“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”
– John 13:13-15
“The fruit of Silence is prayer. The fruit of Prayer is faith. The fruit of Faith is love. The fruit of Love is service. The fruit of Service is peace.” Mother Theresa
Members of a stewardship parish are ready to minister to varied needs of their own parish family as well as the needs of the wider community and Church. Just as the members of a family come together to help one of their own, a stewardship parish family serves those who are hurting or in need, doubting or seeking salvation. The parish family also comes together to celebrate, thank and to return God’s gifts — all are needs of parishioners.
Like a blood family, the parish family stands ready and eager collectively to wrap their arms around their brothers and sisters when they suffer in trial and/or celebrate special events in their lives. “God so constructed the body, that there may be no dissension in the body, but that all the members may be concerned for one another. If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members share its joy.” (1 Cor. 12: 24b, 25-26)
The members of a stewardship parish recognize that they also have a need to give beyond their own members only. They have a need to serve and to give in the diocese, the community and the Universal Church. Failure to have this understanding leads to a selfish parochialism, which is life draining to a parish stewardship way of life. This is a challenge to some parishioners, who are willing to serve their own, but not outsiders. Interestingly, if this is the mindset of a particular parish, chances also exist that such a parish does not embrace fully the first pillar of a stewardship parish – namely, hospitality.
The pillar of service is an opportunity for the parish to put into concrete practice the other three pillars mentioned earlier in this document: hospitality, prayer and formation. To say one is a stewardship parish is not enough to make one a stewardship parish. True stewardship parishes practice all four of these pillars, with Jesus Christ as the model and the foundation from which the pillars arise.
Listed below are some of the “building blocks” a parish might consider in their construction of service as one of the pillars of stewardship.
Pastor: The pastor serves best by making himself available to parishioners to meet spiritual needs. Being present with parishioners in times of illness, bereavement, loneliness and confusion leave lasting impressions. Sometimes a pastor’s care in these matters will mean the most to those who are served. A stewardship parish seeks ways to help the pastor fulfill his mission of service, by reducing parish responsibilities that can be assumed by persons other than the pastor.
Renewal: The stewardship renewal process is important individually and communally. As individuals renew their stewardship pledge, they commit themselves to God in sharing their time, talent and treasure. It may take some time before a person is ready to make such a commitment of stewardship. This is one reason why the annual renewal is important for the conversion to the stewardship way of life. Yet, the annual renewal is important for every steward no matter where the individual is in the conversion process. The renewal offers a time of discernment. The message of stewardship remains the same each year. But the parishioner receives the message in a different way every year. The change in the situation of life from year to year makes the steward ask, “God, where can I best place my gifts at this time in my life?” The placement of the gifts of time, talent and treasure changes throughout the course of life. This is why the renewal is an annual examination of how faithful one is to living stewardship as Christ has taught us: “I have come not to be served, but to serve.”
Parish Ministries: The various ministries in a parish extend God’s presence, love and mercy to others. Parish ministries should strive to meet the needs of the parish, and where possible, the needs of the wider community and the Church at large. These ministries provide opportunities for parishioners to carry out their call to discipleship.
Youth: Our youth are the present and future generations of stewards. Giving youth opportunities to serve now is important for them as individuals, for the parish family and the community. If they learn the meaning of true stewardship at young ages and naturally mature in their understanding as they grow older, they will be very well prepared to teach their own children about stewardship as a disciple’s response to God’s love. Being patient and understanding with their development from childhood and adolescence as they grow into their adult vocation is important as they develop a sense of responsibility to their family, parish and community.
Volunteers: Providing meaningful opportunities for parishioners to serve and mature individually and as a family is necessary to foster a stewardship way of life. Helping parishioners identify their gifts, talents and treasure enables them to give of these gifts in meaningful, lasting ways. This conversion from, “What can I get?” to, “What can I give?” is a sure indicator that stewardship is taking root in the heart of the volunteer.
Evaluation: The most successful stewardship parishes are constantly asking the question, “Are we seeking to meet the needs of our parishioners?” Once the needs are identified and ministries are established to address those needs, the people served will respond in generous and life-giving ways. For those more advanced in the conversion to stewardship as a way of life, one must remember that not all parishioners are at the same point in the conversion journey. When the needs of the parishioners are met, the parishioners begin to see the vibrancy of the parish life. This initiation is time consuming and at times, even frustrating. But it is proven as a way of effectively converting parishioners to become holy and faithful stewards. Part of the evaluation to build opportunities for service in the parish is to ask, “Do our parish programs support the spirituality of stewardship as a way of life to lead us along the path to holiness?”