By Gerald Korson
It takes a careful strategy and a strong educational component to develop good stewardship practices within a parish or community. That's where the International Catholic Stewardship Council (ICSC) finds its mission.
Michael Murphy, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based organization, recently spoke with Our Sunday Visitor about the important work of ICSC and the unique challenges of fostering Christian stewardship.
Our Sunday Visitor: What is the specific role of ICSC, and how does it seek to accomplish its mission?
Michael Murphy: The role of the council is to advance the ministry of Christian stewardship and to find avenues in which we can integrate this Gospel imperative in our contemporary life of faith.
ICSC provides continued formation, resources and venues in which the ancient notion of Christian stewardship can be rediscovered and made alive for parishes, dioceses and the Catholic faithful.
OSV: Catholic dioceses, parishes and institutions have been pushing the stewardship concept for many years, often framed as a matter of "time, treasure and talent." Has there been measurable progress in winning Catholics over to embrace stewardship as a way of life?
Murphy: Avenues for helping Catholics understand how to better live their lives as disciples of Jesus Christ by embracing stewardship have grown exponentially in the past 20 years. We are in the process of discovering new methods by which to measure growth. Still, little quantitative data exists on the practice of stewardship.
However, the fact that more and more bishops are addressing stewardship as a pastoral priority, that the number of diocesan stewardship offices continues to grow, and that there is increased demand for local conferences and other gatherings gives us confidence that stewardship education continues to make significant progress.
OSV: We have been hearing stewardship linked to evangelization in recent years. Can you explain this relationship?
Murphy: Simply put, evangelization is about proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ through our words and actions, beginning with ourselves, our families and our communion of faith. This sharing of our Catholic life of faith extends to those who are unchurched as well as those of other faiths, creeds and religions. Christian stewardship is concerned with how we live out our faith in the concrete realities of day-to-day living.
Exercising good stewardship over our daily lives -- living the beatitudes, following in the footsteps of Jesus, gathering with sisters and brothers around the Eucharistic table and sharing our lives with the poor and needy Ñ is a natural part of preaching the Good News to those with whom we encounter at each moment of our lives.
OSV: The sluggish economy and rising prices for fuel and food triggers cutbacks in the spending habits of many Americans. Is stewardship by way of monetary contributions likewise affected by economic fluctuations?
Murphy: A floundering economy and increasing fuel costs can adversely affect private philanthropy, which represents 75 percent of overall charitable giving. But in the six recessionary periods we've experienced in the last 30 years, charitable giving continued to remain strong and did not decrease appreciably in any of those years. The giving may not increase during this period, but it may not decline more than 2-3 percent.
In the aggregate, religious organizations are the beneficiaries of the largest portion of gifts and pledges, receiving about one-third of all giving. As a consequence, there will be some impact on Catholic philanthropy.
OSV: Some priests and church leaders are uncomfortable talking about stewardship, aware that some of the faithful bristle when asked for money or increased involvement in the church.
Murphy: There is a mistaken notion among many that stewardship is nothing more than an appeal for financial support. It is a misperception too easily adopted from the 19th-century notion of stewardship from our Protestant brothers and sisters.
The concept of offering cannot easily be dismissed in our life of faith. It finds its scriptural pedigree as far back as the offerings of Cain and Abel in the Book of Genesis. Half of Jesus' parables are about money and possessions.
But being good stewards of all of God's gifts to us, including the gifts of prayer, family, neighbor, health, time and our communion of faith requires ongoing formation and conversion to a more Christ-centered way of life.
OSV: What are some of the obstacles to a fuller participation in stewardship?
Murphy: One obstacle is the number of programs designed to help parishes engage in fundraising or to increase the weekend offertory collection under the guise of "stewardship" programs. These programs make it much more difficult to introduce stewardship as a way of life in parishes.
Another difficulty occurs when the parish treats stewardship as a one-time program that is offered as one among several pastoral programs and then dropped.
A third obstacle occurs when a sufficient time for formation and education is not allowed to help parishioners integrate the notion of stewardship into their lives of reflection and prayer.
OSV: What are the best specific strategies for encouraging Catholics to deepen their stewardship commitment?
Murphy: The best approach is for the leadership in the parish to introduce stewardship using several methods of catechesis offered around North America. There are methods that build a foundation through prayer, help people realize that they have been gifted by God, and reveal to them the importance of exercising their discipleship as a communion of faith.
Gerald Korson writes from Indiana.
Catholic Faith Resources | For Catholic Parishes | Order OSV Products | RSS | Advertise | About Us | Contact Us | Jobs