By NANCY SCHWERIN
CHARLESTON — On Sept. 13, more than 130 priests, parish administrators and parishioners gathered in Columbia for a stewardship roundtable. They met their diocesan stewardship team and heard one dynamic lay witness.
Pat Thomas, stewardship director of Christ the King Parish in Jacksonville, Fla., shared her parish’s success story. Their quest toward a full stewardship parish began in 1992. Msgr. Mort Danaher, the pastor at the time, did away with the tuition at the parish school, which now serves 660 students, and asked his parishioners to give a full 10 percent tithe: 8 to the parish, 1 to the bishop’s annual appeal, and 1 to a charity of their choice.
Thomas, however, explained that the parish went far beyond the call for treasure and sought to gain the time and talent of every parishioner. Through a yearly ministry program, held each November, parishioners are asked to sign up for one of the parish’s more than 60 ministries. High-schoolers are required to serve 40 community service hours each year, and eighth-graders are asked to give 20 hours.
Through making the stewardship call a community effort that goes beyond the church walls, the parish, which Bishop Robert J. Baker lead before being named a bishop, answered the Lord’s call: making stewardship a way of life.
“Jesus wants his followers to be like the servants who did not hoard or bury their treasures, but used them constructively to improve what is given to them,” said Bishop Baker in a talk at the roundtable.
Today, the Jacksonville parish has 2,400 registered families, said Thomas. She laid out one statistic that raised everyone’s eyebrows: in 1992, when the program began, their weekly offertory collection was $12,000; in 2000, the average weekly collection is $55,000. According to Thomas, that’s 45 percent of parishioners using their envelopes in the low-income to middle-class parish.
“It was great to hear Bishop Baker and Pat Thomas speak so enthusiastically about their experience in a parish where stewardship is a way of life. Their enthusiasm was contagious. Even though my own parish is well along our stewardship journey, it was good to be reminded that stewardship is more than volunteering or tithing or even a tuition-free school,” said Barbara Vaudreuil of Our Lady of Lourdes in Greenwood in a post-roundtable interview. “I hope everyone in the room caught their message that stewardship is a spiritual journey, a way of living our discipleship, not a quick fix.”
Vaudreuil said that at their recent ministries fair they signed up more than 150 volunteers from their parish family, putting time and talent to good use.
At the Columbia meeting, Mike Gocsik, secretary of the Office of Stewardship and Mission Advancement, and Jim Myers, Ph.D., director of stewardship, discussed future plans for the diocesan stewardship office. They are encouraging parishes to establish a stewardship committee and are offering individual assistance since communities are at varying levels in their stewardship development. They also stressed the importance of lay witnesses as an important feature to a successful program.
The diocesan stewardship office is moving away from telemarketing services and toward building stewardship on a parish level and funding diocesan projects through an annual bishop’s appeal.
Gocsik and Myers are committed to serving each parish on an individual basis. They provide services including stewardship education/resources, grant writing and planned giving/estate planning. Much of the needed information will be available through the office website (www.catholic-doc.org), and parishes without Internet access can request the necessary information via U.S. mail. A bulletin board on the website will allow parishes to answer each other’s questions and learn from one another’s experiences as they build their stewardship program.
The roundtable was the first of many; future meetings will be held at the deanery level with an annual diocesanwide event.
Gocsik wrapped up the stewardship concept in a later interview: “God expects more than 10 percent; he expects 100 percent (of parishioners) acting as disciples.”
Need suggestions? Questions about your program? Call the Stewardship Office at (843) 402-9115 Ext. 211 or visit their website at www.catholic-doc.org.