By STEPHEN O’KANE, Staff Writer | Published April 2, 2009
Serving a role in stewardship is more than just a job. True stewardship is a way of life, according to many present at the Regional Stewardship Conference held at the Atlanta Marriott Gwinnett Place on Saturday, March 28.
The eighth annual conference, reportedly the largest regional stewardship conference in the country, attracted a record crowd from Catholic dioceses in Georgia, North and South Carolina.
Several Atlanta parishes sent delegations, including Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church, Norcross, who had nearly 30 members participate.
Sponsored by the Archdiocese of Atlanta and the dioceses of Savannah, Charlotte and Raleigh, N.C., and Charleston, S.C., the conference showcased speakers who addressed ways of improving on and succeeding with current stewardship programs. The event also offered participants a chance to network with others involved in stewardship around the country.
Keynote speaker Mary Kelly, manager of stewardship development for the Archdiocese of Toronto, Canada, stressed the importance of gratitude.
“We are in danger of losing a sense of gratitude,” Kelly told the crowd of more than 400.
“There is a sense of entitlement creeping into our lives,” she said.
She said one noticeable change is how people reply to someone thanking them for assistance. Many people do not say “you are welcome” anymore after being thanked, she said. Instead, people respond with “no problem” or “whatever.”
Referencing a wealth of philosophers, theologians and Christian writers, such as Meister Eckhart and G.K. Chesterton, she said those living the Gospel have to remind each other to be grateful and need to thank others, even if there is no obligation to do so.
“We are all made in the image and likeness of God,” said Kelly. “So we all deserve that respect.”
Her opening talk set the tone for the day’s speakers, who talked in a series of three breakout sessions.
Some speakers, such as Jim Kelley, director of development for the Charlotte Diocese, focused on practical topics like dealing with the challenges and obstacles to stewardship living, while others, such as Father Luke Ballman, vocations director for the Atlanta Archdiocese, centered on the spiritual dimension of stewardship.
Most presentations were repeated, so participants could attend the three they felt would be most beneficial.
A large crowd heard Laurie Whitfield, associate director of parish stewardship for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y., give her presentation entitled, “Can We Talk? Communicating the Message Throughout the Parish.”
Whitfield’s outgoing presence and booming New York accent sent the crowd through fits of laughter into appreciation as she shared personal stories and ideas on how to improve stewardship communication in parishes.
Her list of rules included the appropriate use of “the language of stewardship” and using more than one vehicle when trying to share a message with the community.
She provided examples of flyers, letters and the like created by her diocese’s stewardship office in hopes of giving people some ideas to take back to their own parishes.
Kelley’s session, entitled “Challenges and Obstacles to Stewardship Living,” described common struggles faced when living and working as stewards.
A lack of trust in God or a spiritual blindness can hinder stewardship living, he said.
A “leap of faith” is sometimes necessary to make a personal commitment to stewardship, he added. Making time for daily prayer and reflection is a crucial step in overcoming these challenges, Kelley said.
He also led a special lunchtime session, “Coping With a Tough Economy,” where he outlined specific challenges in this difficult economic time and offered appropriate responses.
One was good communication. Educating parishioners about the costs of running the parish and the significant impact their gifts can have were a couple of solutions offered to the crowd.
The conference began with prayer and ended in the same way. Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory celebrated a Mass to close the event, encouraging those present to take what they had learned back to their parishes and dioceses.
“We are called to be stewards of God’s abundant gifts and to share the knowledge with which we have been gifted,” Archbishop Gregory wrote in a letter to attendees. “Coming here today shows that you have made the commitment to make stewardship a way of life in your parishes and dioceses.”
Christine Heusinger, stewardship coordinator for the Atlanta Archdiocese, who coordinated planning for the event, was pleased with several factors that helped make the day a success.
“Our breakout speakers were of a very high caliber,” she said, and timely topics also provided attendees with new tools to help their parishes.
She said the event is important because “all of our parish leaders need to engage their parishioners” in stewardship living.
“There are a great number of parishioners not yet involved” and the conference “gives leaders some tools to engage those people,” she said.
The 2010 Stewardship Conference will be held in Savannah.