‘My church, not the diocese’

“A Christian steward is one who receives God’s gifts gratefully, cherishes and tends them in a responsible and accountable manner, shares them in justice and love with all, and returns them with increase to the Lord” (Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response. A Pastoral Letter on Stewardship The USCCB November, 1992).

I received a phone call recently that didn’t start well.

There was an angry parishioner on the other end. We sent a letter to her reminding her of her pledge to our recent capital campaign, “Stewards of God’s Grace.” She had already made one payment, and the letter reminded her to send in her second payment of a promised three.

Her pledge was very generous, and she was a very nice woman. However, she was clearly upset as she was under the mistaken impression that her donation was going to the parish’s building fund, which was not the case.

I told her that the capital campaign was originated by the diocese, but the gifts were shared by the parish and the diocese. She said the campaign material was confusing, and it was not clear where the money was going. She also said that she was not going to give to the annual appeal because of this confusion.

Then she said something I found worrisome: “I wanted to give to my Church, not the diocese!”

I have heard similar statements from other parishioners both here and in Wyoming. It bothers me because it misrepresents the relationship between parish and diocese. The diocese IS the local Church, which is made up of many parishes.

This is an important concept that is often missed, or misunderstood by parishioners. At times parishioners view the parish and the diocese as two separate entities with a certain amount of tension between them. That tension can be exaggerated to the point where the diocese takes on the persona of the overbearing and demanding parent, and those working for the diocese viewed as religious bureaucrats.

Having worked in a diocesan environment for more than a decade, I know the truth in this particular scenario. We work each and every day to serve our clergy and the people of God in the parishes. I have never met a single person from an arch/diocesan staff who would not take a bullet for anyone, clergy or lay person, in a parish.

But there is still that gorilla in the room, the one identified by the angry parishioner. “I wanted to give to my Church, not the diocese.”

Our conversation ended well, and where I thought she might back out of her commitment entirely, she just reduced it a bit. I invited her to call me directly if she had any further issues she wanted to discuss, and she was happy with that.

My Church IS the diocese. The diocese IS my Church. My parish IS the diocese. The diocese IS my parish. We are all one, the body of Christ.

Note that the definition at the beginning of this piece says “… to the Lord” and not “my parish” or “the diocese.” Stewardship calls us to offer our gifts to God. It does not distinguish between parish and diocese. I look forward to a day when we can embrace that truth.

As always, thanks for reading. I would love to hear from you. Write to me at mpotter@evdio.org.

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