Recently 65 “intentional disciples” from the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois traveled to the Spiritual Life Center in Wichita, Kan., for a three-day conference/mini retreat on “Discipleship as a Way of Life.”
Our experience was truly amazing. Some of the Wichita diocese’s best and most committed “disciples” came to speak to us on stewardship and discipleship. Most of all we witnessed by their very presence how to live “Discipleship as a Way of Life.” You could see very clearly how the four pillars of hospitality, prayer, formation and service have become this way of life for these evangelizing disciples. It was great to see and encounter their witness of what it means to live as one of Christ’s disciples.
One of the speakers wrote me a note that said: “Father Chuck, I just wanted to tell you how inspired I am by your delegation’s faith and witness. I was moved by seeing how joyful everyone was.”
The Holy Spirit was truly alive and well at our gathering. For the next two issues of Catholic Times, I have asked guest columnists to share their experiences of attending this wonderful conference: In this issue, we hear from Tim and Lynn Connelly of St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Chatham.
— Father Chuck Edwards
In 1968, Father Tom McGread, an Irish missionary priest, was appointed pastor at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Wichita, Kan. It was noted that this parish was considered a “priests’ graveyard” and was the perfect example of a dysfunctional parish. However, there he brought into being his vision of stewardship as a way of life. That parish, the Diocese of Wichita and countless other parishes around the United States have never been the same; all because of this holy priest.
After almost 40 years, how does discipleship and stewardship manifest itself in Wichita? The deep commitment to discipleship is apparent everywhere. It could be the 300 people who attend daily Mass at a local parish, or the countless volunteers that help prepare and serve over 2,000 meals nightly at the Lord’s Diner 365 days a year. You witness it in the 324 committed believers participating in perpetual adoration at a parish each week and the children of the parishes attending Catholic schools without tuition.
We recently traveled to Wichita in company with Sister Judith Pfile, OP, pastoral associate at St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Chatham, as part of our diocese’s core committee for discipleship and stewardship. The purpose of our trip was to hear firsthand from the clergy and laity the blessings and challenges of the stewardship way of life. But what is Christian stewardship? If we in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois are to become a stewardship diocese, we needed to understand clearly what is meant by this term.
Their answer was very clear and is at the heart of the consistent message we received: “Stewardship is the grateful response of a Christian disciple who recognizes and receives God’s gifts and shares these gifts in love of God and neighbor.”
In stewardship spirituality, we disciples fulfill our obligation of being thankful to God by returning to him what he has given to us: our time, talent and treasure. All that we have is a gift. Once we realize that everything that has been given to us is a gift from God, then we become stewards in his service.
As it was emphasized to us over and over, stewardship is not just about money. Everyone should be provided the opportunity to share their time and talents to serve their parish and their community. This commitment is centered on the four pillars of stewardship: hospitality, prayer, formation and service.
The Springfield diocese is currently holding a synod to determine the direction of the diocese for years to come. The vision of the synod is that we embrace a way of life that is rooted in discipleship and stewardship. The question after witnessing stewardship in action in Wichita is: How do we get there from here?
Our faith is about relationships. It is obvious from our trip to Wichita that there is a consistent theme that stewardship flows from discipleship. We must be focused on forming intentional disciples who have developed their relationship with Jesus Christ. We can nurture and develop discipleship through the use of the pillars of prayer and formation.
We need to recover our identity as diocese and parish family to work together to achieve this goal. We are all members of the Body of Christ. Our message needs to be clear and consistent throughout the diocese: Make disciples and live as good stewards of the gifts that God has given us.
Be welcoming! If we are living a joyful life as Christian disciples, let it show. One of the reasons people don’t attend Sunday Mass is that they don’t feel welcomed. Let’s work on taking hospitality to the next level.
On a more practical note, it is important to discover the real needs of your parish community. The only way that you can serve the members of your parish and surrounding community is if you know what they need. This is accomplished in Wichita by listening sessions, surveys, one-on-one conversations and feedback by ministry leaders in the parish.
Link your ministries to the four pillars of stewardship. Do you have activities in your parish to support each pillar? If not, consider developing new ministries to serve these needs. New ministries require additional volunteers. Communicate to everyone what your current and future ministries do. Organize a ministry fair to provide the opportunity for all to serve.
There is so much more that we could say. In closing, their message is Jesus. It is about working together to make disciples for Jesus, to be good stewards of the gifts that he has given us and to be his hands and feet to our fellow parishioners, neighbors and the communities in which we live.
The Diocese of Springfield was founded in 1853. For over 150 years, devoted clergy and laity have worked tirelessly to build up the church and have laid a strong foundation of faith for us. Change cannot happen overnight. Together we can achieve the vision of everyone embracing a way of life that is rooted in discipleship and stewardship. It’s time to take the first step.