Three conversations that took place online in the fall are getting Anglicans talking about how and why we give to the Church. Picking up where Tending the Soul left off last spring, in November Bishop Andrew Asbil invited Anglicans to Tending the Soul of the Steward, a series that considered questions related to personal and parish-based stewardship education.
“The bishop and I have had many conversations about how we can reach out to clergy and lay people about the resources that we have in stewardship and how people can connect with the office,” says Peter Misiaszek, the diocese’s director of Stewardship Development. “Given that we had come off Tending the Soul, we realized that we now know this format and we have this interesting platform – why don’t we simply utilize that vehicle?”
As with the original series, the conversations were live streamed to Facebook and YouTube, with viewers asking their own questions along the way. Each session featured three lay and ordained panelists speaking about their own experiences of stewardship, along with Bishop Asbil and Mr. Misiaszek.
The recordings are also available after the fact for people to return to. “We’ve already observed that more people go to it after the fact than actually tune in. You can watch them at your leisure, perhaps with a group in your parish,” says Mr. Misiaszek.
The sessions covered three broad themes related to stewardship: what is stewardship; how do we implement a year-round stewardship education program; and how do I give. Mr. Misiaszek says he simply chose the most common questions he gets about stewardship.
“A lot of people think that it’s simply the Church’s way of raising money, but it’s a broader scope than simply that. There’s elements of discipleship and an understanding of Christian witness and how we give to support ministry,” he says.
Joining the conversations were lay and ordained members of the diocese with a particular interest or expertise in stewardship, among them churchwardens, treasurers, chairs of stewardship committees and diocesan stewardship coaches. “We were motivated as much as possible to try and get a snapshot from across the diocese so that we had people from different areas who could share their own experience,” says Mr. Misiaszek.
Each session began with the panelists sharing their own stories and histories with stewardship. Many spoke of how they learned about giving as children from their parents and faith communities. They all recounted how they became involved with stewardship more deliberately as adults in their careers or in their parishes.
“I was really blown away by the personal conviction that people have,” says Mr. Misiaszek. “I’m always amazed at people’s stories, their giving stories. I’m really touched by the fact that there’s a real conviction out there about supporting ministry.”
With each conversation deliberately grounded in the personal stories of the participants, the idea of storytelling reappeared throughout the discussion. Many panelists spoke about the power of personal testimonials to inspire others to give and to focus conversations about stewardship on the mission and ministry of the Church rather than simply money.
“There’s such a variety in the way in which people have come to giving. The stories we’ve heard here are examples of that,” said Dave Toycen, ODT, the retired president of World Vision Canada and a member of Trinity, Streetsville. “Make sure that you’re sharing stories of variety, not the people necessarily who give more – because oftentimes the people who give the least might be the most generous.”
Susan Graham Walker, ODT, a retired stewardship educator with the diocese and the United Church of Canada, described going up to people at coffee hour to ask them why they give. She said the stewardship team at Redeemer, Bloor St. uses short videos or written quotes from those encounters in their communications about stewardship. “It’s possible to ask that question of almost everybody in the congregation and get a different response that will inspire others,” she said.
Mary Pember, ODT, a member of St. Timothy, North Toronto and a coach for the diocese’s Growing Healthy Stewards program, spoke about using parishioners’ stories in narrative budgets, which themselves tell the story of a parish’s ministry. “In my experience, very few people have declined to take up that request to tell their personal story. They can be funny, they can be inspiring, they can be extremely touching,” she said. “Jesus told great stories. We all have great stories to tell.”
Those stories can not only inspire people to give, but also help a church community understand stewardship as it relates to its ministry. As part of its ongoing stewardship campaign, the leadership at St. Olave, Swansea compiled 35 testimonials from parishioners explaining what the parish means to them. “These tales served to connect us a community and celebrate the impact of our parish in our lives,” said Martha Drake, executive director of University of Toronto Schools and chair of stewardship at St. Olave’s.
Bishop Asbil said these conversations ground stewardship in the bigger story of our faith as Christians. “The stories that we tell about our journey in faith and how we give, why we give, when we give, become part of the architecture of what it means to be a disciple of Christ,” he said.
Another theme that emerged is that asking for contributions of time, talent and treasure, while important, is not the only aspect of stewardship. “Gratitude and thankfulness is at the heart of stewardship,” said Mary Lynne Stewart, a professional fundraising consultant and member of Church of the Resurrection, Toronto. “The greatest joy for me for the last 30-some years has been to say thank you to people.”
Ms. Graham Walker suggested that parishes can start to nurture a culture of gratitude before they invite people to give. “If you’re frightened of starting with the ask – with the invitation and the inspiration – start with the gratitude. I think you’ll find that the other two – inviting and asking – will come more easily,” she said.
Several panelists offered ideas of how to start cultivating gratitude, from writing personal thank-you notes to setting aside a time on Sundays to offer thanks. “How easy is it to, every Sunday morning in church, recognize and thank someone or some group in the parish? This is a very pleasant thing to do,” said Ms. Pember.
For his part, Mr. Misiaszek is pleased with how these conversations are helping to make stewardship more accessible. In the past, he says he’s found Anglicans reluctant to talk about stewardship, even staying home from church when they know he’s coming to preach. “What I hope is that stewardship isn’t an elusive topic for people, and something to fear,” he says. “It’s not something we should dread. It’s something we should approach with perhaps – should I say – enthusiasm.”
Given the success of both Tending the Soul and Tending the Soul of the Steward, Mr. Misiaszek says Bishop Asbil is keen to explore more topics for conversation in 2023. He’s considering conversations about legacy giving, gifts of time and talent, stewardship of the environment, and stewardship among diaspora communities.
“We have a lot of diaspora communities now in the Diocese of Toronto who come from Africa or China, folks who come from Latin America and Southeast Asia, and their experience of stewardship is very different. So perhaps we can share that experience with the rest of the folks in the diocese,” he says.
Meanwhile, he’s encouraging people to watch the conversations on the diocese’s YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/tordio135, to take a look at the stewardship education materials on the diocesan website and to reach out to his department if they need more support. “We’ve got to ensure that our giving to the Church is regular, it’s reliable, it’s real and it’s something that can help sustain our ministry,” he says. “The support of our membership is absolutely vital.”
Let’s reimagine how we use God’s house