By Kathy Schmugge
COLUMBIA — Grounded in the Word of God, “stewardship calls for us to share ourselves, to be holy people, to step up to take the risk of walking with our savior Jesus Christ,” and such a task holds no age requirement. In fact the benefits of educating the young about stewardship are numerous. Not only does it help develop future adult stewards, but through the learning process, children can also share their unique gifts, often bringing the entire family into the giving spirit.
No one knows this better than Debbie Pratt, director of Stewardship and Development at St. Peter Church in Columbia, who formed a children’s stewardship effort three years ago. Today it serves as a model for others in the diocese. Beside the children’s envelopes, Pratt distributes stewardship newsletters for children in two different age brackets with age appropriate material to stimulate ideas and action. She sees two purposes of the newsletter, defining stewardship in a broader context and giving the children something they can share with their parents.
“When I arrived at St. Peter’s, I said that it takes more than envelopes for stewardship. Envelopes are fine for the offering, but stewardship is more than a monetary offering,” she said, explaining also the importance of giving time and talent to the church and community. Pratt believes the children should be taught early what it means to give back to God in a way where they can “find happiness living every day as a steward.”
She said parents play a major role in this process because their example provides the most influential lessons on stewardship.
“It is important that parents help their children understand stewardship by staying in touch with what their children are learning and most important, by their own journey to live the stewardship life,” she said.
The diocese has recently released to the parishes a helpful guide for stewardship for children and youth called, “Caring and Sharing and Returning God’s Gifts,” which was a collaboration between Pratt, Mike Gocsik, secretary of Stewardship and Mission Advancement, and Jim Myers, director of Stewardship. It gives a plan for implementation and contains examples of projects that can help the young understand how stewardship is not a program but a way of life. A couple of Pratt’s newsletters are found within the booklet along with songs, logos, and sample envelopes from other parishes across the country.
“We designed the book so that the information could be implemented in schools, given during teacher workshops and used in parishes,” said Myers. “Ultimately the future of the church is with the children. If we can teach children the importance of returning their gifts to God, they can teach the adults.”
Although the young may not have the income to make the same monetary contributions as their adult counterpart, their generous giving of time, talent, and treasure can be inspiring.
“The gifts of the children are so special, and they change as the children mature in their faith,” said Pratt, acknowledging the special value of each gesture, whether it is a sacrificial quarter, a heartfelt prayer or a colorful sketch to someone in a nursing home.
She has kept all of the envelopes the children have given over the years and shared a couple of their responses. One 11-year-old child wrote on his envelope that he took care of his neighbor’s dog while they were on vacation, recognizing the good deed as stewardship. A young girl, after enclosing some money, wrote, “As God watches over us every hour of everyday, let me contribute as a token of my appreciation.”
Pratt enjoys being like a pioneer when it comes to children’s stewardship.
“I feel humbled to be involved, and I thank God for the opportunity to play a small role in this important effort,” she said.
Myers is optimistic about integrating children into stewardship because he said the groundwork has already been laid. Many schools and parishes in the diocese have been doing service projects for years and children are already familiar with the joys of giving to others.
Bishop Robert Baker stands behind the efforts of people like Pratt who are fostering good stewardship habits for the young, and in the recent publication, he emphasizes the importance of their focus on the youth, “If our stewardship efforts are to bear future fruits, we must reach our young people.”