Sometimes it seems like our concern about the environment sprung up after Al Gore went all over the country showing his famous slide show about global warming. For Catholics, however, our care for creation reaches all the way back to the time of Genesis. At the very moment of creation, God made us stewards of it. Even so, our stewardship of the environment is not always evident in our parishes. In “Introduce your parish to eco-stewardship,” Dan Misleh writes:
Care for creation is one of the seven principles of Catholic social teaching as outlined by the U.S. bishops. And although every parish acts on at least some of these principles in various ways—from pro-life month and serving the downtown soup kitchen to the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and Catholic Relief Services collections—too few parishes have “concrete programs and initiatives” that provide vehicles to care of creation.
Dan goes on to offer four practical steps any parish can take to become more environmentally conscious. Take a look at his terrific ideas here.
During this time of year, we will see a lot of visitors to our parishes. Unfortunately, in some places, the visitors go unnoticed. I sometimes compare this to the experience of a car dealership. Automobile companies spend millions of dollars to generate the kind of walk-on traffic into their showrooms that Catholic parishes get for free. Imagine the uproar from the corporate office if they found out that a dealership was ignoring people who walked into the showroom on the weekend.
Every stranger who walks into our churches is a potential catechumen, candidate, parishioner, parish council member, or even pastor. What are we doing to welcome them?
Msgr. Vincent Rush has some excellent ideas. He and his parishioners work hard at being a welcoming, inviting community. One suggestion in particular caught my eye:
Take a walk through your parish system, physically and imaginatively: What do people have to do to register? How much of that is for the convenience of the office staff instead of for the benefit of the new member? How useful is the bulletin (really)? What information or help do people most frequently look for, and how easy is it for them to find it?
I was at a diocesan ministry conference a couple of weeks ago, sitting in the break room. I overheard someone ask one of the speakers what her presentation was about.
“Stewardship,” she answered.
“Ah, you’re going to tell them how to get parishioners to give more money,” her table-mate replied.
The woman went on to give a brief summary of her presentation, the point of which was, stewardship is not about money. It is about gifts.
Today’s Parish author Bobby Vidal made a similar point in a recent issue. He has developed a very interesting process for helping parishioners discover their gifts.
Discerning charisms helps us to understand our personal significance within the mission of the church. By assisting others in discerning charisms, we are doing more than helping parishioners learn and understand their talents and skills. We are supporting them in developing and uncovering their apostolic identity in Christ.
Bobby developed his process because he kept encountering parishioners who were doing extraordinary things in their lives, but did not believe they had any special talent for contributing to the mission of the church. You have to read his opening story about a woman he interviewed who “was adamant that she was not gifted.” As the interview went on, he eventually discovered the woman spent 40-60 hours a week serving the homeless in her neighborhood. And more!
Last week, I wrote a post urging parishes to focus on abundance. Today, one of the bloggers I read a lot, Seth Godin, urges us to seek scarcity. However, I think we are really saying the same thing. We want to say to the world that we have—in abundance!—the very things people find to be scarce in the world.
What are some of the things we have in abundance? Hope, for one. Authentic community and friendship. Salvation. Forgiveness and reconciliation. Unconditional love. All of these things are scarce in the world but overflowing in our faith communities.
What would you add to the list? What are you providing, in abundance, that meets a scarcity demand?
In his chapter, “Developing Stewards in a Parish Setting” (The Parish Management Handbook), Charles E. Zech says one key to cultivating Christian stewardship is to focus on an attitude of abundance, not of scarcity.
Assuming a world of scarcity does dreadful things to people. They become afraid. They focus on their own survival. They become selfish, competitive, and protective of their own narrowly defined interests. These practices destroy community. The biblical traditions pose a radically different assumption: if we seek first the reign of God, all that we truly need will be provided. There was enough manna in the desert. A few loaves and fishes were enough for Jesus to feed the multitudes. By affirming the whole of life as a gracious gift and a sacred trust Christians assume abundance and exercise the gift of giving.
I believe this in spirit, but the flesh is weak, as St. Paul says. I haven’t cut back on my contributions to my parish during these difficult economic times, but I have deferred gifts to a few other charities I usually support until my finances are more certain. I’m wondering how you are doing with envisioning a world of abundance in the face of daily reports of high unemployment, a weak housing market, and a ballooning national deficit. Are you able to focus on living in a world of abundance? And how do you help your parishioners to overcome the dreadful things that assuming a world of scarcity does to us?
Disclosure: I am an editor with Bayard, Inc., the company that published this book. Regardless, I only recommend books that I have personally read and believe will be good for my readers.
Seth Godin recently suggested that we stop reaching out to strangers. He is writing to business folks, but he idea can be applied to ministry as well. Godin points out that businesses go after new business by spending money and time reaching out to strangers. It seems logical that to grow a business (or a parish) you would want to find new people. But there is a problem with that, as you have already discovered in your communities. Strangers are difficult to convert.
Godin suggests instead that businesses create a hierarchy of potential “converts” or what he calls “true fans” of your business. “Let’s say a marketer has $10,000 to spend,” he writes. “Is it better to acquire new customers at $2,000 each (advertising is expensive) or spend $10 a customer to absolutely delight and overwhelm 1,000 true fans?”
I drew up a similar hierarchy for parishes. Instead of “true fans,” I’m calling the ultimate parishioner a “steward”—someone completely committed to and supportive of the mission of the parish. I don’t think we want to spend all of our “marketing” capital on the stewards, but are we doing enough to “delight and overwhelm” them?
Is it better to spend most of our time, money, and volunteer resources reaching out to strangers? Or is it better to refocus some of those efforts toward embracing and supporting the stewards of the parish, perhaps encouraging them to spread the word about your community to their friends?
For the last 40 years, countries around the world have been celebrating Earth Day each April 22. This year, the Catholic Church has made a more intentional commitment to advocating care for the Earth. Pope Benedict XVI has been particularly vocal in calling for Catholics to responsible stewardship of the Earth and its resources:
In nature the believer recognizes the wonderful result of God’s creative activity…The environment is God’s gift to everyone, and in our use of it we have a responsibility toward the poor, toward future generations, and toward humanity as a whole. (Caritatis in Veritate)
So has the Church become a bunch of "tree-huggers"? Isn’t all this Earth Day stuff a bit too new-agey? Here are three reasons why I think loving and caring for the Earth is a very Catholic discipline and duty:
1. Care for the Earth is care for the Eucharist
God is the Creator "who made heaven and earth" (Psalm 121). The first thing God did was create the world and everything around us. God, in a sense, was the first tree-hugger, for he called all he had made very good. The Earth and all the creatures upon it, under it, and over it are God’s gifts to us. Our response to all God’s gifts is always "thank you"–efharisto–Eucharist.
In the Eucharist, we take the gifts God has given us–grain, grapes, sunlight, fields, knowledge, patience, wisdom, skill–and with the work of our hands make them into bread and wine for the hungry and help and nourishment for the poor. And through the work of the Spirit, these earthly things are transformed into holy gifts for holy people. Love for the Eucharist, then, must be rooted in care for the natural, earthly things we bring to the Eucharistic table. Love for the Body and Blood of Christ must be made authentic by care for everything God has given to us.
2. Care for the Earth is an act of gracious hospitality
God didn’t just make "stuff" so we could have stuff. God made the Earth into a home where human beings and all creatures could thrive. This is essentially an act of gracious hospitality. God made not only room for us; God made a home. So too in our homes. We don’t just surround ourselves with generic, disposable products, thrown away when they are no longer useful. We savor and cherish the things that have meaning for us, the things that are authentic and beautiful. And we honor them even when they have exhausted their practical value–candles burn down; real flowers die–for it is their sacrifice that is grace-filled. We don’t simply get supplies or commodities for our houses. We create a hospitable, comfortable, beautiful, clean, safe place where those we love and those we meet can rest, be renewed, and reach their full potential, even when society says they are "used up."
In the home of the Church, we do the same. We prepare places of worship that aren’t generic; they bear the hand-stamp of the artist, the beauty of authenticity, and the sacrifice of the community. We don’t just decorate a church; we bathe it with holy water, we anoint it with Chrism, we light it with the light of Christ and clothe its altar in baptismal white, and then we feed it with the Body and Blood of Christ. Hospitality is not just about greeting people. It’s about making people feel "at home." Care for the earth isn’t just about having resources or making things nice. It’s about helping everyone thrive and be at home on this planet we share.
3. Care for the Earth unites us to our past and our future
Our entire Christian faith is never just about "now." It’s not about immediate gratification or careless disposal of things no longer useful. We remember the past (anamnesis) in such a way that what we remember God doing for our ancestors is what we understand God to be doing for us now. We remember the future, for what God has done is a foretaste (prolepsis) of what is already happening now around Christ’s heavenly throne with all the saints and angels. And we recall all this now through the grace of the Spirit (epiclesis) whenever we gather in Christ’s name to remember, give thanks, and wait in joyful hope for his coming again.
Care for the earth is a work that roots us to our past. When we begin to connect to a place and the things of nature in that place–the trees, the soil, the water, the air–we are remembering and connecting with our ancestors and the people who touched those trees, walked that land, drank that water, and breathed the same air. Through our care for that place, we become part of that lineage–that communion–of people who were part of that land. And in so doing, we understand more who we are today.
Care for the earth is also a statement of hope in and for the future. We plant seeds for trees we will never see to full stature. We remove trash and waste from water that will flow to other shores. We limit what we expend so that our children’s children will have clean air to breathe. In a way, we become like Moses who prepared a people to enter a land of milk and honey promised not to him but to his descendants.
This Earth Day, let all Christians recall God’s first gift to us. Let us give thanks that God has given all of us a home called Earth. Let us remember our roots and work for the future. With Christ’s Easter promise, let us help bring new life to our own places of the world.
The Xaverian Brothers are at a small orphanage in Hinche, Haiti, undamaged but overwhelmed with an influx of children from Port au Prince. You can give on-line at xaverianbrothers.org, and read more at maisonfortune.org The bank has reopened there and the money will go right to work – the children in our parish have adopted this project, and many parishioners have made matching gifts.
Yesterday, a pastor asked me what options were available for accepting donations online. I didn’t have an answer for him, but I did make a pastoral visit to the Google shrine. I found this Squidoo post, but not much else. What is your experience? Do you accept online donations? Take the poll, and click on the comments link to share your experience.