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The Sacrament of Stewardship: Are We Engaging in It?
by Pearl Homiak

"It has been my experience that we have great untapped reservoirs in our Church" including time, talent, and treasure, but "we aren't good at developing these." So stated Fr. Anthony Scott of Stewardship Advocates, which works to "advance the understanding and practice of stewardship in the Orthodox Church." Fr. Anthony presented a seminar at SS. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Palos Hills, Illinois, on Saturday, February 26, 2000. The Orthodox Christian Clergy Association of Greater Chicago sponsored it.

Fr. Anthony's seminar reviewed Church teachings on stewardship, analyzed parish stewardship practices, surveyed the theory and methodology of professional development (i.e., annual stewardship campaigns and major gifts), and examined the basics of strategic planning in the parish environment.

Fr. Anthony began by identifying Adam and Eve as the Protostewards. They were given the Garden of Eden and asked to fast from the Tree of Knowledge, but they didn't. Instead, they took Eden for themselves, refused to be responsible, and forgot to offer back to God in thanksgiving some of what they had. As a result, they ended up "in toil all the days of [their lives]." Their sons, Cain and Abel, were a stewardship contrast. Cain, the farmer casually and superficially offered God the "fruits of the ground." Abel, on the other hand, offered God the "first things of his flock and their fat portions." God had regard for Abel's offering but not for Cain's. So in anger, Cain killed Abel.

The rest of the Old Testament is a record of the failure of various people to be good stewards. The New Testament shows Jesus Christ as the good steward. He offers the perfect gift-His life-resurrects Adam and Eve, and restores the sacrament of stewardship. Thus, "His stewardship becomes our stewardship, in which we participate by baptism and faith. In the Divine Liturgy Jesus offers Himself to His Father in the Holy Spirit. ('Thine own of thine own we offer unto thee…'). So stewardship is central to our faith."

Fr. Anthony defined Orthodox Christian stewardship as "the voluntary, sacrificial, and generous offering to God of time, talents, and treasure." It is the "what we 'do' after we say 'I believe…' and this is the most difficult part of the Christian life." He supported this with quotes from the Church Fathers and various liturgical texts. "The qualities of good stewardship are generosity, sacrifice, joy, freedom, humility, and consistency…All that we give to God is multiplied and comes back to us in unexpected ways." Practicing stewardship, for example, makes us more spiritual.

During the presentation, Fr. Anthony displayed a checklist to analyze parish stewardship. Those of us from St. Luke Orthodox Church were delighted to see that we met almost all of the criteria that were listed. Our operating budget is reviewed by the entire parish; proportionate, generous giving is practiced in our parish; our operating budget is pledged (no money-raising projects for this); each year every person is accorded the privilege to pledge; and line items in our budget are earmarked for mission, the needy, and non-church institutions or projects. We have an effective record-keeping system, and statements are sent regularly to parishioners; an annual stewardship campaign is undertaken each year; parish leaders set examples as good stewards; and all of our parishioners are taught the principles and practices of stewardship.

Fr. Anthony contrasted fund-raising as begging versus fundraising as stewardship. In both approaches people are asked to give, but while the former is often timid, fearful, and apologetic, the latter is decisive, confident, and descriptive. He then enlarged on this by providing statistics and diagrams that characterize how an individual's ability to give changes as life progresses. This led to "The Development Pyramid," which illustrated the various sources of giving, from contributions by friends and donors (funds the operating budget) to giving through estates (the source for endowments).

Next Fr. Anthony explained the Linkage (who does the potential donor know?)-Ability (what is known of the person's ability to give?)-Interest (what is known of the values and beliefs of the prospective donor) Principal. Several scenarios were then presented describing the hypothetical circumstances of various people to illustrate the LAI principle. This helped us to understand people's various life-styles and circumstances and how they would best respond to the specific methods of stewardship campaigns, including mailings, letter and phone solicitations, and personal solicitation of large gifts. He pointed out that because people tend to talk to their peers (millionaires-to-millionaires) peer-to-peer solicitation is the most effective way to obtain large gifts. The proportional giver, who is already practicing sacrificial giving, is the next most effective solicitor.

For a short time during his presentation, Fr. Anthony focused on the topic of major gifts given by Orthodox people to non-Orthodox places. He asked us to rate the importance to givers of 12 reasons for giving to these places. It was interesting to learn that these donors most often gave because they had high regard for the leadership of the institution, they served on the board or major gift committee, they had a sense of Christian responsibility, the fiscal situation of the institution was stable, and/or they believed in the mission of the institution. Some of these seemed obvious to us, but others were surprises.

Fr. Anthony ended his presentation with a short survey of strategic planning in the parish environment. He emphasized that it is important to "exercise a choice for a preferred future." If a parish does not do this, he pointed out; it will have a future by default and one that might not be very pleasant. Planning is important since "we don't know where we are headed." Strategic planning must be "inclusive, open, accountable, objective, ambitious, and professional." If the parish does this, the results will include "community concern, increased parishioner commitment, enhanced effectiveness, clear goals, and measurable objectives." He provided guidelines for what a strategic plan should look like, the components of an effective parish mission statement, and a strategic planning model.

Fr. Anthony's presentation on the sacrament of stewardship was direct, concise, and informative. It had a positive, relaxed, can-do flavor, i.e., if solicitations are approached sacramentally and systematically with the donors own interests kept in mind, it should be successful. As he indicated, there has been a significant economic increase in the United States over the last few years, and many more people have the opportunity to experience the joy of giving. Now is the time for our Orthodox parishes to be thinking about a capital campaign and sharing in this economic prosperity

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