What’s in a definition?

By Father Ken VanHaverbeke, Director of Stewardship
The room with four men was dimly lighted. A raspy voice sounding like fictional character Rebeus Hagrid of the Harry Potter movies emanates from the corner of the room: “Did you do what I asked?” “Yes,” was the reply. “Good,” the raspy voice replied. “Now we can proceed. Without it, we could not continue. We could do nothing.” Softly in the background, music comes to a crescendo and the shadowy room becomes enveloped completely in darkness.

Sounds like a scene in movie. It really did not happen that way, but it is fun to put familiar people into a Harry Potter movie. The four characters in my made-up scene were: Father John Lanzrath, Dan Loughman, the future Bishop John Brungardt, and Bishop Michael O. Jackels. The raspy Regeus voice was that of Bishop Jackels.

What is stewardship?
So what was going on? When a new pastor arrives in a parish, he sees things that later becomes routine, but for a short time, his vision is new. When Bishop Jackels came to our diocese, a diocese known throughout the United States – even in Lincoln, Neb. – as “the stewardship diocese,” Bishop Jackels asked the question: “What is stewardship?” The question shot forth like the catch phrase of 1984 from Clara Peller: “Where’s the beef?”

Stammering, we responded: “Well it is …well, it’s like this, ahhhh…well…” We “knew” stewardship because we were living it and practicing it daily, but articulating a definition of the obvious was like trying to explain why water is wet. It just is!

Need a definition
Bishop Jackels went to Mr. Loughman, director of stewardship, and the diocesan stewardship council with his question. He asked for a succinct, memorable, and teachable definition. (Remember Bishop Jackels is from Nebraska where a simple and succinct “N” is all that is necessary on their football helmets to remember they are playing for Nebraska.)

Have you ever been on a committee to form a mission statement? It is like gathering a farmer, a yuppie, and a priest to a barbecue all sitting down to eat. The farmer is wondering whose farm the pork came from; the yuppie wonders how much cholesterol is in the ham; and the priest is wondering if this was the ham left over from last week’s funeral dinner. Point being, committees gather people who look at the same thing very differently.

This committee worked
And so a committee came together. With much talk, prayer, discernment (fancy word for talk), discussion, writing, and more talking (discernment), a response was delivered to Bishop Jackels and to the diocese as to how we defined stewardship.

Back to our scene. A priest, lay man, soon to be a bishop gather before Bishop Jackels and presented him the following definition: Stewardship is the grateful response of a Christian disciple who recognizes and receives God’s gifts and shares these gifts in love of God and neighbor.

In the past three years, the diocese has used portions of the response to Bishop Jackels as themes for the stewardship renewal, culminating in this year’s theme: Sharing these gifts in love of God and neighbor.

Why it’s important
Why is a definition important? Without it we are lost. We all would have different ideas of the same thing. There would be no beef! Now we proceed and together live the stewardship way of life as Christian disciples, gratefully responding, recognizing and receiving God’s gifts, and sharing these gifts in love of God and neighbor.

In the next issue of the Advance, I’ll discuss this year’s theme, and by the way, water is wet because of viscosity, and don’t ask me the definition of that, but I guess we could form a committee to discern!