Father Bill Hanson helped sow the seeds of stewardship in the approximately 250 people who attended the Diocese of Rochester’s third-annual Stewardship Day, which was held May 5 at St. Patrick Church in Victor.
Father Hanson, the keynote speaker, traveled to Victor from Port Jefferson Station in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, where he is pastor of St. Gerard Majella Parish. A member of the International Catholic Stewardship Council’s board of directors, Father Hanson also led several workshops during the stewardship event, and all were very well received, noted Mark Clark, associate diocesan director of the Office of Stewardship, Development and Communications.
“The whole day was about the joy of stewardship, and the whole effort was to raise excitement, interest and engagement in stewardship,” Clark said. “It was a great day, and we’re looking forward to working on stewardship with the parishes on an ongoing basis.”
Throughout the day Father Hanson used his presentations to draw a connection between stewardship and Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seed. In this parable, a farmer sows seeds in various types of soil, and the fruits of his harvest are different depending on the quality of the soil the seeds were planted in. In Matthew 13:1-23, Jesus explains how this parable talks about the different ways his message will be received and his kingdom will flourish.
This parable can be applied in another way to stewardship, or the ways Catholics use their gifts of time, talent and treasure to serve their church, Father Hanson said. Many people don’t realize how many talents God has given them, and how they can use these gifts to benefit others, he said.
“When I as a priest tell people, ‘You’re very talented and God has given you many talents,’ they all smile and nod at me,” Father Hanson said.
They don’t necessarily believe him, however, and they often think they don’t have any talents — or seeds — to contribute. This changed when Father Hanson learned about a book called Living Your Strengths, which was published by the Gallup Organization and utilizes a tool called Clifton’s StrengthsFinder. People who buy this book can go on the Internet, fill out a 177-question survey and receive a customized report listing their top five talents and strengths, he said.
When it produced this tool, the Gallup Organization drew upon 30 years worth of data and interviews with more than 2 million people, Father Hanson said. Completing the survey spells out people’s individual strengths and talents in black and white, and people are usually shocked to realize the report is right about them. Oftentimes people reading the report are recognizing and seeing their own talents for the very first time, he added.
Father Hanson has seen people use this newfound understanding of their own strengths and characteristics to change the ways they interact with others, including their church. For example, one woman in his own parish had long been perceived as a “wet blanket.” Every time others began excitedly planning a new project, this woman would point out all of the project’s potential negative consequences.
After she used the StrengthsFinder tool, she and her fellow parishioners realized that her attention to detail was actually one of her strengths. She hadn’t been bringing up potential problems because she was opposed to the projects, but rather because she was good at foreseeing the possible consequences, Father Hanson said. After the volunteers realized this, they began routinely coming to her in the planning stages of their projects so she could identify potential drawbacks and ways to fix them, he said.
Recognizing parishioners’ talents is just the first step, Father Hanson said, noting that it’s also important for parish leaders to measure the engagement level of their parishioners. According to more data from the Gallup Organization, most church communities are made up of three types of people — the actively engaged, not engaged and actively disengaged, Father Hanson said.
Engaged parishioners are deeply loyal and emotionally attached to their church communities. An engaged parish community can be likened to deep, fertile soil in which parishioners can easily plant their seeds and use their gifts, he said.
Understanding parishioners’ talents and engagement levels not only guides parish leaders in their decisions, but it also improves parish life overall, Father Hanson said. The number of actively engaged parishioners at St. Gerard Majella has increased since the parish began using the Gallup Organization’s tools, he noted, and the parish has reaped many benefits.
“I never expected these results to come from measuring all this,” Father Hanson said. “If you’ve got good soil, the seeds germinate before they even hit the ground.”