THE ST. REGIS FAMILY
"Father, this is for the poor." The five year old held up a dime for me. "Thank you, I'll see that they get it." And they did. All those pennies and dimes we collect go to support the local food pantry. It warms my heart to know that even our children possess an innate desire for good stewardship, to share what we have with those who have less.
When you register as a member of St. Regis Parish you join a family of believers who worship God and put our faith into action in hundreds of ways every week. Our numbers are so large that our potential for doing good is huge, and the St. Regis family delivers. Our school educates children in Christian values; our social services council reaches out to the poor in our neighborhood, city, and world; and our church is a home for all whose spirit needs a lift.
Membership in our community raises some expectations, too. We expect people to worship with us, to become active with our organizations, to bring the Gospel to their home and workplace, and to contribute to the work of our parish. All those expectations are hard, but the one that sets most people on edge is the last: the gift of money.
I'd like to share some thoughts with you about contributions to the church. I'm pleased to do this, because I believe support is a part of our whole Christian life. Further, I'm obliged to do this, because preaching stewardship is part of my responsibility. If I neglect to tell you about the place of contributions in Christianity, I haven't been a very good pastor. That's why some of our letters, phone calls, and visits from the parish have to do with money. Financial responsibility has an important place among the many facets of the Christian message. I care for you; I'd like you to rejoice in the Christian life, with all its benefits and challenges. I hope this pamphlet will help you see the role stewardship plays in being a good Christian.
You'll frequently hear us suggest that the best way to support the church is through a tithe. What is a tithe? It's the contribution each of us makes, usually based on a percentage of our income.
The word "tithe" means "tenth". In Old Testament times, farmers would offer one tenth of their yield back to God. Many would give not just any tenth, but the first tenth, the firstfruits of the crop, to the temple. This gift acknowledged that what we have comes from God, and it established a way we could give thanks. God wants us to enjoy what he gives us, so we keep a substantial amount of it for our needs and pleasures, but we offer a tenth of it back to him as a sign of our gratitude and our dependence upon God for all that we have.
To this day, we still recommend the gift of a tenth, or a tithe. In imitation of the farmers of old, we base our tithe on what God provides for us. Today, we usually figure our gift based on our income. In our diocese, we suggest that people give 5% of their income to the parish they belong to, 1% to the diocese in the United Catholic Stewardship Appeal (UCSA), and 4% to any other charity they like.
These ratios show that the parish, our spiritual home, deserves our greatest gift. It's in the parish that we nurture our spirit week after week all throughout our lives. Our gift to our parish symbolizes our commitment to the community.
Our gift to the diocese represents a small percentage, but an important one. Our bishop gives direction and leadership to all our parishes, institutions, and diocesan employees. Just as citizens belong to our country as well as to a state, so Catholics belong to a diocese as well as to a parish. Our diocesan mission deserves our full support each spring through the UCSA.
The other 4% goes wherever we like. We each may develop personal charities we like to support: medical researchers, foreign missions, the arts. Our society benefits from the generosity of Christians. Through these contributions we set an example of care for those charities that have touched our heart.
Are you getting the idea that a tithe is like a tax? In a way it is. It collects money from a large number of people so that everyone can benefit together. The difference, of course, is that the tithe is voluntary. And it's given purely out of love, as a gift.
Tithing benefits both the parish and the parishioner. The benefits to the parish should be obvious: It helps us do the things we do. It lets us offer a just wage to our employees. It provides for the upkeep of our sprawling facility. It provides for the needy who ask us for help. We offer services to all ages and circumstances: daily Mass, the sacraments, child care, grade school, school of religion, youth group, singles, marriage preparation, marrieds, divorce support, annulments, several organizations for older parishioners, and funerals. Your contributions help us provide these services for you and the people you love.
The tithe benefits our parish from a spiritual point of view as well. It builds up our sense of community. We become a family whose members care for each other and for the mission of parish. St. Regis becomes a place where people accustomed to generosity gather for support. That makes a beautiful community.
But the individual parishioner benefits from tithing as well. For example, tithing builds faith. It takes faith in God to give up some of what he has given us. It takes faith to say that God will still take care of me, even when I make do with less. But I'll bet every one of us has a story of a time we gave something away, and got so much more in return. That builds faith, and it helps us through the rough spots on life's road.
Tithing also helps us commit to our community. By investing in the parish, we invest in the mission of the church, the welfare of other parishioners, and the future of our area. When you contribute to St. Regis, you contribute to a church, a school, and a neighborhood. You say, "I can envision the future, and I want to make it happen." You take an interest in our community, and it offers you an identity.
Another benefit of tithing is peacefulness. Peacefulness comes from ordinary things we do regularly: spending time with family, fulfilling our chores around the home, prudently managing a budget. By making your tithe a part of your budget you bring peacefulness to your way of life.
Tithing also makes generosity a habit. When we make a regular practice of giving up something we own just out of love, we become more generous people. We'll start helping out where we never did before, and the spiritual benefits of the charitable life will be ours forever.
Each year we ask you to fill out a pledge card for St. Regis. Your pledge represents your gift to us, your response to God's gifts to you, and your desire to meet the challenge of the Christian life.
Your pledge helps us plan for the coming year. Like any organization, we need to manage our budget prudently. When you give us your pledge you help us be responsible.
Is your pledge a contract? No. Will we send lawyers and collectors to your door? No. But we will send you a quarterly update. It will remind you what you pledged and tell you how much we've recorded. You can let us know if we've made a mistake, and we can let you know if you're behind on the pledge you intended to give. We're a community, and the pledge is a sign of our desire to support and care.
THE PARISH BUDGET
Each year we establish a budget for all the many services and organizations in our parish. There's so much we'd like to do, but we're limited by our time, our personnel, and our resources. We need to make painful decisions about who gets what percentage of our budget.
Each year the parish council consults our mission statement and the parish plan. It guides us in deciding how to budget our income. We want to make sure that the monies people give us are fulfilling the purpose of our parish.
We invite your input, too. We'd like you to tell us if the goals we put forward are the same goals you see for the parish, and if we are budgeting the money properly. We welcome your advice on how to spend the money you contribute.
We get lots of questions each year. Here are some you may be wondering about:
What if I cannot tithe? I simply can't give a full 10% and
make ends meet.
How do school finances work?
Do you verify the income of school families?
Won't the IRS expect me to report this?
What if I can't afford to tithe but I still want my children
to receive a Catholic education?
What if I don't pledge because I'm angry at the church?
Does the early childhood education program make money?
Why should I pledge and use envelopes? I prefer to just put
cash in the collection each week.
Do we keep some money in savings?
How do children get into the habit of giving?
You may have other questions or concerns, and I'd be glad to hear them. So would any member of our stewardship council. You're a valuable member of our community, and we esteem your opinions.
Thanks for letting me share these thoughts with you. Our parish community needs the support of every member. I hope I can count on you to do your part proudly. Together we can build a generous community, because we believe in Christian stewardship.
[This was written as a pamphlet for all parishioners in St. John Francis Regis Parish in 1995.]