The quality of communication is often the difference between whether people accept their role as stewards of the Gospel or abdicate the responsibility to someone else.
“Ninety percent of the time, if stewardship is not being embraced by a community, it’s because they have a broken communication system,” said Jill Alberti, the diocese’s director of parish communications.
She spoke to about 75 people in a break-out session at the International Catholic Stewardship Council’s (ICSC) 56th annual Stewardship Conference in Nashville, Tennessee.
Joining her at the conference were Monsignor Robert A. Kurwicki, vicar general for the Jefferson City diocese, and Father Gregory Meystrik, diocesan moderator of the curia.
The conference is organized by the ICSC (www.catholicstewardship.com), which promotes and supports Catholic teaching on stewardship by providing education and resources for dioceses, parishes and institutions.
Catholic stewardship is the understanding that all good things come from God, and that Christians must respond to that reality in gratitude by cultivating what they’ve been given and making a suitable offering of their time, talent, treasure and their very selves.
It is a lifestyle that leads to authentic discipleship and must be cultivated from cradle to grave.
Where the people are
Mrs. Alberti’s session at the conference was titled “How a Parish’s Digital Presence Enhances Stewardship.”
She said it’s important to imitate Jesus by meeting people where they are, in order to spread His Word.
“We live in a digital world,” she said. “Every piece of technology is a gift, and we have the opportunity to use these gifts in a way that can help promote the stewardship way of life.”
She emphasized the basics of communication and how to apply the stewardship message at the parish level: “Brand it, simplify it and keep repeating it.”
Branding means creating a uniform, instantly recognizable way of getting the message across, both verbally and visually.
She also gave an overview of the Four Pillars of Stewardship: hospitality, prayer, formation and service.
“This is something Bishop McKnight wants us to keep in mind as we talk more about stewardship in the Jefferson City diocese,” she said.
“We want Jesus!”
Throughout the conference, experienced and knowledgeable speakers from all over the continent shared practical and proven information and insight.
Msgr. Kurwicki, Fr. Meystrik and Mrs. Alberti spread out in order to attend as many sessions as possible.
Fr. Meystrik said he was struck by the importance of reconnecting with youth and young adults — “not with an open hand for money but with a desire for them to be active in the Church.”
“The obvious answer to all of our concerns, questions, problems and dilemmas is our Lord,” he said.
Fr. Meystrik recalled what the young people of Pope St. John Paul II’s native Poland called out when he returned to preach the Word to them shortly after becoming Pope: “We want Jesus!”
“We all need Jesus — that’s the point,” said Fr. Meystrik. “And what John Paul said in Poland is no less true today than it was then — that young people are not the future of the Church, they ARE the Church.”
This flows from an incarnational theology that all people are necessary parts of the Body of Christ, “and that came across very strongly at the conference,” said Fr. Meystrik.
More than leftovers
One of the sessions Msgr. Kurwicki attended focused on ways to encourage Hispanic individuals and families to adopt a stewardship way of life.
“Especially since we have a growing Hispanic population, it’s good for us to be learning how we can reach out to them through stewardship,” he said.
One thing the presenters emphasized in communicating the message within Hispanic cultures is the importance of making an offering to God, rather than just leaving Him leftovers.
“I learned about how powerful that concept is in the Hispanic communities, how meaningful it is to give an offering,” he said.
It resonates with the more relational aspects of Hispanic culture, as well as the widely revered virtue of hospitality.
Msgr. Kurwicki said he was encouraged to learn about the great desire Hispanic Catholics have to participate more fully in the life of the parish through stewardship.
But there are cultural barriers. For instance, in some countries, the Church, its parishes and its schools receive government funding. When people who grew up with that expectation find out that it is not the case in the United States, they want to pitch in and help, Msgr. Kurwicki said.
A lifelong process
Both priests were interested to see that many of the challenges the Church is facing in this diocese are familiar to Catholic leaders all over the country.
Among these are changing demographics, fewer resources and greater needs.
“All around, it was an excellent, helpful conference,” said Msgr. Kurwicki. “I was able to learn new things. It also reinforced for me good practices that I’ve used in the past to help people understand that stewardship is not just a one-time gift but a lifelong process of becoming a better steward of the Lord’s gifts.”
Capping off the experience for him was the opportunity to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with priests and bishops from all over the United States and Canada, he said.
A way of life
Several people asked Mrs. Alberti for a copy of her presentation, and a handful of parishes asked her to evaluate their efforts at promoting stewardship.
“They want to embrace what I talked about and find a stronger stewardship model for their parishes,” she said. “It was wonderful to be able to help them with that.”
She said she returned from the conference reinvigorated by the energy of all the people who were discovering the power and potential of Catholic stewardship for the first time.
“They have that fire and passion behind everything they’re trying to do,” she said.
In her role with this diocese, Mrs. Alberti has been visiting parishes, learning about their needs and offering guidance for reaching people where they are.
She pointed out that Bishop McKnight and she are both from a diocese that has been promoting stewardship as a way of life for over 35 years and are both passionate about cultivating the “stewardship way of life” here.
The goal is to promote a mindset of tithing and deliberate, planned giving — “giving in gratitude out of a need to give, rather than giving to a need,” as Bishop McKnight would say — among Catholic households throughout the diocese.
“We are definitely working on it,” she said. “I have had a lot of pastors that have been reading up on it because they want to learn more about stewardship. I am happy that we’ve been able to give them some guidance.”