Digging deeper into ‘Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response’

By Matt Potter

If you’ll recall from the last time we visited, our discussion centered around a pastoral letter published by the USCCB in 1992 called “Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response.” I would like to look a little more closely into that groundbreaking work in this column, as well as in future columns.

Before we delve deeper into the letter, I believe it is important to understand just what a radical approach to stewardship was taken by the bishops.

In my previous column, I mentioned how people tend to define stewardship as “paying my fair share.” It’s easy to understand that logic because the term has been misused over time to mean nothing more than “fundraising.” It’s a bit of a cloaking exercise practiced by those who would rather not use the term “fundraising” because of its negative connotations. “Stewardship” sounds so much nicer; and when we use it, it doesn’t really feel like we’re asking for money.

That misses much of the point of stewardship. Using intentionally deceptive language to color something doesn’t change the facts. While money is one leg of the three that are most commonly recognized as stewardship — time, talent, and treasure — stewardship is not fundraising, and fundraising is not stewardship.

How many times have we attended Mass when Father steps up to the ambo and says “We are going to kick off our stewardship campaign because we need to fix the roof . . . replace the boiler . . . add another air conditioner . . . .”? You get the point. That’s not stewardship; that’s raising money. When we confuse the two and equate them, we are “stewardizing.” It’s a disingenuous attempt to conflate two disparate actions.

I had many opportunities in my past position as Director of Development and Stewardship in the Diocese of Cheyenne to address parishioners during Mass and talk about the need to support the local Church — the diocese — and contribute to the annual diocesan appeal. I expect I will have those opportunities in this diocese as well. My message, however, was not always “please give,” but oftentimes “thank you.”

Parishioners don’t always see it that way, however. There was a time when I asked the pastor of my parish in Cheyenne if I could speak at Masses one weekend to thank parishioners for their support of the annual appeal. My wife joined me for one Mass and sat in the pews while I waited up front for my time to talk. When I got to the ambo, I said that I was not there to ask for money. The man sitting next to my wife, arms crossed and a scowl on his face, said out loud “Thank God.”

That man is a great example of someone who has been “stewardized.” His experience has been that no one in Church ever talks about money; they only ask for more. The times he has heard the word “stewardship” used at Mass simply meant he should get out his wallet.

His perception was that when money was being requested, it was called stewardship. That action turned off his listening switch whenever the subjects of either money or stewardship came up.

This is the difficulty the bishops faced when they wrote “A Disciple’s Response” 27 years ago. They recognized that by taking the supposed easy route of equating stewardship with fundraising, there was not much honesty in the discussion of either.

Ugghh. That’s a messy way to leave this today, but I am afraid I am out of space.

Never worry, dear reader. We shall return to this very spot in the Aug. 9 issue of The Message to pick up where we left off. We will look at more of the bishops’ letter, exploring some of the challenges offered to us as Church to be disciples by being Christian stewards.

Until then, peace be with you.