Along with archdiocesan officials, Saint Brendan Pastor, Father Roger Gustafson, and Parish Manager, Lisa Rosenlund, attended the 55th Annual International Catholic Stewardship Conference in Atlanta, Georgia last week. The conference brings together hundreds of pastors, diocesan directors of stewardship and development, and parish leaders from around the world to experience the Catholic vision of Christian stewardship as a way of life. Participants enjoy workshops and talks presented by knowledgeable speakers, inspiring liturgies, awards presentations, networking luncheons, and specialized exhibits.
Conference organizers this year celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ pastoral letter entitled, Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response. In a powerful keynote address, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky contrasted a theology of abundance, which celebrates the success of others and results in “an expanded heart that changes our priorities,” with an attitude of scarcity, which lacks confidence in God and sees everything as a “zero sum game.”
According to the speaker, Catholics should aspire to what author David Brooks refers to as “eulogy virtues,” those habits of excellence for which we will be remembered after our death. Like the attitude of the widow of Zarephath who freely gave her last morsel of food to the prophet Elijah during a severe famine (1 Kings 17:7-16), a theology of abundance recognizes that God alone is the source of every blessing and that our generosity ultimately will be rewarded. “That really struck a chord with me,” said Rosenlund, “because I realized that was the reason we all were there: to learn new ways to inspire others to share the gifts God has given them.” Other speakers presented on topics ranging from the spirituality of stewardship to parish strategic planning, efforts to create a culture of welcome and hospitality, the need for effective communication strategies, and the advantages of using parish surveys and other assessments.
In addition to the formal presentations, vendors from all over the country exhibited products they had developed to assist in promoting the stewardship way of life. Parishes that have been awarded prizes at the conference for their stewardship efforts staffed booths to share their wisdom. “What I found most valuable,” said Father Roger, “is the synergy that occurs when so many people get together in one place with the same goal. We returned energized and overflowing with new ideas to try in our parish. ‘One size fits all’ does not apply when it comes to churches, so it is important to get creative input as to how the elements of stewardship can be tailored to the culture of the parish.”
In delivering the closing plenary address, Bishop Robert Morneau stated that “stewardship is thousands of years old.” Renewal of the understanding among Catholics that their primary identity is one of grateful and generous stewards merely seeks to bring an intentionality to the practice. “In the process of implementing our parish pastoral plan over the next five years,” Father Roger said, “we will seek to grow into a true stewardship parish, where all may experience the joy and freedom of a genuine theology of abundance.”
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