Last September, a miracle happened – well, if not a miracle, then certainly a head over heels heart conversion!
Archbishop John Dew and Archdiocesan general manager Paul Bayliss happened on a Stewardship Institute in Wollongong in May and came home absolutely convinced that stewardship was the way to go for the diocese – the panacea for all ills, the road to Jerusalem, the Kingdom just around the corner.
So convinced were they that they sent four of us, Sue Devereux, pastoral area support person, Plimmerton parish priest Fr Bill Warwick and school principal Zita Smith and myself to the International Stewardship Conference in Dallas, Texas, a few months later.
We went, healthily sceptical, but still open, though in our heart of hearts we thought it would still all be about fundraising, no matter how cleverly it was couched.
What can I tell you about an experience that changed my life − about stewardship as a way of life, the disciple’s way of life? About the fact that you’ll never hear a homily again, or read scripture, or pray, or think about sustainability, vocations, ministries without thinking ‘stewardship’! This, in simple terms, asks us to put God’s priorities before our own.
There is nothing new, nothing we don’t already know. What’s different is the attitude − how we receive the message and respond. It’s about hearing the message with new ears, seeing with new eyes, responding with joy and a deep sense of gratitude for God’s bounteous gifts! I believe that if all our parishes simply committed to stewardship as a way of life, our churches would be overflowing.
So what did I learn? I learnt that God showers us with gifts and talents, more than we can ever hope for, or imagine, or truly use. Gifts in abundance! And out of deep gratitude for the gifts received, we are invited to respond with generously open hearts, to use those gifts for the good of the Kingdom, for the poor and the marginalised, the vulnerable, the destitute. Not just that! Out of deep gratitude we have a need to respond generously.
That’s what I mean by seeing with new eyes –understanding our need to give rather than our giving to a need. That’s the change of attitude, the conversion to a new way of life.
Imagine how easy it would be to fill our ministries if we didn’t hold back, scared to ask people to do things, but rather understood their need to give, and then found a way for them to use their gifts.
Our gifts are not our own. We have been given them, to nourish and develop and return with increase to God. Our gifts come in the form of time, talents, experience and for some of us, treasure. Yes, for some of us our gift is making money!
What else did I learn? That what we give back to God, is not leftovers but the ‘first fruits of our produce’. This means our giving is planned, committed and intentional. Imagine if everyone committed two hours a week to their parish and its outreach. What a difference this would make!
I learnt that Christian stewardship is not an option for Catholics – it’s how we express our membership in the Body of Christ − how we love God and love one another.
I learnt that stewardship is not about something we do, but about who we are and whose we are. Stewardship is not an act of Christian duty, it is an act of Christian worship.
And I’ve only just begun.
There’s a Stewardship Institute in Brisbane in July – whatever else you do this year, don’t miss this! For details, ring Ann Williams, 4961777.
Lorraine McArthur is director of Archdiocesan Pastoral Services.