CREEDON: Working to encourage all the gifts of stewardship

January 11, 2022

(File photo by James Ramos/Herald)

I embraced stewardship almost 35 years ago. I was coming to the end of my six-year term as pastor of Christ the King Parish in Rhode Island. The parish was growing, and we were doing alright.

We weren’t the best parish in the diocese, nor were we the worst. We were not living up to our potential; we were not the best parish we could be. We had too many spectators and not enough participants. That is when Divine Providence, as is often the case, entered the picture. I saw an advertisement in a Catholic magazine about stewardship.

Remember this was before the American bishops wrote their wonderful pastoral letter, Stewardship: a Disciple’s Response. (If you have not read it, I recommend doing so ASAP!)
When the material came in, I read it with enthusiastic expectation. For the first time, I was introduced to the three “T’s” of stewardship: time, talent and treasure.

Unfortunately, back then stewardship was more about treasure than it was about time and talent. All the literature said to grab their treasure, and their time and talent will follow. Even though we were neophytes, we decided to reverse the process — we set out to invite members of the parish to give their time by sharing their talents to make both our parish and our local community better. It was the correct way to go!

The process of becoming a stewardship parish is a long but rewarding one. It is long because breaking habits is difficult. For years parishes were organized around the belief that the priests would do most of the work, and if they needed help, they would ask. If they did not ask, the people were to remain passive.
The first thing we did was to teach people about the real meaning of their Baptism. Every baptized person is given a mission and a ministry from God. The mission is the same for everyone — to make God more present in our world. The ministry is different for everyone because we are unique.

St. John Henry Newman expressed it this way: “God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me, which he has not committed to another.” The more the members of a parish embraced this truth, the more they were anxious to take ownership of their parish. Stewardship leads to more active participation in the life of the parish.

Over the years of weaving stewardship into the fabric of the parish, we worked tirelessly to banish the word “volunteer.” We did this because, for most people, volunteering is what they do with the time they have left over.

In other words, once all our important tasks are taken care of, if we have time left over, we will volunteer. We wanted people to be disciples or stewards with their prime time, not their excess time. All the activities of the parish, from religious education teachers, lectors, Eucharistic ministers, singing, or playing a musical ministry, to serving on a committee, parish council, finance council or stewardship council, were presented as opportunities to act on our Baptismal commitment. This approach encourages parishioners to take ownership of their parish. Involvement in the life of the parish is not only encouraged, it is expected.

Every September, we would hold our Stewardship Fair. After every Mass, members of the parish were invited into the Parish Hall, where all the ministries of the parish were represented, and people were asked to join at least one ministry. I was always impressed by the creative displays the various ministries would present to entice people to get more involved.

When we finally introduced the treasure aspect of stewardship, we asked members of the parish to give witness talks about giving their treasure, just as we had previously had witness talks inviting people to give of their time and talent. We asked people to figure out what percentage of their income they were giving to the parish. Then we asked them to increase their giving by at least a half a percentage point if possible every year. It is important to have people fill out a treasure card each year. As a visual reminder and reinforcement of their ongoing commitment.

God has blessed us in so many ways. Giving generously of our time, talent and treasure is the best way to thank God for all He gives us! Believe me when I tell you that people will thank you for introducing them to the opportunities and blessings stewardship! 

Father Joe Creedon is pastor emeritus of Christ the King parish in Kingston, Rhode Island, and a regular presenter at the annual conference of the International Catholic Stewardship Council.