By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published April 8, 2004
Over 340 parish representatives from throughout the Southeast attended the Regional Stewardship Conference March 27, gaining insight on ways to make stewardship a way of life.
Held at the Atlanta Marriott Gwinnett Place, the conference drew 198 attendees from the Archdiocese of Atlanta, who represented 50 parishes and missions. The conference was sponsored by the dioceses of Charleston, S.C., Charlotte, N.C., Raleigh, N.C., and Savannah.
Bishop Robert Morneau, auxiliary bishop of Green Bay, Wis., was the conference’s keynote speaker.
An avid reader of poetry and prose, Bishop Morneau is the author of several books and numerous essays, and a much sought-after speaker throughout the country.
In his talk entitled “Stewardship: An Expression of our Christian Life,” Bishop Morneau discussed the questions that he said keep him awake at night—“What have you done with the garden entrusted to you?” and “What return can I make to the Lord for all he’s done for me?”
Stewardship, he said, consists of “four unsplit infinitives—to receive God’s gifts gratefully; to nurture and tend God’s gifts responsibly; to share God’s gifts justly and charitably; and to return God’s gifts abundantly.”
First, stewards must receive God’s gifts gratefully.
“We are so blessed to have so many gifts,” he said. “And if I am to be a eucharistic person, then I have to give thanks to God for all he has given me.”
Stewards must also “nurture God’s gifts responsibly.”
“You should not stay out of your gifted area too long,” Bishop Morneau said. “Do what you love, what you’re good at. My biggest fear is getting to the gates of heaven and being told I was an eight-cylinder car but I only used two cylinders.”
Bishop Morneau’s talk was filled with anecdotes and gentle humor, and he spoke of officiating at confirmations in his diocese.
“I cry on the way home thinking about all those gifts that won’t get developed,” he said.
In Green Bay there are 380,000 Catholics in 186 parishes. One-third of the Catholics in the diocese give “nothing—no time, no talent, no treasure,” Bishop Morneau said.
Good stewards must share God’s gifts justly and charitably and must also return God’s gifts abundantly.
“The concept of stewardship has the power to change our lives,” the bishop said. “It has the power to change the answer to the question: ‘Who am I and what am I doing here.’”
The bishop spoke of a friend, a 44-year-old man who is quite wealthy. One day the man told Bishop Morneau that he was simply a “trustee” of his wealth, that it all belonged to God.
“Stewardship is inclusive. It’s a way of life—it’s not just finances, though that’s a big part of it. It’s impossible to have joy without generosity.”
Bishop Morneau then described the 12 gardens where stewardship must be nourished—the gardens of the body, family and friends, the globe, decisions, emotions, polis, chip, history, mind, arts, money and the garden of the soul.
The garden of “the chip,” he said, has become a more and more important issue as stewards can reach out through technology.
“Lent is a good time to take inventory of your gardens,” he said. “We are made in the image and likeness of God. To know who God is is to know who we are.”
Bishop Morneau finished his talk with a prayer and then challenged the participants to be good stewards.
“We are radiators of God’s love and light. We are revealers of God’s beauty,” he said. “May we do that well.”
Following Bishop Morneau’s talk, attendees then went to one of six breakout sessions.
Many participants left the conference with a renewed desire to serve and implement the ideas they learned in their own parishes.
Fletcher Bingham, who works for Catholic Stewardship Consultants, a consulting firm that provides customized stewardship services to Catholic parishes, said he thought the conference was a valuable tool.
“It was well organized. The speakers that I heard were knowledgeable and well-prepared, and it was inspirational as well as informative,” he said. “I am very glad I went. I appreciate the notebook with the well-done handouts; I’m sure I’ll refer to it for the handouts even of the sessions I didn’t attend.”
Michele Perrino, a staff member at the Church of St. Ann, Marietta, went to the conference as a representative of the youth of the parish, including the parish school of religion, The Edge middle school program, and the high school LIFE TEEN program. She especially enjoyed the breakout session led by Kathleen Varner, development director at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Wake Forest, N.C., who answered the question: “Why and how should we teach the stewardship mission to our youth?”
“She was really excited, and because of her excitement, I really wanted to go back to my parish and use her examples,” Perrino said.
Overall, Perrino said that she learned the true meaning of stewardship at the conference.
“It isn’t just giving money, but stewardship is a ministry in itself,” she said. “We need to be excited about stewardship so we can go back to our parishes so the people of our churches can fit in and help.”
Christine Dandaraw, director of operations at St. Monica Church in Duluth, said she, too, felt a renewed sense of her mission.
“This is the second year I have attended the Regional Stewardship Conference and each year it surpasses the last. The topics are relevant, informative and inspiring,” she said. “I leave the conference with a revitalization of commitment and tools to implement them.”