Stewardship Presentation - 2013 Lenten Priest Retreat

[Father Frederick Watson, Stewardship Commission chairman offered the following

presentation during the March, 2013 Lenten Priest Retreat at Camp Nazareth.]

I. Stewards and Volunteers

Your Grace; very Reverend Protopresbyters; very Reverend Fathers; and all of my brothers (and sisters) here present. Glory be to Jesus Christ!

Some of you may know that I spent ten years in prison. That always gets people’s attention – until I add that those ten years were spent as full-time chaplain in a Pennsylvania county correctional facility. Those were interesting and satisfying years. And I am told I lasted three more years than most full-time chaplains in prison. Most quit or retire after seven years due to burnout or failure to gain parole. Be that as it may, I did serve as the staff chaplain in a brand new prison. Montgomery County, Pennsylvania had a county prison for over 100 years that was built for 100 inmates. When it closed, it housed 350 inmates. The new, modern, secure county prison was built some miles away to house 1000 inmates. Two months after it opened, that prison housed 1000 inmates. Within another year that number was up to 1250. When I left the prison, the MCCF housed 1750 inmates. I’ve been away for ten years, and I understand that the prison has expanded considerably. Now their 1500 cells house over 2000 inmates. I suppose it is true: If you build it, they will come.

I was the first staff chaplain this prison ever had. The prison staff had no idea how to deal with a chaplain who was not only an equal to the security staff, but, by virtue of the chaplain’s position, held the rank of Captain. Only the three officers with the rank of Major ranked higher. A Captain has access to every part of the prison. Thus also does a chaplain. I found out early on that the favorite pastime of correctional officers was to attend the regular fights that broke out between inmates, or inmates and staff. When the alarm sounded, every uniformed officer who was not otherwise busy, responded to a “disturbance.” I learned quickly how to duck into a doorway or down another hall to prevent being trampled to death.

Most of the officers did not like it when I tagged along to these “disturbances.” They liked the freedom they had to quell the disturbance with any means possible. This included their own fists and the nightstick each of them had issued to them as part of their uniform. In my presence, however, the unnecessary violence had to be tempered. I was not going to stand for such things. It made for some difficult times for the first years of my chaplaincy.

But what seems to have been worse for the uniformed officers was when I would show up unexpectedly in an office or break room or hallway. My showing up wasn’t that bad. It was my timing that annoyed them. For I seemed to show up just when the worst of the curse words or street language was being shouted out. They clammed up instantly, or let one of those curse words slip out in my direction. I knew they were serious about this, when, on the first Christmas I spent there, the officers got together and gave me a gift. The gift was a pair of bells that I was instructed to put on my shoes, so they could hear me coming!

My job description as County Correctional Chaplain was to care for the religious needs of the inmates. Those needs included the individual requests of inmates who were Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Native American or any of several other religious preferences. It was through me and my office that the organization of religious services was done. If an inmate wanted a religious visitor of his (or her) own religious preference, the request to find such a visitor was sent to me. If several inmates wanted a regularly scheduled religious service, I had to first verify that the group was in fact a religious group that had a recognized organization and had as responsible leader. If such a recognized organization did not exist, say, for example, the Dreamites (I kid you not), no such organized religious service could be held.

And what was the result of denying such a religious service? Of course, the prison, and the prison chaplain would be sued. From the Pennsylvania Prison Society (an inmate advocate group) to the ACLU – I had to deal with them all, and even, if necessary, go to court to testify. But as long as my paperwork was in order (and in training it was drilled into everyone, if it’s not written down, it did not happen), as long as my paperwork was in order, the courts always supported the prison. Our prison in my ten years never lost a religious case that was brought to the courts by an inmate.

In the organization of worship services for the legitimate organized religious bodies, however, it took more than just the chaplain. When I was interviewed for the chaplain’s position, the Wardens and Board of Inspectors has told me that, of course, security was the most important aspect of prison life. Therefore, they said, all religious services were to be put on closed-circuit TV and no movement of the inmates nor inmate gatherings would be permitted. When they told me that at the interview, I said that such a procedure for religious services makes them totally irrelevant, and they would have to find another candidate for the position of chaplain. I got up to leave the interview when the Security Warden asked what I would do if I were to organize the chapel in light of security concerns.

I said it would take a group of volunteers to make religious services work. But the volunteers would have to be screened, trained and monitored in many aspects of security before they would be admitted either to lead or assist with religious services. The interviewers and I exchanged ideas about that – until they decided that the job of the chaplain would have to be expanded to include all aspects of Volunteer Coordination. Thus, when hired, added to my title was Volunteer Coordinator. More on that in a moment.

You probably know that most every inmate, when he arrives in prison, suddenly become very religious. There is something about those locked doors that seems to change a person. It took me some time to adjust to the fact that I needed to go through 23 locked doors to get to my office in the prison. Maybe my greater fear that needed to be overcome, was getting out of those 23 locked doors in a hurry if I ever had to. But I am certain that it was the same fear that turned inmates so religious once they were locked up.

And by religious, I mean that many inmates wanted to use religion as a key to unlock those doors. There was a general feeling that if you held a Bible or a Quran in your hands at times of decision-making for the future, there would be some magical quality about it that would change the mind of a judge, a parole officer or even a prison chaplain. The story circulated around the prison about a certain inmate who had suddenly come to “Jesus” in the prison, and had developed a relationship with Him. The inmate claimed to have personal conversations with Jesus, and that Jesus was leading this inmate in the right direction.

Now since my prison was a county jail, there were many inmates who were either awaiting trial or awaiting sentencing. If their sentence was greater than 23 months, they knew they would be transferred to the state penitentiary. Well, our inmate was up for sentencing. His hearing was the next day. He had to make sure that he was up to date on all his religious paraphernalia, so he had requested a new, leather cover Bible, and a rosary (a rosary!) that he hung around his neck so that everyone would see. In court that day, the judge asked the inmate if he had anything to say before sentence was passed. His was a drug charge, in fact his third such charge. The inmate told the judge that he had had a long conversation with “Jesus” the night before, and “Jesus” had told him that the judge would give him probation with time served as his sentence. “Is that right?” asked the judge with feigned respect for such a conversation. Then the judge called for a recess. Fifteen minutes later, the judge reappeared. The inmate stood straight and tall. His Bible was held securely in his arms. His rosary clearly to be seen over his immaculate suit, tie and French cuffed white shirt. The judge took his place and began. “You may have wondered why I called for a recess. Well, I went to have a talk with ‘Jesus.’ I explained to him Pennsylvania law. Then he told me what your sentence would be. Eighteen to twenty-four months to be served at Graterford Penitentiary. You better talk to him again, and ask him how you might avoid mandatory sentences in Pennsylvania. Next case please.”

Partly because we had so many “religious” inmates in the Montgomery County Correctional Facility, I had to work quite hard at developing a volunteer corps that would care for the multiplicity of religious services, Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and others. Our volunteer program had three parts:

1) selection and interview of volunteer applicants;

2) a six hour orientation to prison security and chaplain’s procedures;

3) a ninety-day probationary period.

My first, and most difficult task was interviewing volunteers. The interviewing process was an eye-opener for me. I had developed a set of questions to put before each candidate. I only really needed one question. The answer to that one question determined if that volunteer candidate needed to move on to the other questions. The question was simple enough: Why do you want to become a religious volunteer at Montgomery County Correctional Facility? The answers were revealing.

Here are some sample answers:

1) “I need to convert these sinners to Christ for their eternal salvation!”

2) “I’ve got a brother in there and his visiting list is full and it’s the only way I can see him. He really needs to see me.”

3) “I want to help the inmates get their mail in and out of the prison.”

4) “God is sending me here and no one can get in my way.”

5) “I’ve got the time, and have nothing else to do.”

6) “I know my Bible almost for memory, and these people need to know their Bible or they wouldn’t be in there.”

7) “I’m a Muslim. I’ve got the right to go in there. It’s in the constitution.”

8) “My pastor told me I had to go into the prison and visit the prisoners. My salvation depends on it.”

9) “I just want to hug them and show them love. They never get any.”

10) “I don’t know. I might have something I can share and help.”

I learned a lot about stewardship through this process. After all, every pastor of a parish is always seeking help for many parish activities and responsibilities. Those prospective volunteers whose answer to the question “Why…?” centered on themselves and their own self-centered motivations for volunteering rarely got by that first question. I was looking not for volunteers, but for stewards.

In terms of Christian stewardship I had hoped to discuss stewardship of time and talent with these prospective stewards. It should also be said that being a good steward of time as that relates to time spent in the work of the parish and the Church has often been confused with volunteering. Over the years, I have seen many of us in the church struggle to get more and more people to participate and “volunteer” to do what needs to be done to keep our churches going. Whether it be helping out once a year at the annual festival, or being a part of the everyday life in the Church, we always seem to find ourselves, sooner or later, lamenting the fact that we do not have enough “volunteers.” All of the tasks don’t seem to get done. Nor can we fill all of the roles that need to be filled.

More often than not, we look for volunteers for these tasks or roles – and not for stewards. As each new year rolls around in September, we find ourselves looking for parishioners to teach in our Church School, sing in our choir, serve in the altar, oversee our Youth Ministry, join the organizations, usher, chant, cook, clean, plan for the future, pay the bills, make the necessary decisions, and so on. We look at them all and call them such wonderfully “dedicated volunteers.” We try to be ever so careful not to put too many demands on them. We don’t expect too much from them, because they are simply “volunteers.” It should be noted that our Diocese does not have a Volunteerism Commission. No. It is called a Stewardship Commission.

Some might say: “What’s the difference? What’s in a name? We’re all working for the church anyway and trying to get the job done. Who cares what you call it!”

A volunteer is defined as “a person who voluntarily offers himself or herself for a service or undertaking; a person who performs a service willingly and without pay.” A steward is defined as “a person who manages another’s property or financial affairs; one who administers anything as the agent of another or others; a person who has charge of the household of another, buying or obtaining food, directing the servants.” As you can see, the focus is much different. As stewards, we are not simply coming of our own free will to accomplish a task, but more importantly, we are taking care of that which has been given to us by God. This is His World, His Church, His Property, and we are His Children and Stewards who have been entrusted with the care of it all. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1).

“Who then is the faithful and wise steward, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions” (Luke 12:42-44). As faithful stewards of God’s holy House, we have a sacred obligation and responsibility not simply to volunteer a few extra moments, but rather to humbly and joyfully offer our time, our talents, and our resources back to God in the management and care of that which He has given to us. And this responsibility belongs to all of us, clergy and laity alike.

St. Paul wrote to Titus and told him to “appoint elders (presbyters) in every town,” and referred to the bishop as “God’s steward,” specifying the many qualities he will need to be a good steward and overseer of God’s holy House (1:5ff). We can see the depth of this as well in Jesus’s words to Peter: “‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Feed my lambs…Tend my sheep… Feed my sheep’” (John 21:15-19). And again, when St. Paul was speaking about his own ministry of preaching the gospel, he said: “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission” (1 Corinthians 9:16-17). In Greek, this word commission is the word for stewardship. So you see that even if he did not want to do it of his own free will, he knew that he must preach anyway, for that was what was entrusted to him by God!

As for the laity, this from St. Paul: “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy” (1 Corinthians 4:1-2); and from St. Peter: “As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10).

There is no human being alive who has not received a gift from God. We have all been blessed by God with certain gifts and talents – and opportunities to use them! – and are called upon to give back a portion of these blessings in thanksgiving for what we have received, and for the glory of His holy Name. “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7). So, whether we are serving at the altar, changing the candles, working on the budget, vacuuming the carpet, singing in the choir, fixing the broken door, teaching Church School, cooking in the kitchen, overseeing Youth Ministry, cutting the grass, teaching Bible Study, chanting, greeting people in the back of the church, making Holy Bread, offering a donation, putting the Festival or Bazaar together, cataloguing books for the library, counting the money, working in the office, visiting the lost sheep, staying after to lock the doors, visiting the sick and shut-ins, reading the epistle, ushering, folding the weekly bulletin, planning a special event, visiting those in prison, caring for the elderly, serving coffee hour, working in an organization, serving on the Parish Council, preaching a sermon, or being a shut-in who can’t get out of the house yet prays each day for our people and calls others on the phone once in a while to simply say hello, – and whatever else I may have forgotten – we are all of infinite value to our God and a vital part of the stewardship of His holy Church. This shows us, then, that the Church is not a charity at which we volunteer; rather, She is our Mother whom we serve.

Let us, therefore, be faithful and righteous in our stewardship. “He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and he who is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?" (Luke 16:10-12). Remember, in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25), the Master was not upset because the third servant didn't volunteer, but rather because he didn't make good use of his talent, and did not care properly for that with which he was entrusted. Let us all go forth and be faithful to our calling, each in his or her own way, and as we heard in the Conference theme a few years ago: “See that you fulfil the ministry which you have received in the Lord” (Colossians 4:17).

Our time on this earth is one of the most precious gifts God has given us. We don’t know how many days each of us will be given to live our earthly lives so we must choose to use our time wisely each day. We cannot save time for the future nor can we relive a day in the past. We are good stewards of the gift of time when we make right priorities in our busy lives, remembering that “time is love.”

Good stewards put spending time with God in prayer and worship on their list of priorities, so God doesn’t just get “leftover” time. Good stewards also make time for family and friends, nurturing relationships and caring for each other as they follow the commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

Making a conscious decision to more wisely steward the time God has bestowed on us requires prayerfully deciding what changes you will make in your life. At the very least, parishioners should make the most of their observance of the Lord’s day. He understands, too, that the application of his time need not be confined to use in formal liturgical services but should be applied to a liturgy of Christian living throughout the day. But that is a topic for another day.

By the way, the answer to the question “Why do you want to be a volunteer at MCCF?” that engaged me the most went something like this. “I believe that God has given me the talent of listening or teaching or leading worship. I want to use that talent with the time God has given me on earth.” Thanks be to God that there were many such answers given, and some excellent conversation about stewardship ensued.

II. STEWARDSHIP RESOURCE II:

IMPLEMENTING STEWARDSHIP IN THE PARISH

The Stewardship Commission of our Diocese, with the blessing of His Grace, will introduce and release the second of its Stewardship Resources this fall at our Diocesan Sobor/Council. This Resource is directed to parish leadership throughout the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese as part of an ongoing effort to provide practical and inspirational ministry resources for the practice of Christian Stewardship within our parishes.

Our parishes with successful Orthodox Christian Stewardship Programs have found that incredible support is unleashed from Stewards who willingly, unselfishly and joyfully offer their time, talents and treasures, which in turn enhances the spirituality and ministry of the local parish.

This Resource is a continuing effort to move our parishes to a year-round “Way of Life” stewardship. An earlier Resource (available on CD, in print and on-line at www.ACROD.org) provided educational and inspirational stewardship resources for clergy and faithful. Additional resources will be made available through the efforts of the diocesan Stewardship Commission. These include articles in the Church Messenger, periodic stewardship updates on the Diocesan website, workshops, retreats and personal stewardship consultation as requested.

The Diocesan Stewardship Commission was established by our late Bishop, His Eminence +Metropolitan Nicholas in 2009. The Stewardship Mission Statement of the Commission is as follows: Orthodox Christian Stewardship is a Christ-centered lifestyle, which acknowledges accountability, reverence, and responsibility before God. Orthodox Christian Stewardship is a call to all of the faithful to share willingly and cheerfully the gifts that God has bestowed on them including sharing these gifts for God’s work in His Church.

This Resource II contains some tried and successful processes for transition from a dues system to a pledge system, sample letters, pledge cards for time, talent and treasure, and other ideas for parish stewardship ministry. These resources will be made available both in hard copy and through the diocesan website. This is a beginning effort for our Diocese.

I will share with you the contents of Resource II in a moment. But first, I want to talk about two things: 1) the dues system in our parishes; and 2) stewardship as a way of life.

The Dues System

It was Sunday and the parish council members were counting the Sunday offering in the church office as the trays were being brought in from Divine Liturgy. One faithful parishioner found his way back to the church office and politely inquired, “How much do I owe?” This parishioner was asking if he was up-to-date on his pledge, but his question reveals something about our thought process in offering our gifts to the Church.

No matter how generously we support the Church, can we ever feel that we have given in proportion to the blessings we have received? Many of our Diocesan parishes have embraced the process of stewardship, by which we offer our gifts to the church according to our blessings. Many continue to operate in a dues system. And some operate under a hybrid Stewardship-with-a-minimum system.

For many years parishes have set an amount expected from each member (the “dues” system) that seemed fair for all the faithful. Such a payment of each member’s “dues” made them members in good standing with rights and privileges. There are several problems with this “dues” system.

Is it fair to think that the elderly widow living on Social Security, the successful real estate developer, the banker, the young tradesman with a growing family, the teacher and the lawyer each have received the same material blessings and have the same ability to give?

To set a specific required dues amount places an undue burden on some, but most often it underestimates the individual’s ability to support the church.

The dues system also diminishes the joy of giving and turns it into just another bill to be paid. It’s important to give with joy from our heart. As St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “So let each one give as he intends in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

Gregory the Theologian writes, “You will never overcome God’s generosity, even if you give away all that you have…. And however much you bring to him, always more remains. Nor will you give anything that is your own; for all things flow from God.”

We often hear economists talk about the balance of payments. This concept also applies to our offering to the Church. We can never give enough to God for the blessings He has given us. We are always in a deficit position. But when we set a dues amount, whatever it may be, it implies that if we pay this amount, then we have fulfilled our obligation to the Church. “I paid my dues, now I get to vote, receive sacraments, and express my opinion on how the parish should be run.”

Some parishes attempt a sort of hybrid system of Stewardship with a minimum. This sends the contradictory message to parishioners that we trust you to give as you have been blessed, but are not willing to take that leap of faith. When we deal with minimums, we also have to realize that there is always a number of faithful who will be excluded when we have minimums and dues.

We need to be reminded that God never gives to us in minimums and our giving should never be guided by a minimum. Orthodox Christianity is not about minimums, it is about maximums. Our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ gave the maximum for us. We now carry on His ministry with maximum giving. And from a practical point of view, minimums have a way of becoming maximums.

Stewardship: A Way of Life

Stewardship is our response to God’s grace and moves us from grace to gratitude. Just as we love because God first loved us (I John 4:14), we give because God first gave to us. The question of the Psalmist “What shall I give to the Lord in return for all His benefits towards me?” (Ps 115:2), is answered in every liturgy when the priest calls us to “offer ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ our God.”

One January day, nearly 20 years ago, a young parish council president was just getting accustomed to his new duties when someone placed a stack of checks in front of him to be signed. As he quickly signed each check, his pen was suddenly stopped by the sight of a check that had been placed before him for his signature. It was the salary check for his priest – the priest who had baptized him, for whom he served as an altar boy, to whom he had gone for confession and whom he loved and respected as his spiritual father. It was one of the most humbling experiences of his life. And the amount of the check seemed ridiculously small in consideration of the effect that this priest had on the lives his parishioners.

This is the same feeling we should have when we make our stewardship offering to the Lord – humility, appreciation, thanksgiving, joy, respect, and love.

In his book on the Eucharist, Fr Alexander Schmemann explains that in the early church, the Eucharistic sacrifice was offered by all the members of the church.

Each person coming to the gathering of the Church brought with them everything they could spare for the needs of the Church. This meant for the sustenance of the clergy, widows and orphans, for helping the poor, and for all the good works of the Church. This is the Church that we as Orthodox Christians claim to be.

Stewardship is not about calculations or portions or percentages. It can’t be reduced to a number of hours of service or dollars offered. Stewardship is a way of life. As Orthodox Christians, we are called to a new way of seeing things – a new way of life. Our stewardship is obedience to the greatest commandment to “love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” We are called to bring others to commit their lives to Jesus Christ in such a way that leads to the joy of knowing Him personally and profoundly.

As Orthodox Christians, we see the world as God’s gift, as a sacrament of God’s presence and a means of communion with Him. And so we are able to offer the world back to God in thanksgiving as we say in every Divine Liturgy “We offer to You, Yours of Your own …”

Handout you are receiving contains the Table of Contents for both Resource I and Resource II of the Stewardship Commission. The highlight of Resource II is two-fold.

1) Resource II contains a case study of the prayer, process and content of the movement from a dues system to stewardship and proportional giving. Contained in that case study are the documents, letters, prayers, and analysis of the stewardship work done at Holy Ghost Church in Phoenixville.

2) Resource II also contains an entire section on stewardship of time and talent, with suggestions, forms, teachings and various approaches to moving from seeking volunteers to true stewardship of time and talent.

The Stewardship Commission is available to assist you in customizing these resources. Contact the Commission by email (fr.frederick@comcast.net), or by telephone 770-485-0504. We will do our best to accommodate your custom resource request.


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