Bishop says stewardship important to the faith, Church, diocese

On Sunday, Feb. 14, the Diocese of Charleston will be celebrating DDF Sunday. The following week, parishioners will be receiving a packet in the mail, asking for a response to God’s call to stewardship.

The Diocesan Development Fund provides over 25 percent of the total diocesan income. Without this assistance, many programs will be in jeopardy.

Across the state of South of South Carolina, 73 parishes and missions have created endowments through the DDF Goal Sharing Endowment Program. Once a parish reaches its goal for the year, half of every additional dollar that comes in from the parish goes into an endowment fund for the parish. These endowments will help guarantee the prosperity of the parishes for future generations.

In an interview with The Miscellany prior to the start of this year’s campaign, Bishop David B. Thompson answered some questions regarding how he feels about stewardship.

Tell us about your personal stewardship, not necessarily as Bishop, but as a Catholic Christian.

I learned genuine stewardship very early in life from my dear parents, from the life of a family hit very hard by the Great Depression of 1929 and the years immediately thereafter. Our family members were very much aware that all gifts came from God and that we must be grateful in an expressive and positive way for them. We were, especially in the support of our family members (relatives similarly hit by the hard times); the support of our church (the collection donations were a must no matter if moneys were available or not); the support of our parish school and its programs to survive; the support of the nuns who conducted the school — the sharing of what we had, however little, was paramount in our home. And how God used my family and early on me individually!: my father’s work prospered so that in his death he left my mother well off; my sister was blessed with a good position with the Bell Telephone Company, married and reared four children unto being college graduates, then returned to Bell in top management unto a good pension at retirement; my brother and I were blessed with vocations to the priesthood and have been the beneficiaries of the rich graces of God and God’s church. Personally, stewardship has been the flagship of my life. It has had me touch the four bases of genuine stewardship safely and firmly: recognize all gifts come from God; thank God everyday for these gifts; share these gifts with others; return these gifts to him improved, better than when they were received.

A development goal of yours was the establishment of an endowment fund by each parish, which about half of the churches currently have in place. What does that mean to you and why is it important to the parishes?

To me endowment is the practical work of stewardship for a diocese, a parish, a family, a school. When we recognize that our gifts are from God, then we are inclined to be grateful enough to revere them, use them properly, share them with others, pass them on to our followers. Endowment of a parish is wise, genuine stewardship. It looks to the past (God), to the present (us), to the future (those who come after us). By putting aside gifts from God (resources, gifts, money, property) on a faithful, regular basis, we build up a treasury upon which a diocese, a parish, a family can rely on now and which our followers can lean on in their time. Regular, faithful stewardship is much like an accordion that when expanded, opened up properly, can present sweet music and protect us against the problem of facing the music of inadequate resources and support.

In national studies, Catholics are shown to lag behind other denominations in percentage of giving. Why?

There are all kinds of giving, not just the giving of money. Our Catholic people give countless days, weeks, years of service that often go unrecorded. Also, in comparison to other “main line” denominations, our Catholic people are not nearly so affluent and can’t measure up to the giving totals recorded for others. This is not to say our Catholic people can’t or shouldn’t do better. They can and should, and I firmly believe that they will once they firmly grasp and truly appreciate the principles of stewardship and then practice these principles.

In terms of stewardship and development, what can we learn from other denominations?

Mainly their faith practices —lay aside first your offering to your church; and their business practices, which are efficient, sometimes demanding, but responsible. Also, these denominations appeal to the pride of their congregations: if you believe, you will be generous.

Address the perception that the Church is “rich?”

The Catholic Church is rich — in grace, in faith, in good works, in teaching, in being guided by the Holy Spirit, in having a chief shepherd like Pope John Paul II. It’s rich in its fixed assets like St. Peter’s in Rome, in all the basilicas and cathedrals throughout the world; in its universities, colleges, schools, hospitals, nursing homes; in its works of art, memorials, cemeteries. It is rich especially in its people — their goodness, generosity, humanitarianism, evangelization, works of mercy, compassion and love. Every diocese I know has an annual Catholic Charities appeal to use the richness of the sacrifices and generosity of the faithful to help others. Dare the Catholic Church sell its monuments: St. Peter’s, St. Patrick’s in New York, the Vatican Library? Our people, mostly those who are not particularly rich, would build these monuments anew. They are monuments to faith, and because of that the Catholic Church is rich.

Comment on the advances in stewardship and development that have taken place during your tenure.

Without a doubt the establishment of a diocesan Stewardship Office for the Diocese of Charleston has advanced the cause of stewardship in our church immensely. It has given seriousness and support to the concept of stewardship and its principles. It has had the great blessing and grace of a very gifted and faithful steward, Sandy Ferencz, who has “sold” the Bishop of Charleston and his people on the importance, meaning and practicality of genuine stewardship. Just ask the pastors what Sandy and her associates have done for their parishes. She has focused pastors and their people on the heart of stewardship, the Lord and his gifts, and has taken the emphasis off money and placed it upon recognition, gratitude, sharing, returning.

Look into the future. Where could the diocese be in the next 10 years in terms of stewardship and development? Where should the diocese be?

I hope that our stewardship program will stress and strengthen UNITY within our church and RESPONSIBILITY before God for all the gifts he has given.

UNITY — We are one in faith, baptism, Lord, church, duty, opportunity. We are one church, not a group of federated congregations. We work together as the Church of Charleston under one bishop and in full acceptance of the principle “ubi episcopus, ibi ecclesia,” where the bishop is, that’s where the church is. Our parishes are distinct legal entities; however, they are not separate, apart from their Bishop, from the local church (diocese), from the pope, from the universal church. We are members of the one Mystical Body of Christ, we are united in faith, sacraments, governance, service. This is the basis for good stewardship.

RESPONSIBILITY — We live not just for ourselves but for others, all others are children of God. If others hurt, we must hurt too. That’s the practice of good stewardship. It is ecumenical, interfaith, all-embracing, truly Christian — Christ suffered and died for all, not just for a selected few.

As you pass the torch to the next Bishop, what are the most pressing stewardship and development needs that will be facing your successor?

New parishes; a Catholic high school in the Piedmont; provision for the Spanish speaking; evangelization of the multitude — South Carolina is 50 percent unchurched; low income housing; housing for the elderly; housing for retired priests; expansion of outreach programs and ministry to the poor; empowerment of the baptized in their priesthood; promotion of vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

In your opinion, what effect does the growing Hispanic population have on the stewardship and development efforts in the diocese? What are the challenges and opportunities for the Stewardship and Development Office to serve this community?

Isn’t it interesting that I have listed this in my response to question number eight before it was asked in question number nine? With more than 150,000 Spanish speaking people in South Carolina, our diocese, we must be grateful to God for having sent these culturally Catholic people to us; and then we must help the Spanish speaking adapt to our culture without being assimilated by it — they must retain their rich heritage. Our Stewardship and Development Office can help pastors and others guide these welcome newcomers in stewardship principles as practiced in the United States and in our local church. The office can encourage them to use their precious talents, share their special gifts, be grateful for the gift of us to them. The office can assist in helping establish and direct programs of support, development, renovations, sacrificial giving, education, social outreach.