“Stewardship” and “renewal” are words that have been tainted and maybe even poisoned for some people.
Author Spencer Allen knows that one printed resource can’t restore those words to their rightful dignity, but he’s happy to help get the ball rolling.
“Stewardship doesn’t mean what a lot of people think it means,” said Mr. Allen, principal of Helias Catholic High School in Jefferson City, and author of a four-part small-group study program called “Catholic Stewardship Renewal.”
“Stewardship simply means ‘taking good care of that which does not belong to us,’” he noted. “It starts with a basic understanding of who we are and who God is and where everything comes from.”
It’s a process of conversion from entitlement to gratitude, and it’s always focused on God.
“The main thing that we are called to be stewards of is our universal call to holiness, our innate need to be in relationship with Christ,” said Mr. Allen. “That’s the primary gift we’ve been given and are entrusted with safeguarding.”
Without proper context, these essential truths can come off as dry and abstract.
That’s why when crafting this small-group study and faith-sharing resource, Mr. Allen borrowed Jesus’s technique of using relatable and entertaining stories to help get the point across.
In “Catholic Stewardship Renewal,” available in English or Spanish, Mr. Allen introduces participants to the characters of James and Lisa, a married couple.
James has been Catholic all his life, perhaps to the point of becoming somewhat indifferent.
Lisa is preparing to become Catholic through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, with help from Deacon Brad at their parish.
Through each chapter of the study, the couple engage in a dialogue about holiness, discipleship and commitment and how it all pertains to being Catholic.
The story is designed to help Catholics prepare to enter the communal, deeply spiritual process of renewing their commitment to growing in holiness.
This is known as the Catholic Stewardship Renewal, and it now takes place every fall in parishes throughout the Jefferson City diocese.
It is an intentional process of ongoing conversion and renewal, culminating with a commitment to participate fully in the parish and its ministries.
“The Catholic Stewardship Renewal mirrors the annual Easter celebration, where we renew our baptismal promises and rejuvenate our faith,” Mr. Allen states in the introduction to the study guide.
“It enables us to actively demonstrate our belonging and support to the parish family.”
“Catholic Stewardship Renewal” is a follow-up to the study and faith-sharing guide Mr. Allen wrote last year about the Four Pillars of Catholic Stewardship.
This new guide is designed to help small groups explore the Catholic Stewardship Renewal together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
The study also works well for families and individuals.
Mr. Allen shaped the characters and situations to be identifiable and relatable. But that doesn’t mean he treads lightly on the content.
“The study really does dive into, ‘What does it mean to be Catholic?’ ‘What does stewardship mean?’ ‘What is the real meaning of renewal?’ and ‘Why is it important for us to do all those things as a community?’” said Mr. Allen.
“We look at each of these words and talk about why we do this as a community, and specifically why the parish — and by extension the diocese — is the venue in which we do it,” he said.
“We present this as a dialogue, a story, not a lesson plan,” he noted. “We’re not just being talked at. We’re following a narrative and perhaps even taking part in it.”
Each section of the study includes prayers, questions and explanations to help guide the participants in reflection.
There’s also a helpful list of Bible passages that help solidify a Catholic understanding of stewardship.
“The goal is to have a balance,” said Mr. Allen. “I set out to have it be meaningful for someone who has already been initiated into the stewardship mindset, but at the same time accessible to people who are new to these things.”
He emphasized that it is an introduction, not a scholarly treatise.
“I see it as a ‘hook’ to get us thinking about stewardship and help us understand it a little better,” said Mr. Allen. “But like anything else we learn in our Catholic faith, we are obliged to keep moving forward and growing in our depth of understanding.”
Mr. Allen has long been an enthusiast for helping people know what being Catholic really means.
On the heals of his successful 2013 book, Mackerel Snappers: How to Explain Even the Toughest Teachings About God and His Catholic Church, he wrote another volume on the principles of Catholic stewardship.
He’s gotten good feedback from Catholic publishers he’s sent the manuscript to, but none have committed to marketing the book to a larger audience.
“Basically, they were concerned about having a book with the word ‘stewardship’ in the title, when that word is misunderstood by so many people,” he said.
Namely, too many see “stewardship” as a buzzword for “how much money does someone want me to give?” or “we think you should give us something that belongs to you.”
“That’s not the message we’ve been trying to get across all these years, but it’s how people have heard it,” said Mr. Allen.
He meant for the book to help reframe the discussion and bring it back to its roots.
He’s convinced that if parishes help people stay focused on the call to holiness that everyone receives at Baptism, “no one will have to ask that person to support the parish or the diocese with their financial gifts, their time. That part will simply flow naturally from people living a life in Christ.”
He said he takes his combined role as a Catholic educator and Catholic steward seriously.
“This school does not belong to me, and these kids aren’t mine,” he said. “They don’t even fully belong to parents, either. They’re God’s kids, and we’re stewards of them.”
He pointed out that absent some miraculous intervention from heaven, people don’t morph into stewards overnight.
“God is inviting us and asking us all to be all-in,” Mr. Allen noted, “but he knows there’s a journey from not-at-all-in to all-in, and he wants for there to be balance so that the conversion is fruitful and lasting.”
“You and God make the journey together, and you let God guide you in the pace,” he said.
The English and Spanish language versions of the “Catholic Stewardship Renewal” study guide can be found online at: diojeffcity.org/stewardship.