On Friday, September 16, Kevin Gurney and I set off from Engadine to drive to Ballarat for the Stewardship Institute. This ‘institute’ is a conference that sets out the principles behind ‘Stewardship’. Basically, it is a method of resource management for parishes. ‘Resource’ is a very wide term in this context as it ranges from overall management down to the micromanagement of altar servers, lawn-mowing rosters and whatever is part of the local parish community.
It is based on the biblical principle of ‘stewardship’ which refers to the acknowledgement that every single person in a Christian community has a valuable part to play in ensuring that the parish ‘machine’ operates well.
It consists in helping people to identify their gifts and talents and working out how and where they can fit in. Its overall aim is to create a real sense of community and family in a parish, where everyone feels valued, which, it is hoped engenders a feeling of gratitude in them so that they of their own accord feel moved to include themselves in the active running and growth of the parish community.
What was especially fascinating to hear was the personal faith journey of the couple who are behind the development of this project. Ed and April Laughlin, now an elderly couple, from The US, travel around the world telling the story of how they came to be what they call ‘intentional’ disciples.
They started out as an ordinary couple who through a life-changing experience, came to feel very much part of their local parish community. Because of the power of this experience they came to feel that they wanted to live ‘intentionally’ as disciples – that is to embrace Jesus’ call to discipleship. They initially lived it in their family and from there it spread like wildfire.
Through their experience they developed their ‘stewardship’ spirituality, not realizing until they looked into it further that they were in fact putting into practice time-honoured Christian principles. To their joy and delight, they discovered that living out their experience of gratitude was putting into practice what the Church has always been urging people to do.
It was almost like: if you depth your own experience of being a disciple within the confines of the Church that you ‘can’t help but’ start to live out a way of life that is in complete agreement with biblical and ecclesiastical guidelines.
Both Kev and I were convinced that so much of this is already happening here at Engadine and Kev especially felt that it was very much to do with the Salesian spirituality of Don Bosco: a home that welcomes, a parish that evangelises, a school that prepares for life and a playground where friends meet and enjoy each others’ presence.
I came away wondering whether the parish as a whole should in fact adopt the Stewardship model as a way of fine-tuning what we already have here. The image in my mind is of buying software that has been designed to pull together a whole lot of systems that have already been set in place, thereby ensuring that the overall system becomes much more effective and productive.
In other words, I wonder whether if we adopted this model that what we continue to achieve at Engadine might not move forward in leaps and bounds, achieving so much more of what we already do so well.
Overall, at the conference there were about 30 people. As expected, most of them were from Ballarat diocese, although there were Kev and myself and even a lady from Brisbane. There was a group of people from Sale diocese in the East of Victoria. Ed and April were of course there from the US.
A key figure was the bishop of Ballarat – Peter Connors. Apart from a prior engagement, he was there the whole weekend. He celebrated Mass for us on Saturday evening. He is a most engaging character, a very pastoral man who showed himself committed to introducing Stewardship into the Ballarat diocese.
The main contingent were lay people. Some are in parishes that are lay run. In fact, the Stewardship model seems to lend itself very well to these sorts of situations. This stems, in my opinion, from the fact that lay people are more open to developing a spirituality in a parish from the bottom up. Most of them are not experts in anything in particular except in their commitment and love for the Church.
There were several ‘process’ groups during the conference. These were basically discussion groups, but I like the name because it hints at the fact that each one of us needs to go away and process the information in combination with the situations each one of us is in. This applies at a personal level and also at a community level.
It became especially clear that unless one processes the Stewardship spirituality at a personal level that its being put into practice at a community level will be less for it. Unless each one of us becomes ‘intentional’ disciples, we will find it difficult to implement such an approach in our community.
The overall importance of a prayer life was brought through in several instances. Ed and April adverted to this several times and the story of their involvement in Stewardship could not be what it was without them having been immersed in a prayerful community. It was the impetus for their initial ‘conversion’ to Stewardship and remained/s the mainstay of their ongoing involvement in it.
They [Ed and April] suggested a certain administrative model, but they also made it clear that the administrative model needs to grow out of the actual situation of the parish. However, in the midst of this, what remained crucial was the fact of communication from top-down and bottom-up. In their parish for example, every group in the parish gets a copy of the minutes of the Pastoral Council [which in their case is the Stewardship Council].
I feel that we could easily adopt a Salesian version of this model and at the same time make a ‘larger’ move to see what we are doing here at Engadine as a Salesian Project which needs to be co-ordinated rather than moving ahead as separate entities all devoted to the same ideal. I would see an overall Salesian Pastoral Council with representatives from the parish, the schools, the Dunlea Centre, Youth Matters, the Youth Centre, the Finance Committee [?]. It could meet quarterly and develop an overall plan.
Anyway, such are my thoughts.
Reflections on Stewardship Conference at Ballarat
I have put a couple of reflections on the Ballarat Stewardship Institute held in September.