Stewardship is a core principle in Catholic and Christian life. In its simplest terms, it springs from the belief that God has entrusted the faithful with their lives, Church and world and it is their duty to care for and grow them. The faithful are not owners so much as caretakers joined in the effort to make their faith and Church flourish and to spread the word of God.
Often this is broken down into the sharing of “time, treasure and talent” with the Church and in Christian walks.
Debbie Leaverton, director of Parish Stewardship Education and the Pastoral Services Appeal for the Orange Catholic Foundation, describes stewardship as a “foundation for the other pillars. It’s not just a ministry, it’s a foundation.”
Or, as Leisa Anslinger, an author, speaker and director of Cincinnati-based Catholic Life and Faith, says, “If we look at parish life, everything is happening out of the stewardship of people giving.”
However, too often, parish members reduce the broad aims of stewardship into tithing and beefing up the weekly offering, Leaverton and Anslinger say. And that misses the greater purpose, which is to have a full and active Church life.
Leaverton said stewardship “is not a goal, it’s a journey.”
As Aslinger puts it, “Stewardship is about putting faith into daily life. That’s a much deeper journey to get past checklists and look instead at our blessings.”
Unfortunately, Leaverton said, when a priest begins speaking of stewardship, “people in the pew will say, ‘Oh, no, they’re going to ask for money.’”
Anslinger, who will speak about stewardship at the Diocese of Orange later this month, said she had an “aha” moment in Australia 10 years ago.
In the United States when she mentions stewardship, the first thought is often “money.” However, when she posed the question in Australia, the answer was “agriculture,” which she said, “really drove home the idea.”
As Anslinger explained it, a farmer’s job is not to own the land so much as to plant seeds, care for the crop and share the harvest.
Similarly, she said, “A wine steward does not own the wine.” His job is to make it fruitful and deepen appreciation. Fiduciary responsibility is part of it, but it’s not the whole,” she said.
In a pastoral letter, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote that the goal of stewardship is to “receive God’s gifts gratefully, cultivate them responsibly, share them lovingly in justice with others and return them with increase to the Lord.”
Stewards and clergy “are not passive beneficiaries,” but “obligated to be contributors and collaborators with the church and the redemptive work of Jesus Christ,” the letter read.
At the Orange Catholic Foundation, Leaverton works to bolster stewardship practices throughout the 62 parishes.
On Friday, Sept. 21, the Foundation will host its annual Stewardship Day for Priests, followed on Saturday, Sept. 22, by workshops for priests, deacons and lay leaders.
Bishop Thanh Nguyen will be a special guest Friday night, and speakers include Anslinger and Dave Baranowkski, the director of stewardship education at the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
Anslinger speaks nationally and is the author of a number of books and guides on the topic, as well as a periodic publication “Impact,” in which she reflects on Sunday readings.
The Diocese stewardship events will feature discussion, presentations and tips on topics such as making a parish more welcoming, communication, planning events, finding good lay witness speakers and other ways to engage and vitalize the parish.
In 2017, the Orange Catholic Foundation earned top recognition at the International Catholic Stewardship Council meeting for Total Stewardship Effort.
The Foundation was launched 21 years ago. According to Leaverton, 85 percent of the parishes have participated in stewardship programs.
She added that 11 parishes are currently engaged in stewardship aimed specifically for Latino parishioners and her office is working on introducing Vietnamese stewardship programs.
In those cases, she said stewardship involves more than just translation, but presenting it in culturally relevant ways.
In parishes with strong stewardship involvement, Leaverton said the Church culture becomes much more vibrant and revenues often grow organically, allowing for more programing.
The Bible is rife with examples of people sacrificing and receiving rewards in multiples. Part of the challenge is to reframe the concept from sacrificing to sharing.
Anslinger said the question can be asked, “Are we possessed by our possessions?”
Anslinger said stewardship can be practiced in daily life merely by reflecting on blessings and following the lessons of Jesus by giving selflessly.
This can extend beyond the Church to raising children, caring for the elderly, or doing something as simple as mowing a lawn for an ailing neighbor, Anslinger said.
“When we share our faith, that’s all stewardship,” she said.
Or, as Leaverton put it, “Stewardship is the way of life of a disciple.”