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Stewardship Interview: "Giving is Part of our Spiritual Life"

Ronald Nicola, Department of StewardshipRonald Nicola, Department of StewardshipThe Antiochian Archdiocese Department of Stewardship's Chair Ronald Nicola taught high school social studies and served as a vice-principal for many years. A California native, he grew up attending St. Nicholas Church in San Francisco. He and his family have been members of St. John the Evangelist Orthodox Church in Orinda, California since its founding in 1978.

Ron has been active in many ministries of the Archdiocese, from SOYO to parish council to a twenty-year period of service on the Board of Trustees. Through these experiences, he developed an interest in Christian stewardship and the Scriptural teachings that guide the faithful in their offerings of time, talents, and treasure. Recently, the Department of Stewardship added two substantial resources to the web: The Fifty-Two Week Parish Giving Campaign, and the Parish Council Guidebook. The department is also responsible for the upcoming Parish Council Symposium in November. spoke with Ron about the ministry of the Antiochian Archdiocese's Department of Stewardship.

1. What is the Department of Stewardship—when was it founded, and why?

Metropolitan Philip established the Department of Stewardship in 1975 and he appointed the late Ernest Saykaly of Montreal, Quebec, as its first chairperson.  Mr. Saykaly, who was also the vice-chairman of the Archdiocese Board of Trustees, developed initial materials for the department under the banner, “We Believe.” Both Metropolitan and Mr. Saykaly had the foresight to see that an enhanced understanding of the concept of Christian stewardship could improve the quality of member participation in the life of their parish and in the life of the Antiochian Archdiocese.

The “We Believe” campaign laid the foundation upon which the work of the Department of Stewardship has been built. It established the message that all aspects of member participation in the life of the church must be scripturally based. Whether attending Divine Liturgy, attending a parish council meeting, helping with a parish clean-up day, or preparing the parish budget for the coming year, scriptural teachings guide all of these activities. Certainly the professional training and personal experiences of a parishioner play a role guiding their involvement in parish activities, but the influence of scriptural teachings must always be the main guiding principle in these endeavors.

In 1977, Metropolitan appointed Dr. George Dibs and me to continue the work started by the late Ernest Saykaly. Since the passing of Dr. Dibs, I have continued to serve as chairperson of the Department of Stewardship.

2. When we think of stewardship, we usually think of money. How do you define stewardship?

In my view, the term stewardship can be defined using different combinations of words as long as a central message is reflected in any definition. Christian stewardship involves the offering of time, talents, and resources to the Church in thanksgiving for the many blessings God has bestowed upon His children. We give not because the Church needs our time, our talents, or our resources, but because we need to offer these blessings in acknowledgement that these gifts are a blessing from God. We offer them to the Church in thanksgiving to Him for blessing our lives so many ways.

3. Can you explain for us the purpose of the 52-Week Giving Campaign?

The 52-Week Member Giving Campaign is designed to change the perspective in many parishes about why and how much individual members give to the church. Why we give should be based on the reality that all we have in life is a gift from God. How much we give should be a measure of our thanks to God for His love for us, His children.

Too often, parishioners give an amount which tradition in that parish has established as the "expected" sum. Terms like "dues" and "fair share giving" are used in many parishes as the basis for how much members are expected to give.

The 52-Week Member Giving Campaign lays out a systematic way to remind parishioners that giving is an integral part of our spiritual life in the church. Passages like these two serve as the basis for this program.

Proverbs 3:9-10  “Honor the Lord with your substance and with the first fruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.”

2 Corinthians 9:6-8  “The point is this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work.”

The Bible and Church teachings are clear on the subject of giving. God expects us to tithe as a measure of our love for Him and in thanksgiving for the blessings He has bestowed upon us. When we give from this perspective, then the needs of the Church are met and the help the Church can offer to others is extensive.

4. What was the genesis for the Parish Council Guidebook, and why do you feel it is important that councils become familiar with it?

The Parish Council Guidebook is intended as a resource for parish councils. Why is such a resource needed? Parish Council members, just like church school teachers or choir members, require training that is scripturally based. Many assume that all the training parish council members need comes from their various career fields. Business people, lawyers, teachers, homemakers, contractors, electricians, engineers, medical professionals, social workers, or any number of other professions bring their experiences in these career fields to bear when they become members of the parish council. While this secular training is of great value to the church, it must be applied with a clear scriptural understanding of what is expected from parish council members. By familiarizing themselves with the material in Guidebook and by the guidance they receive from their parish priest, parish council members can better and more appropriately fulfill their important responsibilities as parish leaders.

From the earliest days of Metropolitan’s leadership of the Antiochian Archdiocese, he spoke about when he called, “the upstairs/downstairs theology.” In 1968, Metropolitan Philip said: “For many years, we have been administering our local parishes under a false dichotomy; indeed under a dangerous and unorthodox dualism. We have been preaching two kinds of theology: One for the church upstairs and one for the hall downstairs. We do not believe in this ‘upstairs downstairs’ theology. Nor do we believe in the existence of two classes in the parish, opposing each other, ‘them and us,’ clergy versus laity. This kind of dichotomy has caused us many serious parochial problems. Unfortunately, some of our clergy do not think that we need parish councils to help us administer the affairs of our parishes. Moreover, they believe that parish councils are nothing but an American innovation which we should abolish. I completely disagree with this kind of unrealistic and unorthodox thinking. On the other hand, we have parish councils who believe that priest are hired and fired at the whims of parish councils. Furthermore, they believe that the priest takes care of the spiritual matters and they take care of the financial matters. Thus, when the priest is giving his sermon upstairs, the council members are counting the Sunday collections downstairs. I completely disagree with this thinking and this unorthodox practice.”

The Parish Council Guidebook is a resource of specific tips, tools, and background information which supports the teaching articulated by Metropolitan Philip that there is a definite scriptural basis for service on the parish council and that the church teaches that a true partnership between clergy and laity makes for a productive parish council.

5. How can the faithful be better stewards? How can we enhance the spirit of giving in our parish communities and families?

Reading, prayer, and dialogue, all offer insight into how we can become better stewards and how we can enhance the spirit of giving in our parish communities.

Under the leadership of your parish priest, read scripture and other church writings in order to become enlightened about when is expected of us in terms of the giving of our time, talents, and resources.

Spend time, both individually and collectively, praying for the strength needed to understand and act upon when we know God expects from each of us.

With the newfound depth of understanding that comes from reading and praying, discuss with your fellow Orthodox Christians about how to structure programs, initiatives, and support services within the parish which bring to life the true principles of Orthodox Christian Stewardship.