Catholics of all ages in this diocese might soon be able to recite the late Monsignor Thomas McGread’s definition of Catholic stewardship.
But what, in fact, does “the grateful response of a Christian disciple who recognizes and receives God’s gifts and shares these gifts out of love of God and neighbor” look like in everyday life?
Ten people representing five parishes in the Jefferson City diocese explored that question in-depth during the Msgr. McGread Stewardship Conference, held Aug. 10-11 in Wichita, Kansas.
“Stewardship is all about following Christ. Living as Christ lived is our roadmap,” stated Anne Hackman, chairman of the St. Martin Parish Stewardship Council in St. Martins, who attended the conference.
“Using the gifts and talents we’ve been given to strengthen our parish helps others discover His ways and deepen their faith, as well,” she said.
Msgr. McGread was a nationally-recognized pioneer in promoting Catholic stewardship.
He served for 31 years as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Wichita, Kansas, Bishop W. Shawn McKnight’s home parish.
Promoting stewardship as a way of life is one of the priorities in the pastoral plan the Jefferson City diocese adopted in February 2021.
Msgr. McGread articulated four pillars for a stewardship way of life: hospitality, prayer, formation and service.
Kathryn Coulson, principal of St. Brendan School in Mexico, attended the Msgr. McGread Conference with her pastor, Father David Veit.
“It provided good reminders of why stewardship works and how it builds us up spiritually as individuals and as a community,” said Mrs. Coulson. “I also left with a renewed focus on the pillar of hospitality.”
“It’s a journey”
Mrs. Hackman said her No. 1 takeaway from the conference was to stay focused on Jesus — not on time, talent, treasure or the number of volunteers.
She found helpful guidance in discussions about how to engage more people in the faith, especially younger adults.
“We talked about ways a family practices stewardship and getting children involved early on,” she said.
Topics included ways to encourage young parents to attend Mass and other activities, offering Sunday school, and organizing “parents’ night out” events.
She found the speakers to be helpful and hopeful.
“Bishop (James R.) Golka (of Colorado Springs, Colorado) was so down-to-earth in his examples, and Father (Joel) Sember (from the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin) talked about the pitfalls and successes of his journey in a way that was so authentic, one could believe it could happen here,” she said.
Mrs. Hackman noticed recurring messages that stewardship is a lifelong process, and that giving to God what is His is important.
“Every person has the same amount of time — 168 hours per week,” she noted. “God asks for one of them.”
She noted that pastors lead the way toward stewardship in their parishes but don’t have to do all of the heavy lifting.
“Developing lay leaders and trusting your councils not only relieves some of the burden for the pastor but also develops leaders for the future when perhaps another pastor takes his place,” she said.
Other points she brought home are that a parish can never have enough hospitality, that sacraments are key moments for connecting parishioners with the community, and that newly-initiated Catholics are “on fire” and can help energize others.
She recognizes that parishes can no longer rely on the same people participating in ministries and the sacraments.
“Parishioners are aging out,” she noted. “We must engage younger generations by listening to their needs and ideas, not by trying to fit them into the ‘old’ ways, but finding new ways of energizing our parishes to continue celebrating our faith.”
Mrs. Hackman suggested keeping a long view.
“Don’t get frustrated with naysayers or a lack of progress,” she said. “It’s a journey that we take one step at a time.”
The narrow road
Mrs. Coulson emphasized that stewardship isn’t some program that must be followed or something that must be done because the bishop wants it to be done.
“It’s really about helping us be better disciples than we were yesterday and being aware of ways we can grow into the saints God calls us to be,” she said.
She noted that humans tend to want to create something in order to “do it better.”
“But what our diocese is doing with the stewardship renewal process is what comes from Christ’s instruction in Sacred Scripture, and if followed doesn’t need to be improved upon,” she said.
Jesus couldn’t have made Himself any clearer.
“It is by gratefully recognizing those gifts of talent, time and treasure given to each of us by God, and then sharing those gifts in love of God and neighbor, that we fulfill what Christ challenges us to do in leading a life as a disciple,” she stated.
She said attending the conference in Wichita gave her a chance “to see all of this from a different perspective, appreciate where we currently are in the stewardship renewal process, and reflect on what we need to continue working toward.”
The first thing she sees Jesus asking for is a change of heart.
“Open up the Bible and listen to what He challenges us to do as we learn about our faith, as we pray and as we sacrificially give in our lives,” Mrs. Coulson stated.
“Jesus gave us what it takes to enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” she said. “To follow Him is not easy in our secular world, but by truly putting the spirituality of stewardship into practice, you are following Christ and will grow closer to God as well as growing to be more joyful in what gifts you receive in the process.”
The effects can be dramatic.
“Even if everyone increased just a small amount in each area of prayer, participation and sacrificial giving, a great amount of good can be accomplished within a parish and all the ministries it provides, including our schools,” said Mrs. Coulson.
“It can happen when a spiritual growth occurs and we live out our lives in such a way that shows God how much we love Him,” she said.
Mrs. Hackman’s husband, Bob Hackman, chairman of the St. Martin Parish Finance Council in St. Martins, also attended the conference.
“God gave us blessings and talents,” he noted. “It’s up to each of us to use them and give them back to God.”
He said his No. 1 takeaway was that everyone has talents and will get involved if they feel welcomed and included.
“People will pray when they are included with people of faith,” he said.
Mr. Hackman found talking to Catholics from all over the United States about their experiences with stewardship to be very helpful.
He heard for himself how easy it is for parishes to fall into calling upon the same people or having the same people sign up to lead the same ministries, year after year.
“It’s difficult for a person wanting to participate to feel included and welcomed,” he said. “In many cases, they have a bad experience and won’t come back.”
He relayed that pastors lead by following the stewardship way of life.
“The pastor makes the ultimate decisions but should delegate, listen and let the people carry-out their assigned ministries,” he said.
He reiterated that drawing entire parishes into a stewardship mindset begins with hospitality.
“Start by smiling and greeting people in the parish and beyond,” he said. “Make an effort to welcome people, whether they’re new parishioners or they’ve been in the parish for years. Introduce yourself.”
Other lessons flowed organically from the talks and informal discussions, Mr. Hackman recalled, such as: “Be inviting and inclusive. Let people have a choice in how they use their talents God gave them instead of telling them what to do.
“The paid staff are overburdened. They should be able to do their assigned work while allowing others to give back by working in their ministries,” he said, adding that ministries can include praying, as well.
“The author Matthew Kelly writes about Christians collaborating with God to make ‘Holy Moments,’” Mr. Hackman noted. “These Holy Moments can be minutes, hours or days and will show others that they, too, can have Holy Moments.”
The right mindset
Mrs. Coulson observed that many people want to focus on the money aspect of stewardship because it’s tangible and easy to track and talk about.
“But stewardship includes so much more, and focusing on the four pillars and being specific in how they are lived out in parishes may bring a better understanding,” she said.
Mr. Hackman noted that when most people hear the words “stewardship” and “tithe,” money is the first thing that comes to mind.
“But if we really focus on helping people become disciples of Christ and getting involved in the stewardship way of life, the tithe will come,” he said.
“If someone is involved in supporting any charity or organization, they will donate their treasures naturally,” Mr. Hackman stated. “Likewise, if people pray, get involved in the parish, and feel welcomed in doing so, they will tithe.”
Mrs. Coulson said attending the conference and staying at the Wichita diocese’s Spiritual Life Center was a good experience, as it required her to step away from the tasks of her busy life.
“It gave me an opportunity to listen and reflect and pray,” she said. “By doing so, I considered in what ways I personally needed to change and evolve so I am living as God wants.”
She returned to work at St. Brendan School with a challenge to the faculty and staff to put even more energy into the pillar of hospitality by building relationships with parishioners and with parents who have children in the school.
“In that way, we can invite greater participation and prayer among families,” she said. “We also work to help students grow with an internal understanding of living as a disciple through prayer, formation, service and hospitality.”
The conference speakers reinforced for her that hospitality is the starting point.
“Hospitality begins with noticing, followed by acknowledging and then inviting,” she noted. “If we enter into every moment of our parish life with the intent of providing hospitality to all those we meet, our Church will grow in substantial ways.”
Father Stephen Jones, diocesan director of stewardship, encourages clergy and lay representatives of parishes throughout this diocese to attend the next Msgr. McGread Stewardship Conference in Wichita in March 2023.
He said the conference helped people from this diocese see that stewardship isn’t a “Diocese of Wichita thing” or a “Diocese of Jefferson City thing.”
“It’s a Catholic thing! And it’s being practiced by parishes all over the country and all over the world,” he said.
Diocesan Associate Stewardship Director Patricia Lutz said learning about stewardship from diverse perspectives gave people a clearer understanding of the transformation that’s under way here.
“More importantly, they saw where we are really on the cutting edge of stewardship, because we’re doing this as a diocese,” she said. “Most of the other people there were representing parishes, rather than whole dioceses.”
Mrs. Lutz pointed out that the purpose for promoting stewardship is to help people get to heaven, “because that’s the mission of the Church.”
Toward that end, “stewardship is how we’ll be able to serve our parishes and provide them with the hospitality, the prayer, the formation and the service that they desire,” she said.
“If everyone is living as an active steward, they’re going to grow in their faith and they’re going to give sacrificially, and that’s going to help our Church grow in faith and in communion,” Mrs. Lutz stated.
It will also help every member of every parish in the diocese understand that he or she is part of one united Church.
“It isn’t about individual parishes,” she said. “We are all one Church family, and we should be there to help each other.”
She emphasized how deeply the Catholic understanding of stewardship is rooted in the Eucharist.
“‘Eucharist’ means ‘thanksgiving,’” she noted. “We are giving thanks to God for all the many gifts that He gives to us, and in doing so, we give those gifts back to him.”
Such gratitude is the foundation of discipleship.
“This is about helping people hold themselves accountable and realize that all we have and all we are is because of God,” said Mrs. Lutz.
“Stewardship is discipleship,” she pointed out. “We are all called to be disciples and to followers of Christ.”