Stewardship Is Key in Latin America and the Dominican Republic
Stewardship is critical to the dignity and sustainability of the church in Latin America and the Dominican Republic. It is so important that the members of every mission and congregation should offer a tithe or pledge to support their local and diocesan mission. Likewise, every mission and congregation needs a stewardship committee to conduct an annual campaign and help its members understand stewardship.
In the Latin American Roman Catholic culture parishioners have been conditioned to offer only alms. In the Episcopal Church the offering is used in the maintenance of the church, to pay clergy salaries, and to assist the needy. These tithes and financial offerings are important to the daily operation of the Church.
The low level of stewardship in our churches in the 9th Province is linked to the model of dependence brought to Latin America by the first Episcopal missionaries. Because the people were so poor, missionaries thought that the Episcopal Church would need to provide everything necessary to create local congregations. That early model established a culture of dependence, and even now there are priests who say, “Our people are poor, so they cannot give.”
For the integrity of the Episcopal Church in Latin America and its financial sustainability, it is imperative that everyone, starting with the priest, practice tithing. There is no better way to improve the financial support of the church and the missionary work of the diocese.
A church that does not practice stewardship and receives only alms is a church that must always depend on external support. Stewardship, which recognizes that the life of the church relies on each of us, is an important step towards personal and institutional dignity, and a step toward ending dependence.
The diocese of the Dominican Republic emphasizes stewardship in all its congregations. All parishes and priests, even those located in poor areas, emphasize that all parishioners have a responsibility to tithe. The diocesan stewardship committee conducts workshops throughout the year at the archdeacon and congregational levels.
Local self-sustainability and support for the diocese vary according to the canonical status of the congregation. In the Dominican Republic for example, with the expansion of the church and a greater emphasis on stewardship, contributions to the diocese have increased more than seven times (720% between 1991 and 2000), and they continue to rise. In Honduras new congregations are not allowed to become members of the diocese unless they can be self-sustaining.
As for personal stewardship, we must recognize that it is a learned practice that grows over time. Most of us do not promise to tithe at first, but in time, we begin with a small amount and each year tend to give more to the work of the Lord. The diocese should encourage everyone in their personal commitment to stewardship, including priests, who should be the first to tithe. While it is not required that priests report their gifts to the church, it should be very clear that they contribute to its maintenance so that they can serve as role models.
Since its founding in 1913, the faithful of the Episcopal Church in the Dominican Republic have contributed their gifts to support missionary work. Those gifts, however, were not sufficient to sustain the church, nor for its growth and expansion at the national level. For that reason, a series of steps were taken, beginning in 1991, to develop a strategic plan that would reduce our economic dependence on the Episcopal Church and facilitate the growth of the 22 existing congregations, increase the number of clergy – in those days, 15 – and at the same time, initiate a process to open new missions in different communities around the country.
This strategic plan can be summarized in the following steps:
- We conducted a series of retreats for the clergy, seminarians and lay leaders that generated spiritual renewal and a new vision of the mission of the church. We rediscovered that the mission of the church is evangelization and service.
- We initiated a program for the development of lay leaders in matters such as content and use of the Bible, evangelization and Christian education.
- Thanks to renewal and a missionary spirit, most of our congregations have grown through prayer groups and Bible studies, both in church and at home, and the interest in starting new missions (congregations) has awakened. In 2017 the diocese went from 22 congregations to more than 60, and the number of clergy tripled.
- The number of donors in the congregations has increased. Most of the parishioners already fill out pledge cards and fulfill their promises.
- In 1998, the Dominican Development Group was created, which has become one of the most solid supports for the construction of new spaces of worship, educational centers, vicariates and centers for retreats and conferences.
- One of the most important service programs is education. In the Diocese of the Dominican Republic, we went from seven educational centers to 28, and most of them contribute to the financial sustainability of the local congregation and the diocesan budget.
- A main objective was the creation of the Self-Sufficiency Capital Fund, which has served as one of the pillars of the financial sustainability and drives the missionary work of the Episcopal Church in the Dominican Republic. In 1991, financial dependence on the Episcopal Church was at about 84%. With the current level of individual contributions, that figure is now around 8% and the diocesan budget is five times greater than that of 1991. In fact, the Dominican Episcopal Church is fully self-sufficient.
Today the Diocese of the Dominican Republic maintains its active missionary spirit through its clergy and lay leaders, its seminary to train clergy, Cursillo, Daughters of the King, Episcopal Church Women, its youth and Episcopal men.
In his retirement, Dr. Robert Stevens serves as volunteer Executive Director of the Province IX Development Group, on the cutting edge supporting Latin American dioceses along their path towards development and self-sustainability. Previously he was the founding Executive Director of the Dominican Development Group and worked closely with the Rt. Rev. Julio Holguín in the Diocese of the Dominican Republic’s dynamic growth to self-sustainability. Dr. Stevens lives in St. Petersburg, FL and is married to Dr. Vickie Stevens and has four children and 10 grandchildren.
Julio Cesar Holguín Khoury was born in the Dominican Republic. He and his wife Milagros Hernández have two sons and a daughter and one grandson and one granddaughter. He studied sociology and was ordained to the priesthood in 1977. He was diocesan bishop of the diocese of the Dominican Republic from 1991 until his retirement in 2017. He has held many positions including being a member of Executive Council, being President of the IX Province, of the Commission of Theological Education for Latin America and the Caribbean (CETALC) and of the Latin American Council of Churches. He is an honorary president for the World Council of Religions for Peace.
- Model Intentional Giving by Laurel Johnston, Vestry Papers, September 2010
- Faithful Giving: What Does this Mean? by Greg Syler, ECF Vital Practices Blog, October 21, 2015
- Thoughtful Stewardship—Beyond the Tithe by Caleb Loring III, Vestry Papers, June 2001
- Asking—and Asking Rightly by Jerry Keucher, ECF Vital Practices Blog, October 10, 2017