Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
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Do we choose ownership? Or stewardship?
by Bob Boehme, for the Inland Register
(From the Feb. 6, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)
Over the last 10 years or so we have increasingly heard the term “stewardship.” I’m a member of the Diocesan Development Committee, where we use the word regularly, but I have generally connected the term only to giving. Only recently have I given much thought to the comparison of our stewardship to our ownership.
In October my wife, Helen, and I accepted an invitation to attend the International Catholic Stewardship Conference in Toronto, Canada. The opportunity to spend three days with 1,700 bishops, priests and parishioners from all over the world seemed worth the investment of some vacation time from work. Additionally, the conference provided us an opportunity to gain a greater understanding of stewardship. The conference more than lived up to our expectations.
I can’t communicate the entire three-day experiences within a single article, but I’d like to share with you some of the basic ideas emphasized during the conference.
• Stewardship is defined as the universal human task for all people of good will. “All temporal and spiritual goods are created by and come from God..... That is true of everything human beings have: spiritual gifts like faith, hope, and love; talents of body and brain; cherished relationships with others. One day God will require an accounting of the use each person has made of the particular portion of these goods entrusted to him or her.” (Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response, 1992 pastoral letter of the U.S. Catholic Bishops)
• Stewardship is the caring for something that belongs to someone else. What we own, we own in trust.
• Ultimately, all things belong to God, and we share our love of God through our gifts to others.
• One person at the conference simplified stewardship by asking us to think of it this way: “God shovels to us our time, talent and treasure. We then shovel it out to others. Fortunately, God has a much larger shovel.”
• We have been given all the resources needed to carry out God’s mission.
What that means to me is everything comes from God and it is our responsibility to take care of what we are given, and show our thanks to God through our gifts to others. As I write this article, I now have had a couple of months to ponder this broader understanding of stewardship and how it contrasts to ownership.
We all use terms like “my wife, my kids, my family, my property, my job,” and some people even say “my secretary,” but are these declarations of ownership, and over them we place ourselves as omnipotent? I would hope as Christians we are in agreement that people don’t own people; just ask anyone who has lost a loved one to death. Having control of property or possessions is only temporary. We certainly can’t take them with us after this life. Understanding our role in stewardship gives a new understanding about giving to others what is already God’s, to show our thanks to God.
The conference addressed stewardship in parishes and in dioceses as well as our personal stewardship role. Helen and I got to participate in a number of sessions that focused on building stewardship at the diocesan level.
Conference speakers talked about how ownership, rather than stewardship, of parishes, schools, universities, hospitals and other Catholic organizations can dilute resources. If ownership has taken over, our purpose and vision of those things entrusted to us by God may have fallen out of alignment and weakened our ability to carry out God’s mission. Our resources can go further and do more if there is alignment of our purpose, mission and vision.
For people who feel things are fine and we should leave things static, it was pointed out that nationally only about 30 percent of the people in the U.S. who declare themselves to be Catholic attend Mass regularly. On the other hand, the Diocese of Owensboro in Western Kentucky was used as an example where teaching and practicing stewardship have raised the level of Mass attendance as well as to addressed a number of social problems throughout their diocese.
Should everything be thought of in terms of stewardship rather than ownership? Should we apply stewardship rather than ownership to our time, our health, our skills, our finances as well as the organizations we influence? Should we share these things of God’s through our gifts to others, rather than tossing in what is leftover after all our wants are cared for? I think the peace of Jesus Christ comes to us through stewardship.
(Bob and Helen Boehme are members of St. Mary Parish in the Spokane Valley. For the past 12 years Bob has been the chairman of the Diocesan Development Committee. Bob works in newspaper advertising; Helen recently retired from the banking industry.)
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