By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published July 5, 2018
ATLANTA—Savannah native Christopher “Kit” Parker is the new executive director of stewardship and development for the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
Appointed by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory May 21, Parker brings a wealth of management and stewardship experience in nonprofit and diocesan settings
“Kit comes to us with a deep understanding of stewardship as a Catholic way of life and a track record of success in helping to build up Church in partnership with pastors and parishes,” said Archbishop Gregory in the announcement. “He also brings experience in volunteer development, community engagement, fundraising and financial management.”
For 16 years, Parker was director of stewardship and development in the Diocese of Syracuse, New York. He retired from that position in 2017 and for the last year was serving the Diocese of St. Augustine, Florida, in a similar capacity.
Prior to diocesan service, Parker enjoyed a long career with the American Red Cross, an organization he first joined as a teen volunteer in first aid and swimming. He also worked for Literacy Volunteers of America.
Parker and his wife, Debra, have three children, Patrick, Sarah and Lily, and two grandchildren. Debra is a parish business manager in the Diocese of Syracuse.
“I grew up in Savannah, went to Blessed Sacrament School and Church,” said Parker.
“There were seven of us growing up. Mom and Dad had a very faith-filled family.”
Parker spent one year at St. John Vianney Minor Seminary, Savannah. He attended the University of Georgia, Athens, from 1969-1971.
“I went to school to be a marine biologist. I switched to psychology,” he said.
Running into calculus was the reason for the switch, noted Parker.
He earned a degree in psychology from the former Armstrong State, Savannah, and holds a master’s degree in financial management for nonprofits.
Parker worked for the American Red Cross for 25 years in blood services, fundraising and disaster services.
In addition to Savannah, Parker’s work for the Red Cross meant moves to Birmingham, Alabama; Charleston, South Carolina; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Nashville, Tennessee, before Syracuse.
“My first major assignment with the Red Cross was Hurricane Camille,” he said.
His final assignment with the Red Cross was co-directing fundraising for the work of the organization in response to the 9/11 attacks.
“In between I did fun things,” he said.
Gratifying Red Cross assignments included assisting with refugee resettlement for Cuban and Vietnamese refugees in Ft. Smith, Arkansas, and Ft. Walton Beach, Florida.
Parker fills a stewardship director’s position that has been vacant for several years
“I’m very glad to be here,” he said. “The biggest challenge is, ‘I’m not in Kansas anymore.’ This is a monster operation.”
In Syracuse, the work was about trying to create growth in a declining “market,” he said.
In Atlanta, his role will be examining how to maintain and create new growth in an area where the church is not declining in membership or in number of parishes.
“It’s a whole different approach,” he said.
Parker calls himself a “practical steward” and shared his thoughts on what stewardship means.
“Stewardship is a function of discipleship. Stewardship is returning to God for God’s graces to you. It’s as simple as that,” he said.
In the coming weeks and months, Parker will be looking at demographic and other data, visiting parishes and meeting with priests.
“I think our challenge is to find what each parish needs,” he said.
One of Parker’s first meetings in the Atlanta Archdiocese was with Father Mark Starr, administrator of St. Clare of Assisi Mission in Acworth. Parker learned about the tremendous growth in the mission in just a few years time with some 800 families involved and church construction nearly complete.
“It’s all being done without a capital campaign and all being done with people sacrificially giving to the parish, and it is an ideal model,” said Parker.
For that fledgling community, a model that was homegrown worked better than existing models for expanding and growing.
Parker said the Acworth mission is evangelizing and creating a “connectedness” among their population.
The effort reminds him of a Florida priest who tries to make the parish a place where people want to come and be with their friends, “starting with their friend, Jesus.”
The point of being part of a church is to feel safe, secure and connected in faith, he said.
“And that’s probably the best definition of stewardship and discipleship in a parish,” said Parker.
The new director said his past practice has been to get around to as many of the parishes as possible.
“I think several things are important. I would like to have a sense of the presbyterate,” said Parker. What do they think? And how does that impact what we should be doing?”
In his free time, Parker likes to spend time with family, walk, play golf and also enjoys cooking.
He will be compiling scatter graphs to see which parishes are successful at evangelization and stewardship, which ones are doing well sacramentally and in other areas.
“Knowing that data, then we know how to work with parishes to meet their specific needs. We would not be trying to use a cookie cutter model,” he said.
It’s about trying to “meet pastors and parishes where they are,” said Parker.