, I found the concept challenging, transformative. It truly taught me to look at things differently. It was a talk by Dan Conway about his book “What Do I Own and What Owns Me?” that changed my perspective forever. Was I working and living for the things I owned or wanted to own? Was that the priority driving my behavior and therefore “owned” me? I knew that was not how I wanted to center my life. This challenge to how we live our lives is difficult because it is not the priority that is marketed to us by companies on a daily basis.
At the same time, I was and continue to be uplifted by recognizing we are all gifted. As St. Theresa of Avila tells us “Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” As we recognize our strengths and charisms, it becomes more evident that each of us has an important role to play. We can come together to support each other while celebrating each of us in our unique giftedness.
We should not let stewardship be relegated to giving without spirituality, or to programs that focus on signing people up for parish activities without more formation. As Bishop John J, McRaith wrote in 1992: “once one chooses to become a disciple of Jesus Christ, stewardship is not an option.” Even though the pastoral letter was written almost 30 years ago, it strikes me as highly appropriate in 2021.
In his preface to the 2002 re-publication of the pastoral letter, Bishop Sylvester Ryan outlines the examples of the works, services and ministries of a good steward the letter describes. The breadth of these is both exciting and sobering. As a society these things remain as challenges for all of us!
- Evangelization and witness to the Gospel
- Catechesis and faith formation
- Parent stewardship of the domestic church
- Stewardship of simplicity of life
- Stewardship for ecology of the globe
- Lay witness in the marketplace and institutions
- Financial accountability in personal and parochial affairs
- Stewardship of collegiality and collaboration in parish life and ministries
- Stewardship of social justice and the work for peace
As we move into October, we can use the rosary to ask the Virgin Mary to help us recognize our gifts while we reflect on the importance of stewardship. In the next article, Understanding Stewardship through the Bishops’ Pastoral Letter, I will explore the message of the Bishop’s pastoral letter which rings true to this day!
Terry Poplava is a multi-disciplined executive who is passionate about serving the Church through supporting his leaders and organizations. His experience includes coaching and training Catholic leaders, facilitating priority planning with dioceses and parishes, consulting with parish leaders to engage parishioners, and using technology to foster stewardship. Terry serves as chairman of the finance council for his home parish in Hartsville, SC, and as cantor for his parish in Myrtle Beach.