My Church, Not the Diocese

I received a phone call recently that didn’t start well. 

There was an angry parishioner on the other end.  We sent a letter to her reminding her of her pledge to our recent capital campaign.  She had already made one payment and we were looking for the second of three.

Her pledge was very generous, and she was a very nice woman.  However, she was clearly upset as she was under the impression the money was going to the parish’s building fund, which was not the case. 

I told her that the capital campaign was originated by the diocese, but the gifts were shared by the parish and the diocese.  She said the campaign material was confusing, and it was not clear where the money was going.  She also said that she was not going to give to the annual appeal because of this confusion.

Then she said the most troubling thing: “I wanted to give to my Church, not the diocese!”

I have heard this statement before, and I usually attributed it to a surly pastor who was angry about the parish assessment.  Not this time, though.

The woman’s pastor is a die-hard supporter of the diocese.  He totally understands the relationship between diocese and parish, and that the diocese IS the local Church, which is made up of many parishes. 

Somewhere along the line, though, that message didn’t make it to this woman’s inner being.  She sees the parish and the diocese as two separate entities with a certain amount of tension between them.  Her view is that the diocese is the overlord, while the parish is the favored child.

Having worked in a diocesan environment for nearly a decade, I know the truth in this particular scenario.  I have not met a single person in a chancery who would not take a bullet for anyone in a parish.  We live to serve our clergy and the people of God in the parishes.

But there was that gorilla in the room, the one identified by the angry parishioner.  “I wanted to give to my Church, not the diocese.”

Our conversation ended well, and where I thought she might back out of her commitment entirely, she just reduced it a bit.  I invited her to call me directly is she had any further issues she wanted to discuss, and she was happy with that.

My Church IS the diocese.  The diocese IS my Church.  My parish IS the diocese.  The diocese IS my parish.  We are all one, the body of Christ. 

Stewardship calls us to offer our gifts to God.  It does not distinguish between parish and diocese.  I look forward to a day when our minds can embrace that truth.

The Coming Crisis – and What We Can do Today to Avert it

I recently read a story  which was linked from a blog post on New Advent

While this story is disturbing, I am glad I saw it.  If you have a role in stewardship, development, or philanthropy, you might want to look at it yourself.

There are three sentences from that story that cause me great concern.  The first is this one:  “By 2016, just over half — 53% — of Americans gave money to charity, down from 66% in 2000.”

That 13 point drop is a 20% decrease in the number of people who are willing to support the work of non-profit organizations.

Then …

“While religious groups still received the largest chunk of charitable dollars in 2018, at 29% of total giving, it was the first year that giving to religion fell below 30% of overall giving, according to the Giving USA annual report on philanthropy, now in its 64th year.”

There are fewer donors giving less money.  The pie is shrinking.

Finally …

“…Americans are becoming less likely to attend religious services or identify with a specific religion.”

Church attendance is “the single most reliable indicator of an individual’s level of charitable giving.” (Gaudiani, Claire, “The Greater Good” p.167)

That’s ALL charitable giving, not just to the Church. 

Let’s summarize this.

  1. Church attendance is the primary metric for charitable giving.
  2. Fewer people are going to church.
  3. There are 20% fewer people giving to charities than there were just a few years ago.
  4. Religious giving is becoming a smaller part of all charitable giving.

Fewer people giving less money to fewer charities, and churches are not holding their own.  What could possibly go wrong?

We are fighting the battle uphill.  The culture is definitely arrayed against the faithful.  As we continue to see the number of people in the pews decline, it will be harder and harder to pay for the services, the programs, the sacramental and pastoral care that we have come to expect of the Church.

Today Baby Boomers control most of the money in the economy.  In fact, it is the wealthiest generation in American history.  CNBC reported in 2018 that   there are 45 million households that will transfer $68 trillion in wealth over the next 25 years. 

In great numbers, children of the Boomers – Generation X, Y (Millennials), and Z, “Next Gen” – are no longer attending Mass or believing in the real presence of the Lord in the Eucharist. For a host of reasons, many are disassociating themselves from the faith entirely.  They are the “Nones”, as in they have no affiliation with the Church.  As such, the money being transferred from Boomers to Next Gen is never going to fund the works of the Church.

Worse yet for them, those who profess to be Nones are not participating in the fullness of the Eucharist, which is “the source and summit of Christian life.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1334) They are missing out on Jesus Christ Himself.

Want to hear genuinely heartbreaking stories? Ask a group of Baby Boomer Catholics how many of their children attend Mass. 

That pain is exacerbated when we realize what is about to happen.  Because so many are not attending Mass or seeing the benefit of being in full communion with the Church, Next Gen members will use their inheritance elsewhere, meaning it is unlikely that those funds will ever again be the dependable and continuing source of Church income, funding the sacramental and pastoral works of the Church, that they are today. 

This all seems pretty bleak, doesn’t it?

At the end of the Te Deum, we pray “In you, Lord, is our hope, and we shall never hope in vain.”

There is, in fact, great hope. 

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and bloodhas not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” (Mt. 16: 15-18)

As people of faith, we can be certain that the Church will survive this attack, because Jesus, who is still the head of the Church, told us so.

There is much that we can do, however, to assist in our defense.

Our first and most important task is to evangelize.  We must invite those who have left the Church to come back. We must also invite those who have never known the Church to join us and know the Lord.

Evangelization is the responsibility of every one of us.  It is like planting seeds, and it is likely going to be a long time before the fruits of those plants can be harvested.

Between then and now, however, those of us who are Baby Boomers can help ensure the funding of the Church even when we are gone.

Pope Francis once quoted his grandmother when she said “Burial shrouds have no pockets.”  We can’t take it with us, but we can determine who gets it.

Through the use of simple, inexpensive – or free – means of determining who gets what at our passing, Boomers can fund the works of the Church for the next generation.  This does not mean abandoning our children, either. 

If we were to leave just 10% of our estates to the Church, it would make an enormous difference in providing the funding for the sacramental and pastoral needs of generations to come. 

Adding the Church as a beneficiary to bank accounts, retirement plans, life insurance, annuities, and our wills and trusts are all relatively easy to do. We will soon be providing more information about ways you can make this happen.  In the meantime, visit with your attorney about changes to your estate plan.

The problem is real.  However, the solution does not require any permission from Church officials, governments, or any kind of authority.  All it takes is the will to get it done.

Stewardship is Like the Stock Market

This was originally published in The Message – The newspaper of the Diocese of Evansville.








Source: wealthshape.com/blog

Now, that’s a weird title.  I have written quite a bit, both here and elsewhere, how the notion that “stewardship” is not just about money, and now I am going to compare it to the chief money engine in the world:  the United States stock market.

Actually, it’s an analogy and not a comparison. 

What you see in the line graph is the performance of equity mutual funds between 2002 and 2018.  The bar graph is the cash coming into those funds over the same time period.

We have been told – rightly so – that the key to investment success is to buy low and sell high.  But what the data show are investors will inevitably do the opposite.  As markets hit tops, people throw money at it.  When it hits bottoms, they can’t get out fast enough.  They buy high and sell low, the exact opposite of what they should do.

There are several lessons here. 

  1. Investors are generally irrational.  (There is much data that confirms this, as well as the entire academic field of Behavioral Finance.) Thus, they: 
  2. Do things contrary to their own best interests because;
  3. Actions are fueled by emotion, not logic, and;
  4. Investors don’t want to be the first one in or the last one out, because;
  5. It hurts more to lose than it feels good to win, and;
  6. Nobody wants to make a bad investment, because nobody wants to get hurt.

There you have it.  This is how it relates to stewardship.  If that’s not entirely clear, read on.

Have you ever been at Mass where Father steps up to the ambo and says “We really need your help, and we need it right now.  Without more money/ volunteers/ books/ computers we will have to close the school/ raise the tuition/ borrow money.”

The picture is painted that there is a big problem. There is a hole in the hull and we are taking on water. The ship is sinking. 

How many people rush to get ON a sinking ship?

Nobody wants to be a part of a failing venture.  People take money out of the stock market because it is heading down and they don’t want to lose any more.

People stop giving their time, talent, and treasure to the Church because they don’t see a good outcome and they want to limit their loss.

FULL STOP RIGHT THERE.

Loss? In the Church?  Huh?????

The problems in the Church, and there are many, are human problems.  They are created because of our sinful nature, and as sinful people we are ALL responsible for the problems.  They are not the exclusive property of the priests, bishops, or the Pope.  They are our problems.

Let’s think about this.  The Church is the Church of Jesus Christ, who is STILL the head of it. 

“And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” Mt 16: 18

Why should you put your time, talent, and treasure towards the Church? 

Because unlike the stock market, Jesus is a sure thing. Easiest investment decision you will ever make.

Touring Tuesday

The Diocese of Evansville Catholic Schools office held an event called “Touring Tuesday” this past week.  It was an opportunity for prospective parents to visit and tour Catholic schools throughout the diocese.    

Intrigued, I called Superintendent of Catholic Schools Dr. Daryl Hagan and asked if I could join him as he went from school to school to see how Touring Tuesday was shaping up. I wanted to learn more about Catholic schools in our diocese so I could better tell their story. This was the first ever Touring Tuesday and he had no idea what to expect.

  Daryl was excited about having me join him on his journey, so we made the necessary arrangements.  I brought along my camera because kids.

I was not disappointed. 

We visited four schools and found a variety of conditions of Touring Tuesday.  A couple schools had parents giving information, principals giving tours, others interacting with prospective students’ families.  Other schools did not. 

I don’t know the reason why some principals do things one way, while other principals do them another.  That’s neither my call nor my interest.  Rather, I wanted to see the kids and see how parents embraced Catholic education.

There were really two highlights to my visit.  The first was hearing a conversation between a parent at Good Shepherd and Dr. Hagan.  The parent was telling how he differentiated Catholic schools from private schools.  Catholic schools are, first and foremost, to be formators of the faith in our children.  Private schools are simply an alternative to the public system.

That parent truly understood the difference, and he was able to articulate that difference to us and, more importantly, to his friends.  When someone will tell your story for you, that person is your advocate.  That man is an ADVOCATE of Catholic Education.

The second highlight was this student balancing a pencil on his upper lip. 

I don’t know how old he is, or what school he was attending.  I could find out easily enough, but that’s not really important. 

What is important is that this boy is being … a kid.  This was not disruptive behavior.  He just had three adults walk into his room – Dr. Hagan, the school principal, and me – and interrupt his class time.  He reacted like any kid would react.  He found something far more interesting than three old guys walking in on him, and he challenged himself to wrap his upper lip backwards around a writing instrument so that it would not fall off his face.

This boy is comfortable and loved.  I predict great success for him in the future.  Not because he can do this trick, but because he is not so worried about stuff that can derail an education that he can’t even think about being a kid.  For a few moments, he was the world champion pencil balancer, and he didn’t have another care in the world.

Touring Tuesday was a great success.  Just ask this little guy.

Okay, Boomer.

Have you heard that meme?  I had not until recently.  Since then I have shared it with my Boomer friends. It’s not a term of endearment or acquiescence.  It is derisive.

In a New York Times article describing the deeper meaning of the phrase, it is described as the “digital equivalent of an eye roll.” 

I’m a Boomer.  (For a short lesson on delineation of the generations, read this. )

Born in 1957, I accept this particular categorization.  On its own, “Boomer” simply tells of a time period when people were born.  Today it carries its own connotation, as do the other generation monikers.

My fellow Boomers and I have had a good laugh at the younger generations.  We look at them and think “Oh, you kids!  Wait until you grow up.”  Many of us have seen this talented young man sing about his generation and their foibles, nodding in agreement as we bounce along to a tune direct from our youth. 

Derisive? What did I ever do to you, Gen X, Millenials, and Gen Z?  We’re just trying to have a little fun.  Oh, you kids, don’t take it so seriously.  Wait until you grow up.

Then I read that article in the NYT.  (As a disclaimer, I typically don’t read the NYT.  It was a link from another article about … Boomers.)  I came to realize a couple things.

Let me digress a little.  I recently became eligible for Social Security.  This was due to a birthday and the unstoppable march of time, not a disability or anything like that.  I asked myself “how did that happen?”  It was like one day I’m in my 40s then the next day I’m 62.  One day I’m raising kids, handing over car keys and paying college tuitions, then the next bouncing grandchildren on my knee. 

I watch TV and see all these actors and actresses in lead rolls and say to my wife “they all look so young!”  I think I say that every night.  I can’t remember, though. 

I see mothers driving their kids around in their grocery-getters and find myself wondering how they get it all done.  I look at my own millennial children, seeing the multitude of directions they are pulled every day.  I see men in their 30s and 40s putting all they have into making a living for their families, struggling to balance the pressures of careers and families. I see students in their teens and 20s looking at a world that has been at war their entire lives and being told they have to go to college and be crushed under a mountain of debt.

Gen X, Millenials, and Gen Z have their hands full.  They don’t need me treating them like children.

They have a lot of life to live, and a lot to learn.  It will be up to them to right some of our wrongs, but at the same time to see that not everything we did was harmful to their future.

As Christian stewards, we have an obligation to take care of the gifts God has given us. What greater gift, what more awesome responsibility, than making sure those coming after us get to heaven.

If you’re offended by “Okay, Boomer,” remember where you were 30 or 40 years ago. Did you need a hand?  

Okay, Boomer?

The End of Stewardship

Yes, the end.  It’s over, and I am out of a job.

Well, not today ….

I’m a fan of Crisis Magazine.  There are so many thought provoking, tell-it-like-it-is articles that it keeps me thinking, questioning, wondering.  The quality of the writing is outstanding, and it never feels like I am wasting time when I read it.

I recently read an article by John Schroeter where he asks the question “What if just ten percent of Christians actually lived the way Jesus calls us to live? What would that world look like? Can we even imagine it?” 

He ruminates about this question while invoking some high-powered theologians and authors.  It’s not some navel-gazing exercise, but a real brain buster.  Just ten percent. 

First things first, my intent here is not to get all sanctimonious and start in with “Well, I live the way Jesus calls.  All of you should get on board here.”  Rather, I try to live as Jesus calls us, but my humanity continues to get in the way.  Thank God for the sacrament of Reconciliation.

Reading this commentary made me think about something I have been sharing the last couple of years. 

Stewardship is so often described as us sharing our time, our talent, and our treasure.  Ask someone what stewardship means, and it is likely that is the phrase they will use. That term is used so much that it can easily become meaningless.    Ask that same person to define the three Ts and I would bet dollars-to- doughnuts that he will scratch his head when it comes to differentiating the “time” and “talent” components.

You too?

Try substituting “time” with “prayer.”  It doesn’t make for nice alliteration, but it more accurately describes what we are talking about. 

Now let’s try our own “what if” question.  What if, in our quest to become Christian stewards, that we spent an extra 15 minutes a day in prayer?

This is a challenge I have been throwing out to individuals and groups whenever I get the chance.  It’s interesting to see the reactions – head’s nodding in agreement, faces scrunching up in a visible sign of thought, people sliding forward in their chairs as if saying “tell me more.”  

Imagine, then, the Church in the US answering this challenge.  What would become of us all?

That would be the end of stewardship as we know it.  I believe that 70 million Catholics praying 15 minutes more each day would eliminate the need for diocesan and parish stewardship directors, because we would be consecrating everything – our time, our talent, and our treasure – to the Lord. It would no longer be anything different than what we do every moment of every day, like breathing.

We wouldn’t call it stewardship anymore.  We would call it living. 

Ten percent of us living as Jesus called.  Fifteen more minutes of prayer each day. 

Stewardship directors, like the guy in this video, would be done.   Time to rest. Can we imagine that?

What a Celebration

Wednesday, November 6 was the celebration of the Mass of Dedication of St. Benedict’s Cathedral in Evansville. 

Pews filled with the faithful, 10 bishops and archabbots, a choir that made the angels jealous, and church that was / is beautiful beyond description:  all these made for a spectacular, holy event. 

Today I am delighting in a joy-hangover. 

Today, for the first time in a decade, there was this huge diocesan event and I  – purposefully – left my camera in the car.  I wanted to enjoy it, and I did.

These photos were taken before Mass.  I wish they could do justice to the to this glorious place.

Happy 75th Anniversary to the Diocese of Evansville – 75 Years of Stewardship

The ceiling of the newly renovated Cathedral of St. Benedict in Evansville

I’m new in town. 

If you’ve been following along, you know that I only arrived in the Diocese of Evansville this past April. In order to better know our diocese, I regularly travel to visit pastors in our diocese.  It brings me great joy to meet with these men and be welcomed into their parishes.  At our first meeting, I often ask for, and receive, a tour of the church. 

I love churches.  Big ones, small ones, old ones, new ones – doesn’t matter.  I have yet to visit a church in the Diocese of Evansville that failed to fill me with joy just walking through the door.   

There are some churches so grand and beautiful that they simply take ones breath away.  I am personally partial to older churches, those with great stained glass, art work, and statuary.  

There are other churches that don’t have that old world style, but are nonetheless beautiful on their own.  I can think of some of the churches built in the 70s and 80s that are vastly different than those built a century or more ago. Their seating is different, the windows are different, and the sanctuaries are different. 

I have a particular affinity for small churches.  Oftentimes these places are without a resident priest, so it is incumbent upon the parishioners to provide maintenance and care of the building.  It is rare to see peeling paint or an unkempt lawn at these small churches, and it is obvious that the people who attend Mass there love their church like nobody else can. 

These churches are wonderful examples of faith-filled communities putting all their resources into building an appropriate place to worship God.

The Diocese of Evansville recently held its first-ever capital campaign, Stewards of God’s Grace, and the results were a smashing success.  Each parish shared in the gifts made to the campaign, and there have been many outstanding parish projects funded with those gifts.

In each church that I visit, each project that I see, I am both struck with awe and filled with joy at the generosity of the people of God in the Diocese of Evansville.

I have pictured in my mind the German immigrants in Jasper laying the cornerstone of St. Joseph’s.  In the same way, Catholics building their homes on the east side of Evansville committing to building new churches to take care of the sacramental needs of their burgeoning communities.  Or the small group of farm families who knew how important it was to have a place to worship God with each other, then decided to pool their resources and get the job done.

This is stewardship epitomized, as the People of God committed their:

  • Time in Prayer– We can be certain there was much prayer in each of those groups as they discerned the massive undertaking of building a new church or adding to an existing one.  They needed God’s guidance, asked for it, and received it.
  • Talent – We can also be certain that there was much parishioner labor involved in the construction of these holy places.  From planning committees, to architects, engineers, skilled craftsmen, lawyers, accountants, building commissions, and fund raisers, each project required a team of those willing to share their talents.
  • Treasure – Here too, we can be certain that there was a great expenditure of funds to build these churches and to complete these projects, and they were all freely given to glorify God.  All the money came from the pockets of parishioners.

Even before our diocese was formed, these faith-filled people came together, giving their time, talent and treasure to solidify their communities, pass along the Faith to their children, and by their actions tell the world how much they love God.  

That’s stewardship. 

Happy anniversary to the Diocese of Evansville.  75 years of loving God.  75 years of stewardship.

PS – November 6, 2019 is the official beginning of the celebration of our 75th Anniversary as a diocese. It will be marked by celebration of the Eucharist at the Cathedral of St. Benedict in Evansville. This magnificent cathedral has recently been renovated and the Mass will be the re-dedication of the church. This photo was taken in May, 2019.

Stewardship in the Fall

Daily scripture readings in the fall are filled with lessons on stewardship. If a priest or deacon wants to preach about stewardship without turning it into an ask for money, this is the time of year to do that.

The essence of all those passages is this: Everything comes from God, everything belongs to God, and God wants us to give it all back to him with increase.

Fall is also the time when God shows us his artist’s palette.

I recently traveled to Wisconsin to visit family. While there we went to my hometown of South Milwaukee, home to Grant Park. Grant Park is a true jewel in the Milwaukee County Parks system. It is also a place where I spent much of my free time growing up.

Each fall, Grant Park erupts in color. I was able to capture some of that color on this trip, and I would like to share it with you today.

How is this stewardship? I received a gift from God – the sights of this beautiful spot – and am sharing it with you. That’s the increase. Now both of us see the beauty of God’s creation. If you would like to, feel free to share this post and you will have increased your gift as well.

All glory goes to God.

Snake Run

I’ve been at the work of development and stewardship in the Catholic Church a long time.  It’s a vocation I never expected, never planned on, and never had an inkling towards undertaking.  Yet here I am, just about ten years into it. 

Over that time, I have visited hundreds of churches across the US and around the world.  I’ve been in such disparate places as St. Peter’s in Rome and a church with a dirt floor and rough-hewn benches in Honduras.  I’ve photographed many of these places, too.  Maybe one day I will offer a little tour of some of these holy places right here in this space.

It’s funny how, even after seeing some of the most beautiful, breathtaking, architectural wonders in the world, it’s the smallest structures that seem to mean the most.

Yesterday, October 16, I visited two pastors and their parishes in our diocese.  As a result of consolidation a few years ago, each of these two pastors has responsibility for two churches.  Fr. Frank Renner has Sts. Peter and Paul parish in Petersburg, and Blessed Sacrament in Oakland City.  Fr. Brian Emmick has St. Joseph’s in Princeton and St. Bernard in Snake Run.

I was intrigued by the name of the community where St. Bernard’s is located:  Snake Run.  In my mind, that’s more of a Wyoming name than one from Indiana.  I was in the neighborhood, so to speak, and decided to stop by.

What I found was a beautiful little church out in the country that was incredibly well-cared for.   Let me tell you about it.

The church is a traditional structure with a very tall steeple.  It stands on a hill above the highway and can be seen from a long way off.  The entrance is framed by two large trees that having been standing as sentinels for many, many years.

Around the side are statues of Mary, our Blessed Mother; St. Francis; Mary and the infant Jesus; and several angels.Around the side are statues of Mary, our Blessed Mother; St. Francis; Mary and the infant Jesus; and several angels. (See the slideshow below)

The statues are all part of a Rosary garden, which also contains a Rosary walk.  The walk features a large crucifix with five decades of “beads” which one can walk on as the Rosary is prayed.

There is a marker in the pavement that lists all the priests from the beginning of the parish through 2015.  Fr. Brian is the current pastor, and his name is on the marker as an associate from his time there from 2012-2014.  One day it will be there as the pastor.

Farther back is a cemetery.  There is a marker that shows the final resting place of Johann Adam Zerker, from Heligenstein. Heiligenstein was ceded to France after World War I, but lies in the Alsace region, which has considerably deep German roots.  He died (gestorben) in 1855 in America.

Fr. Brian told me about the German heritage in this little community, and it shows in every corner.  The landscaping is immaculate and the church looks like it was built and painted yesterday. 

I have a real soft spot in my heart for small parishes and churches. To me they are the epitome of stewardship, as the people who have been given the gift of their faith take that gift and offer it back to God, with increase, in the form of a place to give praise to the LORD.

It’s not St. Peter’s.  There aren’t any popes buried at Snake Run.  But St. Bernard’s is a testament of faith for a people who know what faith is.

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