Parishes practice stewardship in a variety of fashions

By | June 29, 2011

On May 12, the Green Bay Diocese hosted its annual Stewardship Day for parishes. Parish representatives were invited to share their “best practices in stewardship.” Those best practices have now been compiled in a resource that other parishes can share: “Celebrating Excellent Parish Stewardship Efforts.”

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St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Newton has 20 volunteers who gather, in two different teams, each Thursday to address bulletins. Those that aren’t picked up by Sunday are mailed to parish members on Monday. Stewardship coordinator Sue Karbon at St. Thomas said the mailings started in 2002. An update to the process is that parish members can also request that the bulletin be emailed to them and 25 percent of the members receive the bulletin this way. (Submitted photo | St. Thomas the Apostle Parish)

“‘Best practices’ (mean) any direct activity a parish uses to promote stewardship as a way of life or to increase prayer, service and sharing in their community,” explained Mary Ann Otto, Stewardship and Special Projects Director for the diocese.

The resource contains examples of stewardship practices from 10 parishes around the diocese, with more to be added in the future. The practices range from:

  • An Advent Comfort Tree at Assumption BVM Parish in Pulaski that carries the names of families who have lost a relative in the past year. Other parish members select a family from the tree and pray for them;
  • Welcome gift bags for new members at St. Joseph Holy Family Parish in Phlox;
  • Simplified giving at several parishes, including St. Patrick in Menasha. This form of giving enables people to give their financial offerings electronically;
  • A video lay witness talk from members of St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Manitowoc, who share past personal challenges and how they feel God was present in that difficulty; and
  • Seeing that every parish family gets a weekly bulletin, even if they aren’t at Mass on a weekend, at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Newton. On Thursday, volunteers label the bulletins so people can pick up their personal bulletin on Sunday. On Monday, the bulletins that are left are mailed out by another volunteer.

One of Otto’s favorites came from the parishes of St. Mark, Redgranite, and Sacred Heart, Poy Sippi. Before Lent, these parishes sent out a color photo postcard showing a sunrise (or sunset) over a lake on the front and the parishes’ Mass schedule and Lent and Holy Week services on the back.

Parish director Karen Nesbit said she purposely wanted the card to have no words on the photo. She wanted it to “be a beautiful picture you’d put on your refrigerator. And later, you’d say, ‘Now where did that come from?’ And you’d flip it over and see (us).”

The postcard was just a start and they had no way to measure its impact. However, Nesbit — who said the idea grew out of their Catholics Come Home efforts — noticed an attendance uptick at Easter and a larger group of new faces at Mass by Memorial Day.

As a parish becomes more skilled at stewardship, the list of stewardship offerings tends to grow.

“‘Best practices’ really depend on the size of the parish and where they are at in their stewardship effort,” Otto said. “So one of the best things that we’ve found, and one reason for this opportunity to create a booklet, is that parishes can gain a lot of insight from each other, depending on where they are in their promotion of encouraging stewardship within their parishes.”

She said that the service component of stewardship — the other two are prayer and generous sharing — is the most popular way for many people to first become involved in “sharing their talents.” She said this usually starts as something small, so people don’t feel the commitment is too much to handle, such as being a greeter at one Mass a month.

“The more ministries you have (in a parish),” Otto said, “the more likely that people are going to find something that is a passion for them, something that lifts their spirit. And then they are going to fully understand what stewardship of service is.”

She advises parishes that are just starting to get more actively focused on stewardship first take time to look at what members are already doing and to bring those things to the forefront and celebrate it.

There are often things that have missed attention: maybe a couple of families have done bell ringing for the Salvation Army in the last year. And what about the long-time ushers? Maybe there are people who shovel the sidewalk before Mass after a snowstorm? And the prayer partners for the first Communion students.

The lists can be quite long when you stop to look.

Otto said that the next step is to review everything being done and place them under the three stewardship groupings of prayer, service and generous sharing.

Then a more formal step is to seek a commitment, or renewal of commitment. Even to try adding one new thing each year – such as the “little prayer books” for Lent, Easter and Advent from the Saginaw Diocese or a lay witness weekend.

“The invitation to participate is really important,” Otto said. “So, if you are putting together a ministry booklet, go out of your way to invite people. And try not to have the same people all the time, to really bring new people in. The more you can get people involved and excited (the better).”

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