Regional conference promotes stewardship as a way of life

NORTH CHARLESTON — The Regional Stewardship Conference held at the North Charleston Convention Center drew a crowd of 320 people on April 28.

The keynote speaker was Dr. Charles Zech, a professor of economics at Villanova University and the author of over 75 books and articles on various Catholic topics of interest.

Bishop Robert J. Baker, chairman of the ad hoc committee on stewardship for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, welcomed the crowd.

“Getting this message (of stewardship) across will not happen overnight,” Bishop Baker said. “It is a lifetime commitment on your part and on mine.”

He noted that the USCCB is currently talking about a religious curriculum on stewardship at the high school level and asked for input from the attendees.

Zech opened the seminar with a 30-minute discourse on “Why Catholics Don’t Give … And What Can Be Done About It.”

The author said that Catholics contribute less money to their churches than do members of almost every other major U.S. religion and offered some solutions to this phenomenon. Zech said traditional approaches such as fund-raising drives or building projects typically are not successful. He concluded that the real answer is building the church community through ministry and spiritually connecting to the families of the parish.

The conference also included several breakout sessions.

Lois Locey from St. Mary Magdalen Church in Florida offered ways to keep stewardship momentum alive throughout the year; Jim Kelley, director of development for the Diocese of Charlotte, revealed ways to communicate the message of giving; and Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Kiernan Williams of Holy Trinity Church in Williamston, N.C., touched on raising funds in a small parish.

Father Roger Arnsparger, pastor of St. Michael’s Parish in Gastonia, N.C., spoke about the spirituality of stewardship. He said that God set Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and gave them the vocation to “cultivate and care for it” (Gn 2:15).

“We are not just workers in the garden but collaborators with God himself and with each other in ‘cultivating and caring’ for the Garden of our lives, our souls,” Father Arnsparger said. “The question God asks of Adam after the fall (Gn 3:9) is not a geopositional question, but a spiritual one. Where are we in relation to God, to his plan, and to the covenant of love which he has made with us in our Baptism? To answer that question is to know the point of our Catholic life.”

At the end of the day, a workshop on teaching people what stewardship is about was conducted by Lynn Sale of Holy Infant Parish in Durham, N.C.

“How do we reeducate adults about stewardship and how do we form our children and youth to understand that stewardship is an integral part of our Christian identity?” she asked.

Msgr. Joseph R. Roth celebrated the Mass at the close of the conference.

The regional conference includes the dioceses of Charleston, Charlotte, Savannah, Raleigh and the Archdiocese of Atlanta. It is held annually to promote stewardship as a way of life.