Monsignor Thomas McGread wasn’t trying to create a revolutionary program for managing the parishes of his diocese.
“He was simply trying to implement the Second Vatican Council in his own parish,” said Bishop W. Shawn McKnight.
The bishop gave introductory remarks to the pastors and parish life collaborators of the parishes that will begin preparing to move fully toward a stewardship way of life this year.
Msgr. McGread (1928-2013), founder of the Catholic Stewardship movement in the United States, was pastor of Bishop McKnight’s home parish in Wichita, Kansas, for 31 years.
With inspired effectiveness, Msgr. McGread encouraged his parishioners to recognize that everything they are and everything they possess is from God, Who intends each person to share those gifts sacrificially for the good of the whole.
“What does it mean to be an intentional tither of one’s blessings? As they come, so I share. It’s as simple as that!” said Bishop McKnight.
Stewardship is deeply rooted in the Scriptural themes of covenant and discipleship.
Its application to parish life finds clear expression in Section 37 of “Lumen Gentium,” the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.
That passage calls on pastors to collaborate with the laypeople in their parishes, reinforce the laity’s understanding of its own responsibilities in carrying-out the Church’s mission, and unite fully and complementarily with those efforts.
“That was the main overarching goal of the Second Vatican Council,” Bishop McKnight told the pastors. “It is the full mission of the Church, utilizing all the resources that the Church has at her disposal, both spiritual and temporal.”
The stewardship way of life is about intentional discipleship.
“The Church and our laypeople especially are counting on you to provide the kind of leadership that is needed today,” the bishop told the pastors.
“And when they believe their gifts and talents are being utilized in a meaningful way in fulfilling the mission of the Church in your parish, they are more likely to follow with enthusiasm and provide a certain strength and encouragement to their own pastors,” he said.
The fruits of a stewardship way of life have been evident in Bishop McKnight’s home diocese for years — from a high percentage of weekly Mass attendance, to proper funding of schools and other Church ministries, to an abundance of priestly and religious vocations.
It’s really a matter of simplifying things and getting back to the basics of Christian life in the Church, he said.
It calls for conversion from being primarily a passive recipient to being an active participant in the life and mission of the Church, he stated.
This conversion to a stewardship mindset will bring greater clarity, transparency and accountability to everything from finances to each parish’s most essential ministries.
“What should come through this whole process is that more of our volunteer time is spent on actually carrying-out the mission of the Church, not just being in support of it,” said Bishop McKnight.
Key to discipleship
One of the three priorities of the diocesan pastoral plan is to promote stewardship as the basis for carrying-out the work of the Church in every parish in this diocese.
“Stewardship is the grateful response of a Christian disciple who recognizes and receives God’s gifts and shares these gifts in love of God and neighbor,” said Father Stephen Jones, diocesan director of stewardship.
Fr. Jones reiterated that the spirituality of stewardship comes from the Bible, with God telling His People to put Him first, pray and worship together and give sacrificially of their work and their wealth in thanksgiving to Him.
“We’re working on conversion of life through intentional discipleship,” Fr. Jones stated. “Stewardship and discipleship are symbiotic. You cannot have one without the other.”
The biblical model of stewardship presents sacrificial giving of time, talent and treasure as a spiritual endeavor, a necessary response to all that God has done and given.
A mindset of prayer and sacrificial doing and giving will necessarily eliminate parishes’ and schools’ seemingly endless reliance on fundraisers to cover expenses.
“Our vision must shift from paying bills to supporting our mission,” Fr. Jones stated.
He and Patricia Lutz, associate director of stewardship, are helping parishes throughout the diocese make the transition to promoting the stewardship way of life.
The process involves:
Fr. Jones urged the pastors to be as hands-on as possible throughout the process.
“The whole goal of this, as bishop indicated, is to incorporate the laity more fully into the life of the Church and make your lives more priestly, so that you can spend your time doing that which you were ordained to do,” he said.
Simply inviting parishioners to make a biblical tithe — namely, a sustained, commitment to sacrificial giving — will reorient the finances of every parish and of the diocese as a whole.
Parishes will make a tithe to the diocese on most of their income, in order to support ministries throughout the diocese.
This will replace the cathedraticum, which is an annual assessment to parishes; most second collections; and the Catholic Stewardship Appeal (CSA).
The diocese, in turn, will tithe what it receives from parishes toward the work of the universal Church.
Each fall, parishes will hold a Catholic Stewardship Renewal (CRS), calling on each parishioner to reaffirm his or her commitment to supporting the mission of the Church through time, talent and treasure.
This commitment should bring enough income for parishes to fully pay their operating expenses, eliminating the need for large fundraisers.
Each parish and each Catholic school will be allowed to have one major fundraiser per year, to pay for deferred maintenance, capital improvements or a rainy-day fund — but not operations.
“From your heart”
Guest speaker Father Kenneth VanHaverbeke, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Andover, Kansas, and former director of stewardship for the Diocese of Wichita, noted that a pastor’s level of engagement in this process will determine that of the parishioners.
He pointed out that stewardship is a language that needs to be spoken regularly, not just a few Sundays a year.
He spoke at length about integrating a stewardship mindset into every facet of parish life, as it has universal relevance to all aspects of discipleship and the Church’s mission of making disciples.
“Our goal is to integrate it into everything we’re doing — homilies, sacramental preparation, marriage preparation, the entire life of the parish,” he said.
As an example, he cited stewardship’s relevance to parents seeking baptism for their children.
“The ultimate act of stewardship is being a parent,” he asserted. “A parent doesn’t own the child but receives responsibility for that child.
“If you can help parents see that gratefully recognizing and receiving that gift of life and being able to educate that child and then let him or her go is stewardship, you’re casting it in a light they already understand,” Fr. VanHaverbeke stated.
“So they realize that ‘it’s about my vocation, about my children, about my marriage — much more than simply time, talent and treasure,’” he said.
He talked about how receiving Holy Communion is an act of stewardship.
“Eucharist means thanksgiving, gratitude,” he noted. “Recognizing the host as the Body and Blood of Christ, you receive Jesus. And at the end of Mass, you are sent forth to take what you have received, and share it in love of God and neighbor.”
Even weakness and infirmity can be recognized as a gift from God to help people grow in reliance on Him.
“Stewardship is about acknowledging not just the good we receive, but also the struggles,” Fr. VanHaverbeke asserted.
He urged the priests to speak frankly about the spirituality of finances — “the need to give, rather than giving to a need.”
The best witness that pastors can give to all of this is to integrate it fully into their own lives — by recognizing the gifts they receive in Holy Orders and putting them to use whenever possible.
“Figure out what stewardship means to you personally, and then speak to that from your experience and from your heart,” Fr. VanHaverbeke advised.
The right focus
Fr. Jones reiterated that stewardship is not a program but a way of life — “gratefulness put into action.”
It leads to “conversion of life through intentional discipleship,” which “leads to a more active participation by the laity in the life and mission of the Church,” he said.
He pointed out that conversion on this level will not take place overnight.
But it will include a call to accountability for all parishioners, who will be expected to take regular part in the sacramental life of the parish, actively work toward carrying out its mission, and help sustain the parish financially.
Each parish’s stewardship council will work with the pastor and other councils to identify opportunities for people to serve in the community.
Parishes whose websites are tied into the diocesan Blackbaud system will be able to connect in a timely manner with the people who carry-out the various ministries in the parish.
Bishop McKnight assured his audience that there will be much more to learn and pray about as the process moves forward.
“I want to plead with you: please keep your eyes focused on the spirituality of stewardship as we get into the details and nuts and bolts and logistics of all of this and hopefully find that it will be good for us in our diocese, a way of implementing the vision of the fathers of the Second Vatican Council,” he said.