Financial Stewardship: One Parish’s Experience
By Walter Grivna
Stewardship, as defined in the Scriptures, is the proper management of the various gifts bestowed upon us by God. All that we have is given to us by the Lord, and it is our sacred duty to utilize what we haveour time, our talent, our resources, our very livesfor what St. Paul calls the “building up of the Body of Christ.”
From Theology to Theory
Understanding the scriptural basis of stewardship is an easy task. Developing the means of activating it on a parish level poses a deeper challenge, especially in the case of my own parish.
As one of the oldest parishes in the country, St. Mary’s Cathedral, Minneapolis, numbers nearly 2,000 adults and children. Its history is unique in many respects. The first Orthodox Theological Seminary in America was at one time intimately connected with the parish, and has affected the thought of the local faithful for many years. Also the sociological profile of the parish, which spans at least four separate, distinct, and unrelated immigrations between the late 1860’s and the Second World War, is unique. A substantial number of conversions to the Orthodox faith have added a cosmopolitan flavor to the parish.
Due to the sociological background of the parish, as well as its size, change was often slow. By the late 1960’s, the diverse groups had blended into a fairly homogeneous group spanning four or five generations. New attitudes gradually began to emerge, and the seeds for serious investigation of a “new” concept such as stewardship were being planted.
Quite providentially, in 1974 the Cathedral was invited to participate in a program entitled “Viable Futures for Congregations.” A total of 40 Orthodox, Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish congregations were represented by some 160 individuals. The program, which was sponsored and funded by Minneapolis’ Dayton Foundation, involved two years of seminars, workshops, lectures, and soul-searching. Every facet of Church growthoutreach, needs assessment, budgeting, forecasting, pastoral problems, evaluation methods, and so onwas studied in detail.
As chairman of our parish’s committee of five, I was fortunate to be involved in most of the programs offered. Our committee regularly reported what we had learned and discovered to our fellow parishioners through the weekly and monthly bulletins, coffee hours, informal gatherings, and so on. Suffice it to say, we learned a lot about our parish and derived many positive benefits from the study in every area. For the first time as a group we were exposed to the concept of stewardship, as well as to the more practical areas of pledging and fair-share giving. The theology found in the Scriptures had meshed with the practical theory provided through the Viable Futures program.
From Theory to Practice
Armed with volumes of notes and hints, we were faced with the task of turning our theoretical knowledge into a viable, workable program of stewardship. This was the greatest task of all. In a parish which took 12 years to adopt the use of envelopes and, given the number of people who had to be educated, we knew it would take time to realize our goal of implementing a solid program of financial stewardship.
We subsequently spent many hours introducing basic concepts. In November 1977, a three-week program utilizing the stewardship packet published by the Orthodox Church in America was presented to interested parishioners during coffee hour. Sermons, articles, more bulletin announcements, and discussions followed. Little by little, we found people using such words as “pledge,” “stewardship,” and “responsibility” as a normal part of their “churchly” vocabulary.
Shortly thereafter, we established a budget, even though we understood that it would not always be possible to follow it to the letter. Our normal operating expenses have always been quite demanding, and unforeseen expenses were quite common, especially for repairs to the church building, parish center, rectories, and other parish properties.
Early in 1978, we discovered that we needed about $30,000.00 to re-roof our parish center and make substantial repairs to the church dome. Since this amount was not budgeted and we did not want to institute special assessments, we decided to try a pledge drive. After discussing this thoroughly with the parish council, I was asked to make a brief presentation during the coffee hour, citing the need for additional finances. Pledge forms were made available, and it was explained that we were hoping for an average of $30.00 per adult parishioner, assuming that approximately 1,000 parishioners would participate. In a parish which had traditionally levied assessments to meet extraordinary expenses, the concept of an “average, free-will pledge” was new indeed, as was the fact that people were being encouraged to pledge what they honestly felt they could afford. The $30.00 figure was to be a guideline and an average by which each parishioner could judge his or her personal commitment. It was further explained that no list of donations would be published. In general, this project was a real test, not only of what we had learned, but of what we had shared and taught as well.
It was most gratifying to discover that, within 90 days, we had surpassed our initial goal of $30,000.00 by over $12,000.00! Our total receipts from our initial pledge drive netted $42,000.00, with approximately 70% of our members participating. Our first attempt at implementing a financial project based upon the concept of Christian stewardship really worked!
From Extraordinary to Ordinary
The task of instituting a stewardship program for ordinary expenses was next. We formed a stewardship committee in 1981, but realized we needed additional education. Our deanery embarked on a program of education, both at deanery assemblies and a series of deanery-wide workshops, which I was also fortunate to be intimately involved in.
These workshops presented a mature understanding of the theology and theory of stewardship, and explored practical aspects in detail. Sample budgets, pledge cards, and educational literature were reviewed, and, through a generous donation, 2,000 copies of a booklet outlining the method and means of stewardship, entitled “Living God’s Way,” were printed and distributed throughout the deanery free of charge.
At the end of 1981, our parish decided to renovate the interior of the church building, a project which some felt was poorly timed, considering the deepening decline in the economy. But at our annual parish meeting in February of 1982, the project was overwhelmingly approved and we initiated another pledge drive. The estimated cost for the renovation was $130,000.00 and, once again, we surpassed our goal, realizing over $150,000.00 during a two-month period.
It was clear that enthusiasm in the parish was high, and shortly thereafter our stewardship committee reorganized itself and settled down to the task of instituting a method of stewardship for regular giving. By November of 1982, financial pledge cards, as well as time-and-talent cards were distributed to all parishioners for the support of the parish’s regular expenses for 1983. The response surpassed our expectations. What was initiated in 1974 had matured and taken on a new meaning. Our immediate future plans call for continued stewardship education through personal contact, a formidable task in a parish the size of St. Mary’s.
The Method and the Message
While the means by which the parishioners of the Minneapolis Cathedral arrived at an awareness of stewardshipa local corporation’s program coupled with the work of our National Churchwere unique, a number of important points may be applied to any parish situation:
EDUCATION AND THE FREE FLOW OF INFORMATION ARE THE KEYS IN
MAKING FINANCIAL STEWARDSHIP “HAPPEN.” Not only should the faithful understand the basic concept of stewardship as defined in the Scriptures, but a solid knowledge of turning these concepts into a workable program is important.
A DESIRE AND COMMITMENT TO THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH IS ESSENTIAL. The faithful must be made aware of the fact that everyone is responsible for the proper management of God’s gifts, especially as they involve the ongoing life of the Church. Stewardship can only work if people want it to work and commit themselves to it.
PATIENCE IS A MUST. Initiating a financial stewardship program involves the changing of attitudes, many of which have been deeply ingrained over the years. Patience and concern are essentials.
BE FLEXIBLE. What works in one parish may not work in another. No two parishes are alike, yet the basics of responsible Christian giving are the same, regardless of the situation.
NEVER BE AFRAID OF FAILURE. If something doesn’t work the first time around, it should be re-evaluated and tried again. Maybe the timing was wrong, or the method of presentation, or your initial goals were not accurately assessed. Whatever the situation, don’t ever give up.
In conclusion, the call to financial stewardship, as well as the proper management of our time and talents, is the responsibility of everyone. With proper guidance, education, and cooperation, as we’ve discovered, it can become a reality for every parish within the Orthodox Church in America.