By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Dan Ebener, director of stewardship and parish planning for the Diocese of Davenport, facilitated a plenary session at the Region IX Stewardship Conference on April 21. During the session, 125 people from the four-state region of Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas offered questions and feedback on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 1992 letter, “Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response” and how it might be applied to promote stewardship in a parish.
The pastoral letter describes Christian stewardship as the ability to “receive God’s gifts gratefully, cultivate them responsibly, share them lovingly in justice with others, and return them with increase to the Lord.” It further describes the different areas of stewardship, how one can exercise and develop such stewardship, and the obstacles to stewardship.
Ebener began the session by asking how the letter’s insights could be incorporated into capital campaigns. Panelist Jane Rutter, a Missouri-based development consultant and former stewardship and development office director for the Diocese of Jefferson City, commented, “Campaigns are nothing more than helping people open their hearts. This is one of the tenets of true stewardship. This approach ensures that everything you’re doing has that stewardship heart at its foundation.”
Participants in the session, including a priest, noted that many clergy are not familiar with the concept of stewardship and have not been trained in this area. An audience member said the pastoral letter is a great resource for priests.
Later, Ebener asked how stewardship could be used as a way to engage youths in parish life. Rutter responded, that “it is essential for all of us to ensure that we have some teaching and practice of stewardship for our little ones. We have to give children that language and understanding of stewardship in our homes, parishes and schools. We have to model stewardship so that they grow up with it. Some of our children go to Catholic schools, and even they do not know much about stewardship. … All of the sudden, they are teenagers and we begin talking to them about stewardship. That’s probably a little too late.”
One audience member commented that parishes often focus more on fundraising than engaging people. “How can we get people engaged around giving of their time and talent?” the attendee asked. Rutter replied, “I am a firm believer in term limits. A lot of the reason people don’t get involved is because people have had the ministry for 18 years. There may be a real desire for people to say ‘I don’t want to do this anymore,’ but they feel like they cannot give it up. When young leaders take over, we often tell them that they are not doing it like we typically do it in this parish. That can diminish their commitment and energy in giving.”
Another audience member suggested a difference exists between being welcomed to participate and being invited to participate. “You have to ask, and you have to ask sincerely and directly.”
Finally, Ebener asked the participants to comment on how stewardship could be used to evangelize.
Rutter said, “Think of the qualities that attract you to Christian stewards. Joy, peace, enthusiasm in giving — these are the qualities that invite people into the life of the church. When we live our faith with joy, we naturally draw others into our Catholics community and give them a sense of self-worth that they may not have found themselves.”