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Fr. Yaw Acheampong: Stewardship builds communities of faith

By  Fr. Yaw Acheampong
  • September 20, 2020

Have you returned to church since the re-opening in June after the lockdown? How did you feel about the changes you saw?

A couple of weeks before the re-opening, a parish priest friend from another diocese called to share with me the challenges he had faced in getting enough ministers (volunteers) to serve in his parish due to the COVID-19 safety protocols for places of worship. In fact, getting parishioners who were ready to serve during pandemic was also our concern in Toronto. However, the reports from parishes around the archdiocese have indicated that the re-opening of our churches has generally gone smoothly.

As some ministers have decided that they were not ready to serve at this time, the positions that have been made necessary due to the COVID-19 safety protocols for our churches — liturgical ministers and the newly created and necessary ministry of cleaning, responsible for the cleaning and disinfection of churches before and after Mass — have been filled. The generosity of the ministers has helped the churches continue to serve the communities. This encouraging response by our parishioners can be attributed to the awakening of the spirit of stewardship in our parishes, a fitting development with the celebration of the first Stewardship Sunday on Sept. 20.

In 2018, as part of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Plan, Cardinal Thomas Collins instituted a Stewardship Pilot Project to help promote the Christian stewardship way of life in our parishes. From the spring of 2018, eight parishes, including Our Lady of Peace, participated in the project. The pilot project helped us examine the many different ways to engage parishioners to share their God-given gifts of time, talent and treasure in their parish communities. Over a one-year period, the stewardship committees of the parishes participated in monthly webinar meetings offered by a team from the Office of Formation for Discipleship at the Archdiocese of Toronto and led by Leisa Anslinger, the Director of the Center for Pastoral Vitality, Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Ohio.

The team guided us to examine and to reflect on stewardship as “an expression of discipleship, with the power to change how we understand and live out our lives.” We recognized that even though our parishes already have ministers serving in various ministries, the word “stewardship” was misunderstood and a few parishioners do everything.

So, how do we inspire our parishioners to participate in fruitful stewardship? The project has given us some insight into what are considered to be best practices. These include ideas for stewardship in liturgy, spiritual formation and social activities, practices that have helped renew the spirit of stewardship in several parishes in other dioceses.

We also learned about the effective communication methods suitable to our parishes to help with our parishioners’ understanding of stewardship. We recognized that although our parishes may be different from each other because of the location or the backgrounds of the parishioners, activities like the celebration of Installation and Recognition ceremonies for ministers, Ministry Fair and creating an atmosphere of hospitality such as coffee Sundays have helped transform parishes into stewardship parishes.

At Our Lady of Peace, last October during our first Stewardship Week, we had lay witness talks that invited parishioners to reflect on their call to use their God-given gifts to live out their baptismal promises as faithful stewards.   

This year’s celebration of Stewardship Sunday comes at a time of uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it can be an opportunity to reflect on how best to adapt our stewardship practices to meet the unique challenges of our current situation. It calls us to be creative and proactive in engaging our ministers who may not be in active ministry and also to attract more parishioners to become faithful stewards.

In his Pastoral Letter on Stewardship in 2018, Cardinal Collins wrote: “Stewardship is so deeply rooted in the foundational themes of the Gospel that it involves a permanent and continuous re-orientation of our approach to discipleship, and so provides a stable base for the life of faith in our communities.”

In fact, the life of faith in our communities is reflected on the blossoming of the fruits of the Archdiocesan Stewardship Project, the fruits being expressed during this COVID-19 pandemic. Since the lockdown, some ministers have been working behind the scenes to help run the parishes and to serve those in need in our communities. As the pilot project is extended to more parishes, it is our hope that more parishioners become involved in igniting the fire of stewardship in our parishes.

The reality of this COVID-19 pandemic is that despite the reduced attendance at Mass and reduced spiritual and social activities in our parishes, parishes will always be in need of ministers. Our celebration of Stewardship Sunday reminds us that when we strive to embrace stewardship, we transform our parish communities into vibrant places of Christian living where we serve to make the love of Christ real and present.

(Fr. Acheampong is pastor at Our Lady of Peace Parish in Toronto.)

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