September 2015
Rethinking Stewardship

Campaign of Generosity

This article is also available in Spanish here. Este artículo está disponible en español aquí.

Our experience at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, a bilingual and multiethnic church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, has been very interesting from the point of view of relationships. We have a relationship with God, with others, with the environment, and with ourselves.

At the same time, my experience with stewardship has been transformative. At St. Mark’s we call our stewardship campaign Campaña de Generosidad (Campaign of Generosity), as we believe that all of us have talents, time and treasure. We chose this name as many of our parishioners were not familiar with the term stewardship. After doing an informal survey about it in our parish, we decided to use the word Stewardship for our “Anglo” parishioners and Generosity for our Hispanic/Latino ones, because it was easier for many Hispanics to identify with the latter term.

Our results have been mixed. In general, our parishioners participate in our annual pledge drive, but it is frustrating to see that they tend to value the treasure much more than they value the other gifts that they freely bestow on us: time and talent.

What has worked for us?

Our Campaña de Generosidad takes place mainly during the month of October. We talk about it in the homilies, we invite members of the parish and of the community who benefitted from the parish’s work to share their experiences, we send mail to members’ homes, and we distribute flyers about generosity during and after the Eucharist. Throughout the month, we celebrate the generosity the members of the church exhibited throughout the previous year. On All Saints Day we distribute pledge cards (the cards are large and brightly colored, and clearly explain that pledges can be fulfilled online or with the envelopes.) Lists, inviting people to add their names to donate their time or talent, are also circulated. Our goal is to have every family and every parishioner fill out a card and/or donate time or talent. We also encourage symbolic pledges. Clergy also fill out the cards, very visibly.

We stay in touch with the parishioners throughout the year. Our Generosidad standing committee, whose membership reflects our bilingual and multiethnic reality, meets four times a year. Our approach includes home visits to our parishioner families, making phone calls, sending text messages, and communicating through Facebook. The fourth Sunday of every month we celebrate our parishioners’ generosity. One Sunday during adult education we have a forum to talk about generosity and help new people understand the issue, and we invite them throughout the year to fulfill their pledges.

We set pledging goals. Our 2015 goal was 300 pledges and we already have 312… and counting.

We encourage our members to organize events to support our parish. These events, a maximum of four during the year, are organized around cultural festivities and celebrations.

Practicing transparency. Our parishioners receive personal account statements three times a year. We also remind members regularly (often in the announcements made during a worship service) that the congregation’s financial reports are posted on our website and encourage them to look at “St. Mark’s Financials at-a-Glance,” a feature in our monthly newsletter, as well as to contact the treasurer or member of the finance committee with questions.

We do not charge members for sacraments. This enables us to talk even more about the generosity they receive and their responsibility towards the site.

Members can use the parish halls free of charge. We ask for donations to cover expenses and we talk about rights and duties.

What has not worked for us?

  • The term stewardship in Spanish (mayordomía.)
  • Sometimes people forget to bring their envelopes to the church, so we always keep some handy.
  • So far we have been unable to create an electronic means for pledging that people will actually use. We have one, but very few parishioners use it.
  • Mailing materials to parishioners’ homes. We decided to use this method only with Anglo parishioners and some Hispanic/Latinos. It has been our experience that the majority of the Hispanic parishioners do not respond to this type of correspondence. Also, some Hispanic parishioners do not give us their physical address.
  • Attempting to integrate our campaign with the focus on almsgiving of the Roman Catholic Church. This transition has not been easy.
  • Having preconceptions and assumptions about Hispanics/Latinos. It is often assumed that Hispanic/Latino parishioners do not use electronic media to pledge. It is important to have documentation in English and Spanish in the website and other media. We are working on building a bilingual site to pledge on line. Right now we surveying people to find out what they think about it. It is an informal survey, we just ask the parishioners how likely they are to pledge electronically. So far the majority said it was not likely.

A constant learning process

We understand generosity as a constant learning process. We are not afraid of erring in our methods and tactics. Instead, we try to learn from our mistakes to improve our pledge drive.

At St. Mark’s we try to find a way for everybody to participate in the pledge drive. In general, Latino leaders, from the clergy as well as the laity, tend to think that Hispanics are poor. This attitude makes it hard for us to help our brothers and sisters be an active part of the community of the church. We do not talk only about the treasure. We also talk about time and talent, and we learned that it is important to create a space for people to feel that donating their time and talent to the generosity drive also counts.

We know this is not easy work, and that is why we think that it is so important to personally contact individuals and families, as well as members of the community at large. We are not afraid to ask people when a sense of generosity that encompasses talent, time and treasure has been created. We have a permanent relationship with God, with others, with the environment, and with ourselves. That is why every single one of us has something to contribute. This invitation is unlimited.

Before being called to serve as associate rector at St. Mark’s in October 2011, Victor H. Conrado was a Roman Catholic missionary priest who worked for 11 years in Kenya, Africa. Victor is married to Lucia, finance and operations director at St James Cathedral, Chicago. They have two sons, David Antonio and Daniel Santiago. Victor is the president of the Hispanic/Latino Affairs Commission of the Diocese of Chicago.


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This article is part of the September 2015 Vestry Papers issue on Rethinking Stewardship