Stewarship an antidote to consumerism

06 Aug 2008

By The Record

Speakers say stewardship is about appreciating God’s blessings


Missionary: Father Michael Shields, a priest of the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska, who has been serving as a missionary for 13 years in Russia’s Siberia region, speaks at the 2007 International Catholic Stewardship Conference in Miami Beach, Florida. An important conference on stewardship and how it can help parishes will be held in Perth in September. Perth Stewardship office director Brian Stephens is urging all parishes to send representatives. Photo: CNS


By Robert Delaney
It takes money to operate the ministries of the Church, but the message of the 2007 conference of the International Catholic Stewardship Council was that promoting stewardship is really about encouraging appreciation of God’s blessings and a sense of gratitude.
 However, the pastor of a parish honoured during the conference in Miami Beach, Florida, went one better, saying that even encouraging a broader conception of stewardship is not the ultimate aim.
“Stewardship is not the goal; evangelisation is the goal. Stewardship is the means to the end, the how of evangelisation,” said Father Andrew Kemberling, pastor of St Thomas More Parish in Centennial, Colorado.
His 6,500-family parish received the council’s an award for the parish that best exemplifies an all-round approach to stewardship.
Father Kemberling said he believes many priests resist embracing stewardship because they hate asking for money, but he also believes more priests would promote stewardship if they understood it as a means to “calling people to discipleship.”
Nearly 1,000 people from the United States and 18 other countries attended the conference, which had as its theme “Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response.”
Speakers laid out the theology behind Christian stewardship and shared techniques and success stories of the results of effective stewardship promotion in encouraging people to give of their time, talent and treasure.
In his remarks, Father Kemberling said he believes “God has revealed to me that stewardship is the conversion of a materialistic, consumeristic world – because our people are drowning in materialism, and it is keeping them from hearing the good news of Jesus Christ.”
As a result of its stewardship efforts, the parish is abuzz with participation, with about 6,000 of its parishioners involved in volunteer activity and anywhere from 800 to 1,200 people to be found at each of the seven Masses on weekends, said the priest, who has been pastor of the suburban Denver parish for seven years.
The school is thriving, with 660 students, and another 1,500 children in the religious education program.
And parishioners’ giving makes possible an active outreach to the poor, Father Kemberling continued. Even the schoolchildren raise about $70,000 a year for charity.
The council’s annual Christian Stewardship Award was presented to Father Michael Shields, a priest of the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska, who went as a missionary 13 years ago to Russia’s Siberia region, and is now pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Magadan, Russia.
His work in the former Stalinist prison camp city is supported by many people in the Anchorage Archdiocese and beyond, with the archdiocese serving as a conduit for donations.
Another award went to Katherine King for her work in promoting stewardship, first in the Archdiocese of San Francisco and then for 12 years as director of stewardship and development for the Diocese of Oakland, California.
King pioneered stewardship programs in the Oakland Diocese, first in English and Spanish, but eventually to 17 of the area’s ethnic groups. “In some of the languages, you couldn’t even translate ‘stewardship’ – they didn’t have a word for it,” she said.
King also became an important source of advice to stewardship promotion officials in other dioceses.
Clergy and lay experts addressed the stewardship theme from the standpoint of dioceses, parishes and church-related institutions such as schools. Spanish speakers were able to attend talks in their language.
Cardinal Juan Cipriani Thorne of Lima, Peru, was one notable among the speakers.
James Kelley, director of development for the Diocese of Charlotte, North Carolina, and the new president of the council’s board, presented charts showing the results of a survey on the effects various stewardship promotion activities make in parish collections and volunteer participation.
Hospitality also figures in stewardship promotion, Kelley said, showing that parishes that offer coffee and doughnuts after Masses have higher average collections than those that do not.
“There’s no question that the more welcoming a parish is, the better,” he said.
Kelley and Michael Murphy, the council’s new executive director, said the board would be implementing the results of a membership survey, including making future annual conferences more affordable.