Volunteer Carol Licata runs the benevolent food pantry for St. Peter's Church.

Stewardship is more than money

PALM BEACH GARDENS | Time, talent and treasure is one of the more popular slogans surrounding stewardship and it pretty much shapes a Catholic’s life, say parish leaders around the diocese.

In that way, stewardship is more than money; it is music, youth ministry, senior outreach, feeding programs, hospital visits, coffee and doughnuts and much more — sometimes even a visit to a casino.

“Stewardship asks that everybody share their gifts, and we define that in different ways,” said Ed Laughlin, a founding member of the stewardship committee at St. Bernadette Parish in Port St. Lucie.
“My favorite is everything we have and everything we are has come to us from a loving God. Once we accept that, we realize that it really isn’t ours anyway.”

To encourage stewardship, St. Peter Parish in Jupiter hands visitors a 24-page booklet on its 60-plus ministries — from donating food to making rosaries to leading Bible studies to teaching teens to comforting the bereaved. St. Vincent Ferrer Parish in Delray Beach, stocks its website with service opportunities, including altar care, respect life, its school and finance councils, parish festival and golf and tennis tournament.

Even before its formal founding in 2001, members of St. Bernadette formed a six-member stewardship committee, which then helped plan the first Mass. Then the committee introduced stewardship to the parishioners.

“We don’t think this is a program; stewardship has been associated with everything we’ve done,” said Laughlin, who was on that first committee and has served two terms as presiding chairman. “We called it a process, then a journey, because we’re all in this together. It’s something we do as a parish.”

Besides the usual ushers, teachers, greeters and extraordinary ministers of holy Communion, the parish collects food for five local feeding programs. The parish divides stewardship into four categories: formation, or education; prayer, individually and in groups; hospitality, including greeters and ushers; and service, including tutoring and feeding programs.

How effective is it? Well, among the 3,000 families at St. Bernadette, Laughlin estimates that close to 2,000 people are involved in one ministry or another. The stewardship committee itself has grown, to 26 members, broadening its range of age and ethnic groups.

Father Don Finney may shuffle a lot of papers each week, but one stays on his desk. It’s a list of 15 staffers and their five strengths.

They are his leaders in mustering the 3,000 families at St. Peter Parish in praying, giving and working for God, all of which falls under stewardship.

“At the end of Mass, I like to say, ‘Don’t just go to church, be the Church,’” Father Finney said. “We are to go into the world and share what we’ve celebrated.”

The sharing also starts whenever a newcomer walks through the door at St. Peter. Greeters offer the welcome booklet, and a “welcome kiosk” boasts a tablet computer where people can order a nametag, register for a small group or learn about upcoming events.

Also available is a “Strength Finder” test to learn where best to serve. The posts may fall into religious categories like lector or choir singer or Cursillo member. Or they may be as mundane as setting up tables, replacing carpets or tending the Meditation Garden.

“The easiest way to frustrate someone is to assign them a task that isn’t one of their strengths,” Father Finney said. But the approach apparently works: He estimates that more than 500 people work in various ministries.

Although he and others use the slogan of “time, talent and treasure,” they seldom bring up the latter. “That comes sooner or later,” said Leonardo Busa, stewardship director for the parish. “If (people) are involved with the parish, eventually they think about contributing.”

At St. Vincent Ferrer, stewardship is about setting examples, starting with Very Rev. Canon Thomas Skindeleski.

“I ask everybody on staff to use their talents to get others to use their talents,” he said. “I’ll push a broom or run a vacuum or wash pots. A priest can’t stand above the people.”

On the website Vincent Ferrer visitors can learn about the parish’s 23 clubs and ministries and read the weekly bulletin, which carries articles by the pastor on various facets of stewardship. Those ministries are also documented in a 32-page “Stewardship Guidebook” that also discusses key concepts of stewardship. Some of the documents, on paper or online, include sign-up sheets or checkboxes for people to say in what ways they would like to serve.

The emphasis is on a welcoming atmosphere, said parish manager George Kunzman. “I think of connecting with a family,” he said. “This is a place where I could be comfortable belonging.”

The parish does get around to money, though. An information packet tells of its two building programs. One is a $6 million expansion of its school, which will double its space when it opens in January. The other is $1.5 million worth of enhancements to the church, with a sacristy, bridal room and covered entrances.

Julie Ott has a big job as director of stewardship and development. She said about 300 volunteers work 60,000 to 75,000 hours each year at the church and school. But she has able help in her task, she added. “Our ministry leaders already had the background, so I just share info. The volunteers carry me.”

Even something seemingly secular, like group trips to a casino three times a year, can become a backdoor into church. Take Young at Heart, which gathers about 100 seniors for luncheons at St. Peter Parish. The group also takes occasional trips to a nearby casino.

Donna Koester, who runs the ministry along with Tom Seamon, told of a woman who went on a casino trip with the group, then began attending the senior luncheons. Then the woman began attending Mass and became an extraordinary minister of holy Communion.

“That’s my Lotto,” Koester said with a smile.

Stewardship specialists also help across parish borders. A small network of about 100 stewardship specialists from 12 to 15 parishes around Florida, including St. Bernadette, gathers to share ideas every year. And on a larger scale, the International Catholic Stewardship Council draws hundreds to annual conferences.

The helpers get helped, too. They say they feel blessed to help others become stewards. “This is my extended family,” said Ott. “People are focusing more on sharing and helping and loving.”

Busa echoed the sentiments. “Every day, I look forward to coming to work. I feel like I’m making a difference. This is the happiest time in my life.”