Does parish life seem to be dead or dying in your parish? Little known or understood by most Catholics, stewardship is being rediscovered by many parishes as a key to building a buzzing community that evangelises, and will be the focus of a major Perth conference in September. Will your community be represented?
By Mark Reidy
The opportunity to learn about an exciting concept that is transforming Catholic parishes across the US, Canada and the United Kingdom into vibrant, dynamic and life-giving communities, is being offered to every parish in Western Australia.
The Stewardship Institute is a two-day seminar that will be presented in Perth on September 24-25, and event co-ordinator, Brian Stephens, is adamant that all those who participate, both priests and parishioners, will be gifted with a fire to inspire and invigorate their church communities.
The Seminar, to be held at the Infant Jesus Parish Centre in Morley, is the chance for participants to truly understand and embrace the, often misunderstood, principles of stewardship, Mr Stephens said.
“Many Catholics have been led to believe that stewardship is simply about financial giving”, he told The Record.
“But those attending will leave with the understanding that it is about building the Church community, both locally and universally, on the collective time, talents and treasures of its individual members. It is not a program; it is a way of life.”
This is the third year that the Institute will be presented in Australia, with seminars held in Sydney in 2006, Sydney and Brisbane in 2007 and this year in Sydney and Perth.
Mr Stephens said the seeds planted by those who attended previous events are already bearing fruit in the eastern states, and are also taking root in several Western Australian parishes.
Fr Richard Rutkauskas, assistant priest at Sts John and Paul Parish in Willetton, attended the seminar in Sydney last year. Initially, he admitted, he was sceptical of its parish-transforming promises, but said that he returned with a passion that has since reinvigorated his church community.
Another “convert” to the stewardship cause is David Emery of Our Lady of the Mission Parish in Whitford who also attended last year’s gathering.
Now chairman of the parish’s Stewardship Committee, Mr Emery believes that the Church in Australia will experience a new lease of life as local churches adopt the wisdom passed on by the Stewardship Institutes.
He believes that by encouraging and nurturing the talents, time and treasures within a congregation, individuals are able to recognise that they are a vital part of the church community.
This awareness, that each individual possesses unique and irreplaceable God-given gifts, is foundational to the current stewardship movement.
The body behind this movement, the US-based, International Catholic Stewardship Council (ICSC), which was formed in 1962, encourages individuals to recognise that all that they are and all that they have belongs to God and therefore must be used to build up His kingdom, both locally and universally.
Although many parishes are embracing this concept with renewed vigour, its origins can be found in Scripture.
In his letter to the Corinthians, St Paul writes of the many different gifts, activities and ways there are of serving, but indicates that, “in everybody it is the same God who is at work in them all” (1 Cor 12:6).
He then provides us with an analogy, which describes the human body as being made up of many parts, all different, but each part vital in their unique way to the functioning of the whole.
In other words, by acknowledging and appreciating the uniqueness of individuals, not only is each person built up, but so too is the Church.
The Stewardship Institute endeavours to promote this sense of belonging and teamwork within a parish context by empowering seminar participants with the knowledge and skills to nurture the giftedness and resources that already exist within their church communities.
Although the Morley seminar is open to all interested parishioners, Brian Stephens believes that it is particularly important that as many priests as possible are able to attend.
Not only will they receive a clearer understanding of the communal advantages of stewardship, he said, but, once activated, priests will find that they have more time to focus on their sacramental responsibilities.
Mr Stephens said that invitations for the Perth Stewardship Institute were sent to every priest in WA several months ago and had hopefully been passed onto parishioners.
He is excited by the US Presenters at the Morley event, Fr Gerry Schreck and Mrs Margot Truett, who both have extensive experience in the formation and practice of Stewardship.
Mr Stephens also acknowledged the support provided to the Institute by the Catholic Development Fund who have provided sponsorship for the seminar to priests in the Perth Archdiocese.
The cost of registration is $230.
For further information and registration go to www.australianstewardship.catholic.net.au or contact Brian Stephens on (08) 9422 7924