By Dan Russo
WATERLOO — When Leisa Anslinger asked pastoral leaders of the Archdiocese of Dubuque what the average Catholic thinks of when they hear the word “stewardship,” the participants’ answer was quick and unanimous — money.
“I think it happens because so often when we’re asking for money that’s when we use the word,” reflected Anslinger during lunch at the Spring Pastoral Leadership Study Day April 10 at the Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center in Waterloo.
A speaker and author from Cincinnati who has years of experiences working in Catholic parishes, Anslinger led the event for about 200 parish staff and clergy. The theme of the day was “Grateful Disciples: Bring Stewardship to Life in Your Parish.” Overcoming the perception by many that being a good steward is just about how you use your cash is difficult, but not impossible, according to Anslinger. She delved deeply into what stewardship means in a series of five talks that were interspersed with small table discussions and comment periods for the participants as one large group.
“I have a lot of leaders saying to me, ‘Can’t we just stop using that word?’ but in reality that’s the biblical word,” she said. “So I think what we need to do is we need to broaden the way in which we use the word stewardship and to talk about how we steward our lives; how prayer is a stewardship, especially when we’re praying for others. How giving of our time is stewardship, and even at home, we’re living our lives as stewards, and so I often tell people we’re already stewards whether we realize it or not. We need to become better stewards. It’s the challenge that faces us.”
At one point during her remarks, Anslinger told a story about speaking about stewardship to a group of Catholics in Australia. She was surprised when, instead of money, the first thing that came to their minds was the word “farming.” She explained that this is actually closer to the idea of stewardship in biblical times, because stewards were people who managed land or other resources for someone else. In today’s church stewardship is often described as how we use our “time, talent and treasure,” given to us by God, to serve him and our world.
“Stewardship for me, it’s about everything that we are and have really is God’s,” Anslinger said. “It’s entrusted to us, and we’re called not only to care for it, but to make it fruitful. That’s who we’re called to be as Christ’s people. And Jesus is the one who shows us how to do that. His way is the way of self-giving. It’s love. It’s mercy. It’s living that life. And when we do that, it has a dramatic impact on the way we live our lives and the way we touch others.”
During discussions, many participants, including some who commented to the group as a whole, proposed that parish leaders must encourage individuals to become disciples of Jesus first, and that once that personal relationship is formed, they will be more able to live out stewardship by giving of themselves to others.
“Our table has been talking a lot about what is our vision; what are our hopes and dreams,” said Ellen Kuchera, associate director of young adult ministry for the Catholic parishes of Waterloo. “I like (Anslinger’s) approach of talking about what do we currently do that works for that, versus starting more negative. We have some really strong young adult faith sharing groups that seem to work pretty well, especially because they meet at different times and locations and are pretty flexible with where people are. I also work with COR, our downtown storefront building here in Waterloo that really just in a lot of small ways meets a different group of people than we would normally come in contact with.”
The storefront regularly holds events and invites people of all backgrounds to learn about or discuss Catholicism and faith.
“It’s not in a church setting,” explained Kuchera. “We seek to collaborate with different groups. For instance we have a nonprofit that shares some of the office space there with us, and they work with the Burmese refugee community, but they’re not connected with the church. One of their employees recently came to me last week (and said), ‘I’m not Catholic and I have a Catholic question. I know you would be the one to talk to about it.’”
For Brian Nilles, coordinator of religious education for St. LaSalle Pastorate, a cluster of parishes serving Balltown, Holy Cross, Luxemburg, Rickardsville and Sherrill, a major challenge to developing stewardship is facilitating cooperation and unity among different groups and generations in a rural faith community that is spread out.
Another issue discussed by many pastoral leaders was how to engage parents as well as the children that participate in faith formation programs. One issue raised by several attendees was the phenomenon of children coming to faith formation programs at parishes or being students at Catholic schools, but these families not coming to Mass on weekends; or failing to engage in other aspects of church life.
Anslinger suggested the solution to this is a concerted, compassionate effort to evangelize all ages, including adults.
“I talk to Catholics about two of the scariest words out there— stewardship and evangelization,” she said. “Neither of them is really scary. We’re not talking about standing on the street corner with a bullhorn, we’re talking about how do we, in our daily lives, help them to recognize that faith is a meaningful way of life. I think that’s what it comes down to with our parents, our young people and everyone in our parish. How do we help them to really fall in love with Jesus?”
Anslinger spent the second part of the day discussing six steps leaders can take to foster stewardship. Summarized briefly, they entailed: having a vision of what stewardship is about, having a team or committee focused on stewardship, forming people as disciples, focusing on welcome and hospitality, developing a rhythm based in spiritual seasons, but that also includes a period of renewal each year, and recognizing how stewardship is already happening, being thankful and being accountable for how we are stewards.
Pastoral Leadership Study Days are a joint effort of the Loras College Archbishop Kucera Center for Catholic Intellectual and Spiritual Life and the Archdiocese of Dubuque Leadership Development & Pastoral Planning Office.
Cover photo: Father Aaron Junge (standing) speaks to the crowd during a comment period at Pastoral Leadership Study Day April 10 in Waterloo. (Photo by Dan Russo/TheWitness)