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Hundreds take on stewardship’s challenges

Posted By October 20, 2011 | 12:49 pm | Lead Story #2, Local
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VISIT PHOTO GALLERIES FOR PICTURES OF Stewardship Conference 2011

By Tanya Connor
And William T. Clew

AUBURN – Whose am I?
How’s my garden?
These were among questions clergy and laity from around the diocese were challenged to consider at the fifth Diocesan Stewardship conference, held Tuesday at St. Joseph Parish Center. This year’s conference was called, “Receive, Cultivate, Share.”
“Stewardship is a way of living the Christian life in profound gratitude to the God who is the giver of all good gifts,” Bishop McManus said in a letter in the program booklet.
In a welcome beneath the bishop’s letter, Michael P. Gillespie, director of stewardship and development, contrasted engaged parishioners with those not involved.
“What would your parish look like?” he asked. “And how would you go about creating this kind of conversion of heart?”
The keynote speaker, Bishop Robert F. Morneau, auxiliary bishop of Green Bay, Wis., gave practical tools for creating such a conversion of heart. Co-author of the U.S. bishops’ stewardship pastoral letter “Stewardship: a Disciple’s Response,” he is considered a top stewardship expert in the United States, organizers said.
Using handouts and humor, he talked about stewardship as a way of life and gave a “spiritual GPS.”
Raising the fundamental questions “Who am I? Where am I going? How do I get there?” he then suggested asking: “Whose am I?” God’s?
Speaking about a sense of identity, he said part of a stewardship way of life is to realize all human beings are wounded and they must be kind to each other. Given God’s love, “I’m nobody” isn’t true.
Human beings are also “entrusted gardeners,” he said. He asked how listeners are doing with their interconnected “garden plots:” their physical and emotional health, relationships, intellectual and cultural life, economics, moral choices, technology, politics, ecology, history and spirituality.
“Stewardship is about living life to the full,” he said.
Speaking of mission, he called for receiving God’s gifts gratefully, nurturing them responsibly, sharing them justly and sacrificially and returning them abundantly.
“Do not stay out of your gifted area too long,” he urged listeners. “What is your gift? Is it compassion … grandparenting? And do you spend quality time in that area?” Stewardship demands discipline, he said. He recounted a nightmare of dying and being asked to account for using only two of his eight cylinders.
He called for giving God one of the week’s 168 hours for Mass and two of the day’s 144, 10-minute slots for Scripture reading etc.
A steward is grateful, joyful, trusting, faithful and generous, according to Bishop Morneau.
Human beings live on images, images lead to attitude, which leads to behavior, he said. So to change one’s behavior, one must change one’s attitudes and images, such as the image of who God is. Does one see family and possessions as one’s own or on loan from God?
Bishop Morneau presented a map or “spiritual GPS” that showed ministry as the tip of the iceberg,
“Ministry is always mutual; it’s not one-way,” he said. “There is no ministry without mission – being sent. There is no mission without Church. …There is no Church without Jesus. There is no Jesus without the mystery of God.” To this the bishop connected worship, education, community, social justice, leadership and evangelization.
He spoke of Coach John Wooden and effective life habits: Be true to yourself, make each day a masterpiece, help others, drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible; make friendship a fine art, pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings.
In the afternoon session, Msgr. Bill Hanson and Lisa Anslinger gave a slide-illustrated lecture on discovering and developing a person’s God-given talents and using those talents to benefit a parish.
Msgr. Hanson is pastor of St. Gerard Majella Parish Port Jefferson Station, N.Y., in the Diocese of Rockville Center. He introduced stewardship to more than 4,000 families in 1994. Since then, parish participation has more than quadrupled.
Ms. Anslinger is author of “Forming Generous Hearts: Stewardship Planning for Lifelong Formation.” She writes for the Virtual Learning Community at the University of Denver and speaks on catechetical and pastoral leadership across the United States and Canada.
Msgr. Hanson said that each person has been given certain talent by God. A way to discover that talent is through the use of an on-line questionnaire called the Clifton StrengthFinder. Donald O. Clifton, Ph.D., developed the questionnaire. He is one of three authors of the book “Living Your Strengths,” for which Msgr. Hanson wrote a foreward.
He said each person has certain gifts embedded within them and each person should receive the gifts or talents that God has given them carefully, should “cultivate the talents respectfully, prune the talents sacrificially and return the whole harvest of talent.”
Ms. Anslinger said some people have trouble understanding the talent God has given them. Others, she said, can help us discover our greatest talents.
“We help each other,” she said. “We are uniquely created.”
People share talents and can draw talent out of one another in a parish community and become committed to that community, she said.
Msgr Hanson said that in his parish since the introduction of the stewardship program, volunteering has been so popular that salaries and labor costs, which once made up about 70 percent of budget, now are less than 35  percent.
Earlier, Father Nicholas Desimone, associate pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Charlton, said that people thought that stewardship “was all about money. It’s more than money.”
At St. Joseph’s people are involved in their church. They embrace stewardship as a way of life.
Pam Chaplin, ministry coordinator at Sacred Heart Parish, Hopedale, said a stewardship program was developed after too many pews were empty, those who came to church were older and income was down.
The parish asked people to make a commitment of their time, treasure and talent. The parish published a newsletter, held parish retreats, asked people to be welcoming, focused on education and developed a partnership between clergy and laity.
Though not all problems have been solved, things have gotten better, she said. The number of active families in the parish has grown by 33 percent and last year the parish broke even financially.
Bishop McManus led the group in a closing prayer and said the day was full of “practical, informational and inspirational” material.
Speaking about the conference the next day, Mr. Gillespie said, “I think it was excellent. I got to my desk this morning and I had 14 calls from people saying how much they enjoyed it. I got a handful of emails too.” He said people were inspired by Bishop Morneau and challenged by Msgr. Hanson and Ms. Anslinger.
He expressed gratitude that people came; there were 230 participants, at least 45 of them first-timers, he said.