Recently I had the pleasure of attending the International Catholic Stewardship Council Conference in New Orleans. Even though it was my first time attending, it was the Council’s 54th Annual Conference, so they have been around for a long time.
I assumed that the conference would be primarily about fund-raising. Well, there was plenty about fund-raising, including some very practical and interesting ideas, but primarily the conference was about Baptism. Stewardship, it turns out, flows from our status as Baptized Christians. For when we are Baptized we are entrusted with a mission. And that being entrusted with a mission makes us stewards. And that is what stewardship is really all about. It is not a program or a plan, though those are included. It is rather a call; a call to be good stewards given to each of us at our Baptism.
One of the interesting ideas expressed by a long-time pastor who has worked at a spirituality of stewardship for a long time was to eliminate the language of “time, talent and treasure” usually associated with stewardship. He made the point that time, talent and treasure are what we HAVE. But that is a static understanding of stewardship. In his parish when it comes to stewardship they emphasize what they DO, not what they have. So they speak about PRAYER (how much time do you spend with God), SERVICE (how you use your talents and gifts and opportunities), and SACRIFICIAL GIVING (giving back to God the first-fruits of your possessions, not the left-overs). It was a thought-provoking presentation.
There were some good presentations on practical steps for gathering input from parishioners in a workshop on strategic planning. And there were lots of other practical ideas and inspirational, motivational presentations. At the end of the conference I attended a workshop entitled “Partnering for the Mission: Building Positive Relationships Between Pastors and Lay Leadership” by Cande de Leon, the Director of the Office of Mission Advancement of the Archdiocese of Phoenix. That was both revealing and challenging. So there was lots to think about.
As we, as St. Austin Parish, continue to understand our mission better, and face new opportunities and challenges, I think we will be able to use some of the tested ideas and procedures that the Stewardship Council has been working on for years. Hopefully we will be better equipped and more strongly motivated to promote our mission, which ultimately is the proclamation of the Good News of God’s love for each of us in His Son, Jesus Christ.