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Catholic Vancouver Jul 10, 2017

Make stewardship a way of life, conference told 

By Agnieszka Krawczynski

Speaker Father Darrin Gurr chats with participant Joseph Sinasac after leading a session at the Western Canadian Catholic Stewardship Conference June 10. (Agnieszka Krawczynski / The B.C. Catholic)

RICHMOND—Archbishop J. Michael Miller says one of the Church’s most powerful revival tools is a word that isn’t very popular in Catholic circles: stewardship.

“Stewardship is a great force, perhaps even the greatest force, for the renewal and rejuvenation of Catholic life,” the Archbishop told the Western Canadian Catholic Stewardship Conference in Richmond.

The conference, held in Richmond June 9-11, drew 130 people from Western Canada and the U.S. to discuss ways to use such a force.

The Archbishop admitted, “I am a convert to the spirituality and practice of stewardship,” which can enrich the spiritual life of parishioners and “enable the doors of the vast storehouse of gifts and charisms to be flung open and offered for the building up of the Church and community.”

Stewardship also builds “stronger, holier, and more collaborative parishes,” he said.

So why do so few Catholics talk about it? Breakout session speaker Father Darrin Gurr said it’s due to a misunderstanding of the word.

“Most people spell stewardship with a dollar sign. There’s a great apprehension to embrace it, even among priests, because it continues to somehow have that association with being about money,” said the parish priest from Winnipeg.

It involves everything ... It is a spirituality for living.
— Father Darrin Gurr

“It does involve money. It involves everything. But it certainly isn’t about money. It is a spirituality for living.”

This spirituality is built on three pillars: gratitude, generosity, and trust. “It is in gratitude that we come to discover so much of what God is about, what others are about, and what we’re about.” Being grateful leads people to give back to the Church and their communities, which, in turn, can boost parish engagement.

Keynote speaker Brett Powell told participants the starting point for stewardship is a strong, personal relationship with God.

“There is a big difference between … giving intellectual ascent to the doctrines of the faith and having a personal encounter with Jesus Christ,” he said.

People in Capernaum and Nazareth didn’t recognize Jesus as the Messiah because they were expecting a political leader, not “the express image of the invisible God,” he said. Wrong preconceptions “prevent us from growing intimacy with God.”

One way to improve relationships with God, according to breakout session speaker Ron Huntley, is to promote the Alpha evangelization program.

“It is a disciple-making machine,” he said of Alpha, an interactive series of videos and discussions designed to be held in a social atmosphere over a meal, with questions about God, life, death, and salvation.

Ron Huntley speaks at the conference. (Ronald Siy / Special to The B.C. Catholic)

“I love the Mass. I love the Eucharist and the sacraments and being Catholic, but a lot of people don’t, and so I need to find other tools to help them fall in love with Jesus. I believe once you fall in love with Jesus, you fall in love with his Church.”

Huntley, director of pastoral ministries at St. Benedict Parish in Halifax, said once people have experienced Alpha they are urged to become leaders or facilitators of Alpha events and eventually start their own discipleship groups.

Changed lives are the fruit of a church that’s healthy. — Ron Huntley

“Changed lives are the fruit of a church that’s healthy.”

Steve Homiack and about 20 others travelled from Seattle to attend the conference.

“One of the key fundamentals we’re trying to do in the Archdiocese of Seattle is drive home that sense of gratitude,” he said, with Archbishop Peter Sartain summing up stewardship as: “‘Everything we have, everything we are, is a gift from God.’ That is so true! When people can realize that, that really drives the message of stewardship home.”