By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published November 1, 2007
When she first heard of the plan, Judy Baker’s reaction was “oh, pu-leeze.”
About a week later, she started to think, “This is fun.” A year later, she says the adventure her parish has had in deepening generosity “was an absolute blast.”
At St. Matthew Church, enjoyment wasn’t the long-range goal of the “Adventures in Stewardship” program that culminated on Oct. 21. But finding the joy in giving helps people to become more active, more involved and more generous toward others’ needs, leaders agreed.
“We had a lot of fun along the way. (Fun) may be essential” to helping people initially get excited about using their talents, said Cynthia Welsh, the chair of St. Matthew’s stewardship committee.
But the deepest reward was “to see the joy that people have when they learn that connection between recognizing the gifts God has given them and … sharing those gifts with others.”
The Tyrone parish took a bold step in its goal of becoming a stewardship parish in 2006, after laying the groundwork by having an active stewardship committee for four years. With the help of a donation, Father Victor Galier, pastor, and the committee surprised parishioners one Sunday in October 2006 by offering them unmarked envelopes containing cash.
Everyone who took an envelope, which held from $30 to $60, was asked to take their talents and put the funds to use in some way as a disciple of Jesus. A year later, they were asked to come back and make a return to the Lord, putting in an envelope any financial return, as well as a sharing of their experience if they chose.
The original outlay by the parish was about $16,500.
After a full-day celebration Oct. 21, a year later, it became clear the money had about tripled, as $47,493 was returned.
But, as significantly, parishioners said it had changed them.
Baker, beaming, gave a visitor one of her homemade scarves, knit in metallic thread, gold on red, that helped her turn $40 into about $600. They were a hit, especially in the colors of the University of Georgia or Georgia Tech.
“They just took off. I am going to try to keep it up,” she said.
Marketplaces held during the year at St. Matthew Church were an opportunity for parishioners to display and sell or take orders for anything they made, but also to build friendships. “I met so many people because we did the marketplaces,” Baker said.
“I’ve been in this parish for a long time. I know a lot of people,” said Sally Peters, wife of Deacon Gayle Peters. “But I got to know even more. The talents people had that I never even guessed at are just astounding.”
“Adventures in Stewardship” put the spotlight on multiplying something tangible—the seed money each received—but the lessons learned were deeper, Peters said.
“It has made it perfectly clear we have other talents to share with others to spread God’s message of love. … We do have talents we can put together with other people and do great things.”
Father Galier has “inspired the parish so much with stewardship and doing for others,” said Doris Cooper. She and her husband, John, have been part of not only the present St. Matthew’s, but also of older parishes from which its members came, like Blessed Sacrament Church in south Atlanta.
The Coopers turned $30 into $240 as she baked cakes and he helped her sell them. But they also “got thinking about what else we could do.”
When their Social Security payments increased in January, they took her extra $20 per month and his extra $40 per month and put the $60 toward items that would help homeless women and children at the Atlanta Day Shelter.
Each month Doris looks for how she can make the most of the $60, buying needed items like toiletries, basic clothes, tote bags. “I would have never done that if (Father Galier) hadn’t inspired us and done this stewardship with us.”
The lesson of the year for her is “we all have more we could do. You have to step out of your comfort zone.”
Shain Routon, married and the father of four young children, said, “It has been less about the money and more about the talents of people. … Father Vic did a great job really focusing on people’s talents. Come get involved. Come do something—that was the focus. The financial side was just a byproduct.”
Every parish has a group of people who do everything, he observed. This challenge got everyone involved. As an example, “because of this whole thing,” his wife, Gail, volunteered to organize the parish fall festival held Oct. 20. “You feel a sense of accountability to do it, which is good.”
“It definitely brought me closer into this parish and this congregation,” said Routon. “It forced a lot of people to step out, meet other people and appreciate other people.”
Gail Routon allocated a percentage of her monthly business to stewardship. Their son decided to do some dog sitting and donated the money. At football games when there were bets “all proceeds made it in,” Routon said. Their $40 multiplied into $661.
Lisa and David Lowther and their three children used their $30 in seed money to sell school supplies. They stood in the narthex over four weekends and invited parishioners to buy individual items like a pencil or a notebook. Their hope was to raise enough money to provide school supplies for 400 children served by the Atlanta Day Shelter.
“We multiplied our seed money nine times over. The biggest contribution was we gave them 30 backpacks” for children, Lisa Lowther said.
For the day of celebration at the parish, everyone was wearing red, from music director Sheri Dillon’s red dress to the four Routon children’s red outfits, to link them to the liturgical color of martyred St. Matthew, their patron. A special Mass included anointing of the sick. While a potluck lunch was served on the patio outside, the returns were tallied. Then a thanksgiving prayer service followed with the total announced by Welsh.
Deacon Bill Hampton built his Mass homily around the sign hanging in the football locker room at Notre Dame University—“play like a champion today.”
“That charge is so important that every time they go on the road, they take that sign with them,” he said, to inspire the players as they face tough opponents.
“If we had a sign above the narthex door, what would it say?” he asked. “Jesus knows the playing field is tough. He knows the opponents are tough. … I do know when we are fed by his body and blood we are ready to hit that playing field of opportunities.”
“This past year has certainly been an adventure and it has been a great joy. The goal was very simple … to get you and me to recognize not only that we have talents but be willing to share those talents with those you know and those you don’t know.”
People did everything imaginable during the past year, he said, from making candy, baklava, Italian food and jellies, to helping students prepare for SATs.
Although the year has ended, “the good news is discipleship never ends,” Deacon Hampton said. “We have to be open to Christ as he presents us with many opportunities.”
Looking forward, he said, consider joining a ministry, write to an old friend, take five minutes a day and pray for the parish, call someone who has lost a loved one, give the church an extra hour a week beyond coming to Sunday Mass.
“These are great gifts, and they require great talent,” he said. “Remember God loves you so much and God trusts you and expects you to minister to his people.”
Father Galier said the more than $47,000 will be utilized in a variety of ways. Ten to 15 percent will be tithed to charity, he said. The parish stewardship committee will reflect on how and where to provide seed money to another parish to go and do what they did this year.
“I’ve been very thankful to God over the past year for the outpouring of gifts you have brought to the parish,” he told parishioners. “This time has been an overwhelming success. … Now we continue the path of discipleship that is going to lead us each day to love one another more.”
As the day ended, the pastor pointed out a new sign over the narthex door. It said, “Love one another as I have loved you.”