CHARLESTON—The Stewardship Conference held at the Diocese of Charleston Pastoral Center was a spiritually moving experience for the almost 140 people who attended.
They sang, they laughed, they cried; and not once did anyone ask for money.
This — collections as the primary purpose of stewardship — is a major misperception, and one that the Nov. 9 conference sought to dispel.
Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone started the day with a prayer and a blessing, explaining that a life of stewardship is “a life of evangelization, a life of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Eric McArdle, key speaker and president of Catholic Stewardship Consultants, stressed that everything we have is a gift from God. People must recognize this, be thankful, and return it 100 percent to their parishes. This is stewardship.
Stewardship as a way of life is about people, and about giving back to God in Thanksgiving, he explained. “It’s not about the parish’s need to get. It’s about our need to give. It’s about your relationship to God and your need to grow closer to Christ.”
The message was heard by representatives from 56 parishes and three schools, and was one that touched their hearts and woke their souls.
Father John Lanzrath, from the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas, — the model of a stewardship parish — helped spread a wave of joy in God’s gifts when he led the crowd in a four-part harmony of “Come Holy Spirit” inviting Jesus into the room. He told those gathered to “be bold fools for Jesus Christ” and to promote, live, and embrace the Gospel 100 percent all the time.
One of the developers of “The Pillars of Parish Stewardship,” Father Lanzrath said the very first pillar in building a successful stewardship parish is hospitality. He stressed that everyone from the pastor to the staff to the parishioners must be welcoming. In other words, ‘You’re sitting in my pew’ is not the proper way to welcome a new family, Father Lanzrath said to appreciative chuckles.
He encouraged people to welcome new families or individuals the same way they do new pastors: introduce yourself and bring gifts!
The other pillars include prayer, formation and service. One of the reasons the Diocese of Wichita is the model of stewardship for all other dioceses is because they are all in, Father Lanzrath explained. For example, the schools, which fall under the pillar of formation, do not charge tuition for any parishioners.
Sister Pamela Smith, Secretary for Education and Faith Formation in the Diocese of Charleston, said it is a wonderful concept that would require a revolution in the concept of stewardship and the understanding of the gift of self-giving.
For example, volunteers would be needed to cover services such as nurses, substitute teachers, receptionists, bookkeepers, coaches, and tutors.
The concept of giving of our gifts was at the heart of the conference.
Father Jim Golka also spoke, giving a moving presentation that left many in tears. His main message on stewardship is that it is not about us. It’s about seeing the look on someone’s face — the face that could be Jesus — “looking at us with great hope and expectation to see what we’re going to do with the gifts He gave us.”
Now the Diocese of Charleston will be looking at its parishes with great hope and expectation as well.
“Our diocese is thirsty to hear the true meaning of stewardship,” said Dominique Lopez, who attended the conference from St. Benedict Church in Mount Pleasant. “Stewardship has nothing to do with money but is a reminder to walk every day with God and for Him.”
Carrie Mummert, director of Stewardship and Mission Advancement, said they brought the conference together because she doesn’t want people to hear “stewardship” and think ‘oh here they come again, looking for money’. She wants people to know it is so much more; that it is a way of life that enriches everyone.
“It goes back to understanding how God wants us to live,” she said.
Mummert hopes people take the message of stewardship as a way of life back to their parishes, and said they will be on hand to help parishes develop a plan. Call 843-261-0438 or visit sccatholic.org/promoting-parish-stewardship.
Also, for more information on the Diocese of Wichita, visit catholicdio ceseofwichita.org/stewardship.
Photo provided: Cardinal Newman students in Columbia show the true meaning of stewardship by participating in a food collection for people in need in this 2013 file photo.