Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 2, 2004
The spirituality of stewardship
Parishes flourish when parishioners commit themselves
The Shepherd Speaks
By ARCHBISHOP THOMAS COLLINS
The term "stewardship" is often taken to be a code word for "tithing" or for "fundraising." Certainly, if we have a proper spirit of gratitude for all that we have received from God, and are resolved to act as responsible trustees of God's gifts (and that is, in fact, the real meaning of stewardship), then we will be disposed to contribute financially as members of our Church community, and this might involve tithing, or participating in raising funds.
Even when the Church was young, St. Paul was greatly concerned about organizing a collection (see 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8-9; Galatians 2:10; Romans 15:25-28). That, however, is only one aspect of stewardship, and will take care of itself if the more profound aspects (stewardship of time and talent) are emphasized.
Over the past 40 years a whole spirituality and theology of stewardship has been developed in parishes and dioceses in the United States and Canada, and has led to a deep transformation of the life of discipleship within them. In 1992, the American bishops issued a pastoral letter which summarizes the key elements of the vision of stewardship which is found within the Scriptures and the living faith of the Church - Stewardship: A Disciple's Response.
This letter has been invaluable in providing a focus for thought and discussion to those involved in deepening a sense of stewardship. As communities begin more consciously to adopt the model of stewardship, I recommend that they study and discuss this letter.
The International Catholic Stewardship Council helps dioceses put into practice the principles of stewardship. It provides expertise and advice, and numerous publications and programs which can assist communities which are entering into stewardship. Those of us who have participated in the last two annual conventions of the International Catholic Stewardship Council have been impressed by the deep understanding of stewardship, which we have observed in the testimonies of individuals and communities who have been transformed by stewardship.
It is that deep spiritual transformation which we want to foster in all of the parishes of our archdiocese, and in the whole community of the archdiocese itself. That is why we are trying to approach stewardship in a deliberate and thorough manner, learning from the experience of others, and adapting their insights to our situation, being careful to stress the full engagement of the members of the community in the whole of their life of discipleship.
Our representatives at the international stewardship conventions (in Toronto in 2002, and in Chicago in 2003) sought systematically to attend all of the various sessions and workshops, and to gather all of the information that might help us to adapt stewardship to our situation in the most effective way.
I have observed this movement in the Church for some time, and attended the Chicago convention. Here are some reasons why I believe that a development of the spirit of stewardship will be valuable for our archdiocese.
Stewardship is clearly a central theme in the Bible and in our living Christian faith. I have already pointed out its scriptural foundations.
Stewardship is undeniably fruitful. Where, over time, more and more parishioners become engaged in committing their time, talent and treasure to the work of the Gospel, the Church flourishes. Parishes report an upsurge in volunteer engagement, a greater fervour in the prayer life of the community, a more effective outreach to those in need, an increase in religious and priestly vocations, and so on. We need humbly to learn from others, especially when it comes to what has proven to be apostolically effective.
Stewardship is realistic. On one of the videos which presents examples of excellent stewardship parishes, I noted that the pastor said at the end that they had been working on stewardship for 30 years. That makes sense. Extraordinary results take time, and a steady growth of commitment in the community. The most important things in life are not like machines that we build, but like plants that grow over time.
The spirit of stewardship is already present in our parishes. As I travel around the archdiocese, I am edified by the generosity with which parishioners devote their time, talent and treasure to the service of God and neighbour. We do not need to import the spirit of stewardship from somewhere else, as if it were lacking among us. Not at all.
But we can learn from others, and more intentionally and systematically seek to foster throughout all of the parishes of the diocese the attitude of stewardship. There are proven ways of doing this and we can benefit from them.
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