During his short time as the Bishop of the Diocese of San Diego, Bishop Cirilo Flores established a Diocesan Commission on Stewardship. You may or may not be aware that I was asked to serve on the Commission, along with a dozen other clergy and laity from various parishes. We were tasked recently with creating a document for clergy about “Why Stewardship?” in their parishes. I was asked to tell St. Mary’s story. I share it with you forthwith.
Picture a parish living in quiet desperation. Morale is at an all-time low. Collections are suffering. Attendance is waning. The Spanish-speaking and English-speaking communities have no need for each other. Pleas for a heightened level of involvement and an increased offertory collection fall on deaf ears. The ship is sinking and everyone is exhausted.
Fast forward a few months to January 2013. The Business Manager and Finance Council Chairman are invited to meet the in-coming bishop, Bishop Cirilo Flores and the new Director of Development, Damian Esparza. They speak of many things that day, but the underlying theme is Stewardship. The Spirit is present and brings inspiration and hopeful anticipation to those gathered in His Name.
They return to the parish and enthusiastically present the ideas to the pastor. The pastor agrees to create a Stewardship Team (Business Manager [now with a concurrent title of Stewardship Director], Finance Council Chairman, and Music/Liturgy Director) and allow them to pursue whatever means are necessary to drive this forward.
The pastor and team do not fully understand what lies ahead. They take a blind Leap of Faith and trust in the Spirit to direct their endeavors.
The teams begins attending the gatherings of the Diocesan Network of Stewardship Parishes, learning from their peers. Resources and advice are shared freely. The pastor knows instinctively that he must send the team to the annual ICSC (International Catholic Stewardship Council) conference. It was to be held in Dallas and would cost several thousand dollars to pay for the conference, lodging, and airfare. The parish absolutely did not have the funds to cover the expense. Another Leap of Faith. Within days of making the payments, a parishioner drops off an undesignated check in the amount of $2,500. She’s asked if it can be used to pay for the Dallas conference. She’s thrilled to be part of this undertaking.
Just four short months after the initial Diocesan presentation, the parish launches Stewardship as a Way of Life to the parishioners. In retrospect, it could have been more polished. It could have been a lot of things it wasn’t. But it was Spirit-driven, sincere, and heartfelt. It touched hearts. It opened minds. And just two years later, the parish is living a transformation.
The Stewardship Team has grown from three to fifteen members, all engaged and dedicated to the mission. New ministries and groups have been formed. Membership in existing groups has doubled or tripled. Parishioners are attending Adult Faith Formation events. A Greeter ministry was formed and welcomes parishioners into the church at every weekend Mass.
The registration process was improved and is now a one-on-one Orientation with a member of the Stewardship Team. New parishioners feel welcomed and important and are ready to be an active part of parish life. Our English-speaking and Spanish-speaking communities are now making strong efforts to collaborate. Events are being planned differently to be inclusive of all.
In September 2014, the Stewardship Team introduced a Covenant with God, a tool designed to help parishioners move further along on their faith journey. Almost 800 parishioners completed the Covenant, sealed it in a self-addressed envelope, and placed it in the Covenant chest. These were stamped and mailed back last month and they will be asked to complete a new Covenant this month. There were responses from so many parishioners immediately after signing the Covenant and in the months that followed. They shared how the process of Stewardship and the Covenant was changing their lives. They indicated that they had been starving for direction and support.
My closing words to the clergy were:
Trust in the Spirit.
Take a Leap of Faith.
God never disappoints.
I think this is advice we can all live by every single day. Never be afraid to take a leap of faith. You will be carried on the wings of the Spirit. You will not be abandoned or disappointed.
Thank you for making our parish story such an inspiring one to tell. I pray that it brings hope and encouragement to another priest and parish.