by Msgr. Richard Albert
Good morning brothers and sisters, and thank you very much for the invitation. As the moderator said, I’m an American. I was born in 1946. I know I look much younger than that. I used to say to my congregation when I came to Jamaica I was tall, good looking, and I had hair on my head, look at what they have done to me. They have made me short, fat and bald. But it has been almost 23 happy years in the Antilles. When I first came I was the Secretary to the Episcopal Conference for Ecumenism. And then I continued in Jamaica. And for my sins I was made Regional Director of the Pontifical Mission Societies. So I have three basic responsibilities. My life is broken down into three areas:
1. My Parish- Stella Maris
2. To animate the work of the Pontifical Mission Societies throughout the region. Each diocese has a director, and through the director, I work with the bishops. The Pontifical Mission Societies are the Propagation of Faith, Holy Childhood or Missionary Childhood as it’s called now, and St. Peter the Apostle. They are the basic ones.
Every diocese in the Antilles has been supported and helped by the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. When you give on Mission Sunday, and when the children give the Holy Childhood, that is participating in the great missionary work of the Church. My task is also not only to promote those societies in the Caribbean, but then to go to Rome and defend the requests of the Bishops and to try to assist in getting funds for the development of the Church.
3. My other love is St. Patrick’s Foundation which is an intercity foundation that I started. Five (5) centres that have almost 3000 young people a day learning woodwork, sewing, tailing, welding, and computering. Each centre has a programme for unwed teenage mothers, day care and all of that.
4. And some people say:”how can you do all that.” Well I don’t do all that. I’m a great delegator and I delegate. I have a lot of wonderful people. I have two great secretaries, a great staff to take care of St. Patrick’s Foundation, so that’s how I’m able to do all of these things. I really don’t do all these things. I have a lot people who also work along with me. After 23 years in the Caribbean, it’s my first time to St. Vincent. I want to thank Bishop Robert Rivas very, very much for inviting me. And if you’re missing Fr Michael for a week in the spring hopefully it’s because he’s coming to my parish to give a Lenten Parish Mission. I’m hoping that we can start a greater exchange between ourselves and yourselves. So thank you very, very much for inviting me.
Spirituality of Stewardship
I think it’s very important first of all to start off saying what stewardship is not. Stewardship is not about finances. Stewardship is not about staring a programme. I think it’s very, very important that you understand that. I gave these two pages out and I thought that maybe between the headings you could make your own notes, so I hope it does help. In the meantime make sure you are awake. You heard the joke?
There was a priest. One of his parishioners came up to him and said, “father my dog has died.” The priest said: “what?” he said, “Yes Father, my dog has died and I would like a Mass to be said for the dog.” He said, “No I’m sorry but we don’t do that.” He said:”No I would really like a Mass to be said for the dog.” He said, “Go to the Baptist Minister maybe he will say a prayer for the dog, or go to the Methodist Minister maybe he will have a little service for the dog and a blessing.” He said; “No, no Father, I want a Mass said for my dog.” The priest got a little upset now and said, “Look we don’t do that in the Catholic Church.” The man looked a little dejected and said; “You know Father, I really feel bad about that. I was going to give $50,000 for the Mass.” And the priest said; “But man! You didn’t tell me that the dog was Catholic.”
Stewardship is not about money. Don’t think that I’ve come at Bishop Robert Rivas’ request to help you give more money. Stewardship is not about finances. It is not about money. Stewardship is not a programme. Stewardship is recommitment. Stewardship is getting re-enthused about my commitment to Jesus Christ. So Stewardship brothers and sisters is primarily a Spiritual Programme. It’s a deepening of my commitment to Jesus Christ. Where I truly see that Jesus is the beginning and the end of my life. He’s truly the Alpha and the Omega. Jesus is truly the one that I want to live for, not just on Sunday morning, not just on weekday night at prayer meeting, but seven days a week, 24 hours a day. I want to live for Christ and take seriously the scripture. There are many, many Scripture readings on Stewardship. There are more parables that relate to what it means to live for Christ, to be a stewardship of the Kingdom of God than there are about personal conversion. And so Stewardship is about giving my life totally and completely to the Lord.
a) Matthew 6: Do not store up for yourself treasures upon earth but store up treasures in heaven.
b) Timothy: Tell those who are rich in the world’s goods not to rely on uncertain a thing as wealth. Let them trust in God who provides richly with all the things we need.
c) Luke 6: But woe to you rich your consolation is now.
d) Luke 12: Avoid greed in all its forms. A man may be wealthy, but his possessions do not guarantee him life.
Continually Jesus is referring to living our lives and using our talents, our time and our treasure for Christ. And so Stewardship is not about giving. It’s about living. It’s about how you live for Christ, so that you see everything you do, and all of your time, your effort and your energy as something for the Kingdom of God. Stewardship is an attitude of gratitude. I realize I become overwhelmed by the fact that all I am and all that I have is from God. So I live this attitude of gratitude. Everything that I do stands from this attitude, that God has given me all that I have. All that I can do is from God. All the time, the talent and the treasure is from God. And so I realize and I accept the fact that God is truly the source of who I am as a sign of expression of gratitude. Now I want to live my whole life for God. I realize that all that I am, that talent that I could do, to sew, to type, to read, to do sports, the talent that I have to play an instrument, to be an accountant, to be a teacher, that’s from God, I want to use that now for the Lord. And I realize that everything around me then, everything around me, belong to God. This car is God’s. This watch is God’s. This house is God’s. Everything around me belong to him, and my desire now is to give this back to him. And so now I don’t own anything. I like to talk about my house. I like to talk about my car, my watch, my clothes, but I don’t own anything. I’m just a care-taker. I’m just someone who takes care of everything that God has given to me. And now what am I to do? I am to manage these things. I am to manage them well. I manage my time, talent and treasures. I manage my occupation and my talents that I have. These are for God, all these resources of time, talents and treasure. And so it’s a whole different way of living. Stewardship is a deepening of my commitment to Jesus Christ.
Stewardship is a process, it’s not a programme. You are not going to start a programme in your parish. You are not going to start a programme in your diocese. It stems from the individual’s commitment to Jesus Christ. And that even greater awareness that my life is to be lived for the Kingdom of God; that my life is for God, not for myself. It is not important what’s outside, but becomes important what’s valuable inside of me. This process begins then, and it is a continuous process. It is a new way of being Church. I like to talk about it as falling in love with God all over again. We get very complacent. We get very relaxed. But Stewardship is falling in love with God again, and so in a real way. It is a new way of being Church and I speak of my Church Community then as a family, as a faith community. I begin looking now and recognizing every single person in the Church community has something to give, that everyone has one gift to give.
“You know what, it’s great. We’re giving awards. Mr Jones has been opening the Church and ringing the bell for 63 years. Isn’t that just wonderful?’
No its not. It’s bad. It means that nobody else has had the opportunity. It means that Mr. Jones is controlling. It means that he’s possessing. It means that he hasn’t been able to share his gift with someone else. It mean that he hasn’t included someone else in this wonderful task of ringing the bell and opening the Church, it’s wonderful that he’s involved in Church for all these years, but he should be a lector or usher. Stewardship is about including everyone. No one is left out in a Stewardship parish or diocese. No one is left out from offering their gift or their talent, and every gift is as important as another. The lady who sweeps the church is as important as the person who proclaims the Sunday Readings. The one who opens the church is as important as the one who keeps the accounts of the parish. Everyone has something to give. Everyone has something to contribute. So we have to be very careful, especially in our little island that we don’t sort of find our little niche and then we start to control.
‘I have been in charge of the lectors for 40 years. Isn’t that wonderful?’
No it’s not. It means that something is wrong. It means that the community is dead. It means that there has been no movement, that there has been no change. It means that there is no inter-mingling of talents, time and treasure.
So, it is a whole new way of being, a whole new way of acting as Church and so it is particularly important to know that Stewardship is not about money. It’s about a way of life and its key in our development as stewards to realize that this will continue till we give our last breath to the Lord. I said that good steward is a Christ- centered person rather than a self-centred person. What is important is Christ and the Church, not if I am pastor of this or that church, or I am head of that or this programme. What is important is the good of the Church and the faithful steward seek to sacrifice, as the Church is put first, because we realize that Church is the Body of Christ in the world. So I’m a Kingdom oriented person. The kingdom of Christ becomes the center of my life. The Kingdom of Christ becomes first and foremost. It doesn’t make any difference of which Church I’m part of. It doesn’t matter which Catechetical programme I’m teaching. It doesn’t make any difference in which area I’m contributing. What’s important is that I’m contributing. What’s important is that the Church is growing. What’s important is that I’m including other people; that I’m giving people a chance; that I’m not relying on those sacred few, but that I’m always inviting new people to become members of the Church family. So if they turn me down the first time, fine. In two – three months I will come back again.
‘Mickey, consider again. Be a lector.’
‘Ms. Jones, look at it again, we really need you to assist the catechists…’
We have to allow people to offer their gifts of time, talents and treasure. When I was a seminarian every time the bishop came to the seminary I was the crosier bearer, and I was proud. I was a big man. I was sure that will happen all the time. One day I thanked the superior for it. And he said: ‘well yes, we’re glad you’re doing all that, but the main reason why we’re letting you do it is to keep you out of the choir.’ I cannot sing. If I have to sing for my supper, I would be a lot skinnier. If I had to pass Mathematics to become a priest, I would have been a truck driver back in New York. Can I beg for money? Can I fight for money? Can I go out and collect money? Absolutely. I am very good at that. But counting it? Keeping account for it? Not in a million years. You got to know your own gift and give that gift. Don’t try to be an accountant when you’re not. Don’t be on the choir when you know you can’t sing. You might be able to read, or work better with the little children, or be able to go out into the community and knock on doors and say- I know you are not going to any church, come to ours. Stewardship is about including everyone.
I love to tell the people in Stella Maris that Stella Maris is for sinners who are trying to become saints. Everyone is welcomed: the divorced, the separated, the addicted and the confused. Everyone is welcome in the church and we will try to help each other. It doesn’t matter how many times you fall. What matters is how many times you get back up. What is important is that we are there for each other, not to push them down, because we love to do that. We love to point out the others, but the challenge for is to help each other, to lift each other up, and remember that everyone falls short of the glory of God, and that all of us are on this journey together. What is Church for? Church is to be a warm, hospitable vehicle where everyone feels welcomed; where everyone feels that they are accepted for what they are, and that everyone is willing to help each other become better. This is the whole thinking behind Stewardship. So a steward is someone who comes alive for Christ. A steward is someone who is continually experiencing conversion. Every single one of us must realize that the Lord keeps, calling us, no matter how young or old we are, to holiness, to sanctity. And we mustn’t be complacent. We mustn’t feel that we made it. We’re on this journey together and the challenge is to allow this conversion experience to happen not only in my life, but to create the atmosphere in which it happens in the lives of my brothers and sisters.
Finally, on the sheet: “Stewards focus on being faithful, not successful”. We can never equate worldly success with gospel success. Gospel living is different. We evaluate things differently. We look at life differently and we are not anxious of being successful because we realize that the mystery of God’s presence in the world sometimes happens when a programme fails or when in the eyes of the world the teaching is not going as it should, when the numbers aren’t increasing. We’ve just got to remain faithful. Don’t worry about being successful. Don’t worry if you decide you want to take Stewardship as a way of life seriously. Don’t worry about being successful. Don’t worry about the numbers not increasing of the people in Church. Don’t worry about the collection not increasing. All this will happen. We don’t have to keep looking, we just have to start. Don’t try to evaluate. Just start deciding that you’re going to be more faithful to the gospel message. The gospel success will follow. It will increase in your life. And so what are some of the mechanics of Stewardship? There are several things:
1. Firstly, know your people. You got to know who your people are. Who the people you have, who makes up this family. You got to have a parish directory or a census. If there are 50 people in your parish you got to know their names, their birthdays, where they work and how many children they have. You got to know who is in your parish. You got to know who family and how many members of the family.
2. Secondly, Communication. I realize that many of us can’t have a parish weekly bulletin, but there can be ways in which we can communicate to our people, ways in which we can offer them information. People have to know what you want them to know. You got to communicate to them whether it is making up a bulletin board each week and putting up 4 or 5 key messages on the parish door (e.g. we need two or more lectors or three more ushers). Open up opportunities for people to participate. Open up ministries for people to participate.
3. Thirdly, Hospitality. We Catholics can be terribly cold sometimes. Ushers are more interested in getting people seated than meeting them. Ushers are more interested in giving people pieces of papers then welcoming them to the Church. Ushers are primarily a ministry of welcoming. Parishioners should be continually invited to welcome new people to Church. What kind of gathering you can have afterwards depends on your particular circumstances. Even a cool drink after Mass makes a warm hospitality. If a person visits your Church for the first time, create a little brochure: Welcome to our Church, these are the ministries if you would like to serve. It changes the whole attitude. People feel welcome.
What is the process in the way of a year?
1. January – You can give out the Scriptures in Stewardship. Ask the people to reflect on them. Next thing you give out some information on what it means about sacrificial giving. Sacrificial giving is not about money. Don’t be frightened. It is about giving of time, talent and treasure.
Third week you give out a time and talent card and you list the various ministries that are available at your particular parish and people will check off the ministries they want to be involved in it could be opening the church, cleaning the church, etc. Create opportunities in which people can say “I can do that”. In some parishes one person opens the church, cleans the church, takes up the collection, counts the money, rings the bell, and provides the flowers….. It’s a one man Church. It’s a whole new way of being Church, and some people will feel they are going to step down and let others take over.
2. February – March: Have a ministry fair. Let every ministry put a table. E.g. the SVP can put up a table with a bag of rice and some photos of them visiting a family. Have a membership sheet available for people to sign up. So with every ministry down the line, like Lectors, Ladies of Charity etc. And every year you can have a ministry fair.
3. May – June: Give a status report. Make sure you make a budget. You have to know how much your community will cost to operate each month and let the people know. Youths. Pay great attention to the Youths. You’re not only building the future, you’re creating the present when you work with youths. Always thank the people, not necessarily by name. Let the people know that they are appreciated and thanked for the things that they can do. Don’t be afraid to change. Don’t be afraid to adapt. Don’t be afraid when someone else wants to come and be a part of your programme. That’s what it means to be Church. That’s what a Stewardship parish is all about. Remember that your programme is based on your commitment, the extent to which your committed people are going to be committed to what you are doing. Let me give you two brief examples:
I talked to you about St. Patrick’s Foundation. 3000 kids a day are being taken care of by St. Patrick’s Foundation in 5 centres. You know how St. Patrick’s Foundation started? It was an intercity parish; our collection was about US$40 a week. I gathered the people around me, tremendous hunger. 5000 people living in the garbage dump that was in my parish. Tons of people coming to me every single day for something: house got burnt down, need money for food, need money for school, etc. And I gathered the few parishioners, old people and few teenagers, and asked them what can we do about it? They said they are poor and have no money. But there is too much hunger and maybe we should set up a soup kitchen. And they just got excited and started the Soup kitchen, elderly and retired people. And that’s how St. Patrick’s Foundation started. After they have started the Soup kitchen for 3- 4 days a week they said now we got to do something for the teenagers. They started to gather, they did not have any skills, they did not know what to do. So one old lady said she knows how to sew. She can beg for some sewing machines and teach these young girls to sew. They started with 8 girls and 30 people in the Soup kitchen, now there are 3000 young people learning skills. And it all started with a few old retired people who said they were going to do something; that they were going to give their time, talent and treasure. They had no money, but they had time. And St. Patrick’s Foundation exists today. It can happen anywhere and everywhere. The sky is the limit.
I was transferred to Stella Maris 2 years ago. Stella Maris is a Church of doctors and lawyers, 230 people coming to Church on a Sunday. About $400 being collected a week. By this time I was a big man in Stewardship and I spoke to the people about Stewardship. The doors were locked from Sunday and so you will not see them until next Sunday. I started talking to them about Stewardship of time, talent and treasure. Today exist the Stella Maris Foundation. It is the inter-city foundation for the area. We’ve hired a Protestant minister to be the executive director. We have now over a thousand people on a Sunday and the collection now is US$4000 a week. The archbishop asks for a quarter of a million Jamaican dollars each year for his annual charity and development campaign. Stella Maris gives him almost half a million dollars.
Every Friday morning 15 parishioners go out to the district prison and minister to the prisoners. We have a prison ministry. Every Sunday morning about 130 old people come for outreach. We have a little meal with them and then give them a bag of food that will serve them for two weeks. We did a ministry fair and the SVP had only 6 old people. Now they have about 18, and the ones that were added were all young in their 20’s. I can go down every single ministry at Stella Maris, and it’s not me. I preached the message and they made it happen. You can do the same in your parish and watch it happen in your parish. People are anxious to get involved. People would love to contribute, but it’s the attitude that we have in welcoming that is important.
The biggest problem we have now at Stella Maris is parking. We cannot take in the amount of vehicles that want to come. They only thing we want to do right now is to tithe our collection. Say to the archbishop, take this amount of money every month and you give it to any poor parish of religious community you think needs it. They’ve come to that in 2 years.
Stewardship will affect every aspect of the parish or the diocese: catechists, liturgy, etc. everything would get better. More people would get involved. You just let the people get involved.
In finance, it’s good we have our brothers and sisters in Duluth assisting us. But we don’t need charity. We need solidarity. We need people who want to help us be self-reliant; people who would help us develop ourselves. And so it is wonderful that we get a lot of help from our brothers and sisters in the States, but the help that comes has to help us be who we should be. So Stewardship, brothers and sisters, is a tremendous step. It’s a tremendous moment of growth in a local Church. Where we are now need to stand on our own. Where we now realize that we need so many people for a certain ministry, and we need so much money to operate, and we got to take the responsibility. Stewardship is taking responsibility for our Christian life. I hope these thoughts and ideas will help you in your Stewardship journey as individuals, families and as a Church.