Reflections on the 50th Anniversary International Stewardship Conference in Chicago

From Sunday to Wednesday I had the opportunity to attend my second the International Catholic Stewardship Conference. This year's conference was held in Chicago.  The conference consists of four days of sessions on various Stewardship themes, as well as daily celebration of the Eucharist. Thousands of people from all around the globe come to one place for the purpose of finding new ways to spread our ministries and become better stewards of our faith communities. Although the official theme was "Hearts on Fire", I think the common thread was much more about learning to be grateful for all the blessings we have.

I had the opportunity to attend the large sessions, as well as 8 smaller sessions:
·          From Maintenance to Mission: The role of Parish Staff in the "New Evangelization"
·          Effective Techniques with Social Media
·          Strategically Planning our Parish's Future
·          Stewardship of Parish Facilities: A Risk Management Perspective
·          Human Resource Issues
·          Stewardship and Development in the Office
·          Communicating the Important Stuff: How to Appropriately Report Financial and Other Parish Information
·          Presentation by Archbishop Thomas J Murphy Award Honoree St. Francis of Assisi Parish

In addition to the sessions I was able to attend, I had a couple one-on-one meetings about On-Line Giving, Sign-Up Materials and Strategic Planning. I also picked up information from 15 other sessions on topics ranging from technology use and evangelization to good stewardship practices that other parishes are currently using.

Last year's conference bore the fruits of our new website and its integration with Facebook, Youtube, podcasts, pictures, and mobile updates. What we offer on the site, and how it is used, is a direct reflection of three sessions I attended at last year's conference. Hopefully you saw the change in our print materials and spiritual offerings throughout the year. Some of you even commented on them. 

You will start to see and hear the fruits of this year's conference in the coming months. The biggest of these will be on-line giving. We will be starting on-line giving through our current envelope company, Our Sunday Visitor. At the conference I had a one-on-one meeting with one of their specialists. The set-up will enable the donor to give on their terms and control their secure giving account. It will enable the donor to give using their bank account information or credit card in a one-time, weekly, monthly, quarterly, or yearly manner.

Another change you will see is how we approach our Stewardship of talent and time sign-up. We have looked at, and will continue to sort through, numerous different set-ups. We hope to provide you with even more opportunities to grow in your faith and contribute to the parish. Additionally, we will also be working on a stewardship retreat. I was excited to listen to ideas for new topics and new ways to be a good steward of God's gifts.

A Bishop's homily on Wednesday did a very good job summing up the conference experience:
"I come here every year seeing the glass as half empty. Some of that is personality, but most of that is the baggage we all bring to this conference. After one year of things not working quite the way we anticipated, and getting run down by the very nature of our ministry, I find it hard to show my gratitude. I find it hard to see the glass as half full. 
This conference brings together groups of people from all walks of life; from all points of the world. All are welcome here. Even in today's current political climate. Regardless of our differences, be it Democrat or Republican, Liberal or Conservative, all are welcome here. Everyone has a common goal of becoming a better steward. Realizing that everything we have is gift. And those gifts should be used to glorify God in the best way we can. 
As we leave here today, I see my glass as not only half full, but as running over. I am not the deflated spirit I was just a few short days ago. I'm ready to go back, to spread the gratitude that I feel for my gifts, and use them to give back to our faith community."

I feel this was true for everyone at the conference. We left in a much better, much more grateful, state. Feeling better prepared for the challenges we will face in the coming year. We are reminded that we are not alone in our challenges; that there are other parishes just like ours who deal with the same struggles and triumphs. We hope you will notice the new wind in our sails. We hope you will join us as we strive to be better and more grateful stewards. Most of all, we hope you will join us as we look for ways to spread this new knowledge throughout our cluster and beyond.

May you have a grateful day.