Participants ponder the practice of stewardship at diocesan meeting


COLUMBIA — What started out as a discussion at a national convention eight months ago continued April 27 with 350 participants from the Archdiocese of Atlanta and the dioceses of Charleston, Savannah, Charlotte and Raleigh. They gathered for the first-ever Province of Atlanta Stewardship Day.

Stewardship and development leaders from the province planned the program to promote and nurture stewardship efforts, which they hope will ensure the strength and stability of parishes up and down the Atlantic coast.

Keynote speakers

A strong advocate for the promotion of stewardship and a well-known and sought after speaker throughout the country, Retired Bishop John Snyder from the Diocese of St. Augustine presented the morning keynote address.

Following his installation in 1979 as the eighth bishop of St. Augustine, Bishop Snyder created a committee to analyze the needs of the diocese. The group recommended that a development office be established, and following a yearlong search, Dutch Schultz and his wife, Barbara, were hired as the first co-directors.

“They wanted to call it the Stewardship Office,” said Bishop Snyder, who added laughingly, “I had to be converted.”

The bishop said the duo bought home to him that stewardship was not primarily about raising money.

“They helped me to see that stewardship was about putting God first in everything. I had to learn that nothing is mine,” he said. “Everything we have is a gift. It’s all a gift.”

Bishop Snyder said that before embracing stewardship he would contribute funds to his favorite causes, but always at month’s end after all bills had been paid.

Then, he began to slowly implement his tithe. “Each year I asked, ‘can I take another step?'” he said, describing the stewardship process as lifelong.

This was also integrated into the bishop’s prayer life. “We have to give some quality time to the Lord to see into our hearts. We are here as disciples of the Lord,” said Bishop Snyder, adding, “I began to see the Lord touching me more deeply through needy people.”

Since his retirement in 2001, the bishop said he has been discerning how he can use his time and talent to serve the Lord. “It’s a wonderful experience.”

In the afternoon session, Rosemary Bisig Smith, executive director of the Office of Stewardship and Development for the Archdiocese of Louisville, focused on stewardship efforts for children and teens.

“Family life is a treasure I will never be able to thank God for,” said Smith.

The mother of six and grandmother of five said many adults are busy being friends with their children instead of being parents.

“We must teach them the things they need are provided for them and the things they want they don’t really need,” she said.

While parishes need to be accountable, the stewardship and development director added that young people must be accountable as well.

“Stewardship is not just charity, but an attitude for life. It’s about living, not giving,” she said. “The best reason to give is because you’re grateful to God for all he has given to you. We need to lead our children to healthy motivations for living.”

Smith, who initiated a children’s stewardship education process, which includes three books for elementary, middle and high school students, said children’s Masses get mom and dad in the habit of going back to church.

“Stewardship cannot be reinforced at home if mom and dad think it’s fund raising,” she said.

Breakout sessions

Following each of the keynotes, six breakout sessions were offered for participants to hear insight and expertise on stewardship.

Jim Kelley, director of development of the Diocese of Charlotte, presented a workshop on “Forming Stewardship Committees.”

Kelley described stewardship as planned, proportional giving. He recommended that parishes have an active Stewardship Committee, hold a two or three weekend stewardship effort every single year, and conduct awareness activities 12 months a year to build awareness and education.

“Stewardship is about putting God first in your life. It is proactive, not reactive,” he said. To see where you put your time and money, Kelley suggested that people look through their calendar and checkbook over the last six months to see where God’s fits in.

“Stewardship is about spiritual change,” Kelley said. “Nurture a way of life in which people get closer to Jesus and their communities.”

“Stewardship and Evangelization: Two Sides of the Same Coin” was presented by Terry Jackson, director of Evangelization for the Diocese of Raleigh.

“You can’t evangelize without stewardship. An evangelizer is a messenger of good news,” said Jackson, who is vice president of the National Catholic Committee on Evangelization.

He led a brief presentation on “Go and Make Disciples,” a national strategy for evangelization developed by the U.S. bishops in 1992. The Raleigh Diocese was one of the six original dioceses to implement the evangelization program “Disciples in Mission” from the Paulist National Catholic Evangelization Association.

Currently the dioceses of Charleston and Savannah are in the preparation year for the program, which has three goals. Goal one is to create in Catholics such an enthusiasm for their faith that they freely share it with others. The second goal is to invite all people to hear the message of salvation in Jesus Christ so that they may join in the fullness of the Catholic faith. The last goal is to foster gospel values in society, promoting the dignity of the human person, the importance of the family, and the common good of society, so that the nation may continue to be transformed by the saving power of Jesus Christ.

Simon Bula and Roy Elmendorf, Precious Blood of Christ Church on Pawley’s Island, presented “Beginning Parish Stewardship Profile.”