You don’t need to be a Catholic scholar to understand that being of service to others helps create a better world. It makes sense to teach children right from wrong or help fund a lifesaving organization.
However, what if being of service came from deep within your soul as a gift from God? What if feeding the hungry, contributing to worthy causes and helping struggling families were viewed as a top priority every single day?
That’s called stewardship. As a committed steward of God and the Catholic community, you’d be continually living – and growing – in a new way of life.
“Growing in a New Way of Life” was the theme of this year’s Stewardship Weekend, which took place Nov. 2 and 3. Created, promoted and administered by the Orange Catholic Foundation, the annual event emphasizes stewardship as an obligation, a privilege and a blessing of every Catholic.
“Stewardship is about giving your first fruits to God,” says Debbie Leaverton, the Orange Catholic Foundation’s Stewardship and Partner Success Officer. “It’s sacrificial giving, and it involves looking at how you’re giving of yourself and your resources.”
“Partner Success Officer” is an apt title for Leaverton, since partnering and creating success with parish pastors, parishioners and diocesan leaders accounts for much of what she does. As a unique, God-given gift, her continual emphasis on stewardship – for the Catholic community and for God – is itself stewardship in action.
While Stewardship Weekend benefits the Diocese, most of its emphasis is on individual parishes. “It’s an ongoing conversion of the pastors, to help them really get the mindset that stewardship comes from spirituality,” Leaverton says. “And everyone ultimately benefits when this mindset is passed on to their parishioners. My job is to train and make available materials for parishes to help them celebrate Stewardship Weekend.”
While Stewardship Weekend took place last month, Leaverton emphasizes that sharing ones “time, talent and treasure” should be a year-round endeavor. So does Sue Nunn of the Orange Catholic Foundation. “Stewardship influences everything we at the foundation do,” Nunn says, “because we are the stewards of the charitable gifts in our Catholic community.”
For example, Nunn notes, the Orange Catholic Foundation’s board members give their time and talent when meeting with parishioners to help them determine what they want to do as financial stewards, while ensuring that their own financial standing remains solid. (Part of this ongoing effort includes the foundation’s biannual Wills and Trusts Week.)
However, while the foundation facilitates charitable giving throughout the local Catholic community, its stewardship extends far beyond the financial realm.
Leaverton heads Stewardship Renewal, an effort at the core of Stewardship Weekend that helps parishes focus on stewardship as a way of life. Along with training parish clergy and lay leaders, she created and shares a “toolkit,” a detailed, comprehensive template for pastors that helps them pass on the importance of giving financially and being of service year-round. It’s composed of themed posters, banners and logos, as well as a 60-page guidebook. It also includes commitment forms, which individual parishioners and families filled out during Stewardship Weekend Masses (they can also do so throughout the year). The commitment forms help parishioners see the many options available to serve as stewards, both financially and from a service-oriented perspective, Leaverton notes.
The focus, she adds, is always about community. “There are so many ways to reach out and help: homeless ministry, right-to-life ministry, Knights of Columbus, Boy Scouts – anything that serves others. Parishioners turn their gifts from God around to help build a better community. And our commitment forms help them do that.”
“On a broader level, stewardship involves taking care of the Diocese as a whole, and that includes Christ Cathedral, the focal point of our Diocese,” Nunn says. “The Orange Catholic Foundation raises funds and provides grants to sustain what we’re building here, now and in the future.”