It’s often called Consecration Sunday. It’s often known as “the day they come after my money.” But it shouldn’t be limited to Sunday, and it doesn’t belong in the accountant’s inbox.
Stewardship comes from an old English word that goes back to cattle. A steward was the person who kept the barn in order. Later it was the commoner who looked after the royal estate. Eventually it became anyone who keeps any estate (including God’s good Earth) running smoothly and in good overall health.
In the church context, stewardship means nurturing a healthy congregation of people who are supported by their parish in a life of serving their God and their neighbour. Note the wording. It doesn’t mean parishioners helping their church serve God. It means serving God themselves – through their church. The stewardship part is when the church helps them do that. And the money part is only one small element of that.
Stewardship doesn’t belong just on Consecration Sunday. It’s every Sunday. Indeed it’s every day of the year. We don’t stop encouraging our parishioners’ generous response to Christ the day after Consecration Sunday. We don’t ever stop. Nurturing the soul’s eternal hunger to serve God and neighbour is an ongoing adventure.
So let’s rescue stewardship from that narrow focus, and restore it to a joint endeavour – to work out together how we’ll combine the inspiration of our parishioners with the organized worship of our church.
And while we’re at it, let’s turn stewardship into a dialogue. Sure we need a national Stewardship programme, but let’s not just lay another programme on our parish. Let’s ask our parishioners how we’d like to use that resource in our own way in order to have what we need – to equip us all to serve the Lord effectively. Now that’s real stewardship.
So I think we should approach our parishes full of questions. We have this holy project we’re working on together:
• How can we do it better?
• How can we get the whole parish working on it as a family?
• What gifts do we have among us?
• Would the bearers of those gifts be eager to do more if the whole parish family were working together to serve Christ’s mission within and beyond the walls of the church?
• Who’s got good ideas that might inspire us to serve our church family – and others – enthusiastically?
• Whom can we count upon – if we turn them loose to implement our shared mission here in the parish – to make it work?
• When is it reasonable to ask for more money to support these activities?
Then we can turn to the national programme to see how well it suits our needs. The national Stewardship program does indeed follow the principles outlined above – make stewardship into a whole activity of nurturing people to follow their life’s calling through their church – and make the money part serve this mission faithfully.
The national programme is entitled Giving our Thanks and Praise. It puts together a package of worship, mission and resources that places fundraising in its proper place – subservient to the higher goal of getting the congregation active in the service of the Lord and his children. Once we have a healthy parish in that sense, Giving our Thanks and Praise offers a set of tools to firm up the financial commitment of the congregation. It’s definitely worth implementing, once we have a strong sense of how we’re mobilizing the whole package of stewardship.
So let’s pick up this tool and run with it. – Gary Russell