In Your Midst

Putting God First

April 2008

Learning about discipleship through prayer, study, and faith sharing

In January, 2006, Father Ryan convened a group of twenty Cathedral parishioners to study the concept of stewardship.  Was this concept something we wanted to bring to our Cathedral parish?  If so, how?  For six weeks, the group met on Saturday mornings, discussing the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on Stewardship, Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response.   The people’s initial skepticism changed gradually over the course of six weeks to a desire to make this opportunity for study and faith sharing available to the entire Cathedral Parish.  The result was “Putting God First,” a five-week ‘retreat’ based on the Pastoral letter.  This series has now been offered three times, Fall of 2006, and Lent in 2007 and 2008.  Some three hundred parishioners have participated.  We invited some of our facilitators to reflect on the experience and to tell the story of “Putting God First.”  These are their stories.--Maria Laughlin
 
Having the opportunity to study, pray and reflect on the Bishops’ letter Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response with Father Ryan and a group of parishioners brought me to an understanding of the spirituality of stewardship.  It is the joy of discipleship and the joy of being a Christian.  Our experience was so profound that we recommended making a similar experience of study and discernment available to the parish in the form of “Putting God First.” 
After meeting for several Saturday mornings, we were sorry not to have another meeting scheduled.  But the best part is that we meet one another regularly in the context of the parish and elsewhere in the greater community.
What is most rewarding to me is that we now have provided the experience to over 300 parishioners and the facilitators and hosts are parishioners and not parish staff!  We have a new energy and spirit in the parish. Our vision of ‘walking the talk’ and teaching by example is becoming a reality.--Rose Southall
 
Our first session was on Valentine’s Day – a chilly damp Seattle night. I was nervous, wondering who would show up and how I, an introvert, would lead a group of people I had never met through a Lenten journey. I had studied the excellent materials and was prepared with notes and post-its in place. I had an experienced and gracious co-host, Liz Shier. But I knew I needed to do one more thing—to get out of the way and let the Holy Spirit work.
The Holy Spirit did just that. People showed up. They created a community, and journeyed through Lent together. They discovered that the call to stewardship was everywhere they looked. They shared their stories and insights. It was amazing.  In the end, email addresses were exchanged, connections were made, and it felt like individuals moved forward on their journey. For some, a specific idea was formed, an action was decided upon. For others, the process of discernment began and deepened. For me, it was simply a blessing.--Peggy Jarrett
 
Tracy and I were invited to participate in one of the first groups formed, and to be quite honest, we did not know what to think about the “stewardship” word.  Did that mean that the church was going to ask us to give more money?  After all, that is what one seems to naturally think when you are asked to be a steward.  We were not the only ones who thought that, as we found out later, but we were all very surprised at the idea that first session, to realize that being a good steward means so much more!

Since that first session, Tracy and I have facilitated a group of 18 parish faithful, most of whom have continued to meet together once a month.  We have grown to be a family, and our faith, and our awareness of the ways to be good stewards have grown dramatically.  One person in our group, Leslie Frost, put it so well: “Putting God First has opened my eyes, and heart to the many ways we can and should be good stewards; of and for the church, but it goes so much deeper than that, we also need to be good stewards of all that is around us.”

This year, I was fortunate to be part of a third group, as a host to 14-18 people who brought even more to the meaning of “stewardship.”  I am always amazed at the wonderful, thoughtful, treasures that these people continue to be.  All of the people I have met along this journey have been so  different, and diverse in many ways: insightful, caring—wanting fellowship, religious, knowledgeable, new Catholics, cradle Catholics, non-Catholic, but the common thread that ran through each group has been that all of these people have embraced the idea of being a good steward, and putting God First!

I continue to pray that each and every person in our parish, and every parish, can experience what it means to be a good steward.--Liz Shier
 
Facilitating and participating in this Lenten journey for the third year has been a joy for me.  This year we met with fellow Eucharistic Ministers, every Saturday morning.

The most meaningful experience for me was to spend more time with EM’s I know from sharing our ministry, visiting briefly before and after liturgies.  In this group of very committed Christians we were able to look deeper into our relationship with God, with one another and with people we meet daily in our lives. As the weeks passed we all came to value our time together; the only criticism was that there was not enough time.  So we have decided to continue our meetings monthly.--Kathy Lewis
 
I love being a facilitator. It’s true sometimes the group members want to take conversational detours. Yes, it’s true that the facilitator has to put in the time to learn material just like a teacher does. And, redirecting a too-talkative participant is challenging. Still, I love helping people learn about Putting God First and I especially appreciate assisting them discover a new sense of community.

On that score I remember well a session of “Putting God First” in October, 2006. It was early in the life of a group I was facilitating. On that night, at that particular moment, we were sharing about how God had become a warm place in our lives. A couple of people had spoken up and during a pause in the conversation, a soft-spoken clean-cut young man, chimed in. He spoke of how an addiction had caused havoc in his life. Many of his relationships had been ruined. It had cost him his job and he’d been forced to live on the street. Like the prodigal son, his life had hit bottom and he came to his senses. He returned to Christ and to the Catholic Church. Over time his family relationships were restored and his life, now stabilized, held new promise.

Needless to say, that was quite a mouthful and his sharing caught all of us off-guard. When he finished – and I could gather my wits -- I thanked him for his honesty and for trusting us with his story. It was a moment in group life I’ll never forget!

I think it’s fair to say our group was never the same after that. The young man’s sharing had taken us to new depths of trust and connection with one another. His openness inspired openness in the others. In fact, the experience created a powerful and lasting sense of community among us that remains to this day.--John Simpson
 

 

We invited participants during Lent, 2008, to respond to the question, “What did you find most valuable in this five-week process?”  Here are some of their answers.

  • Being my first time in a group like this I didn't know what to expect.  I think what I loved most was meeting these wonderful people and learning how God is using each one of us.
  • I learned that stewardship does not just mean giving money!
  • The group was very diversified which was excellent because we were all coming from different places on our journey.
  • Listening to others and their lives; learning the extent of what others do/contribute/serve.
  • Getting to know other parishioners, listening and learning from their walk with God.
  • The time to focus more directly and deeply on Jesus in my life and everyday experience.
  • The community and open discussion about what people have done and what they want to do.  The excitement of learning and reading, how this all fits together with our gifts, talents, and abilities.
  • Witnessing and hearing the faith of others, learning where they are in stewardship and “Putting God First.”
  • Two things stand out.  The time allotted for discussion in groups was invaluable.  I’m enormously grateful for their insight.  And, the materials that supplement the book are top notch—very challenging questions and terrific reflections.
  • Hearing the stories of others—it has opened up my understanding to the possibilities of stewardship.  The sharing has also been an inspiration to listen more carefully for the call.
  • I learned that stewardship isn't necessarily the “big” things, but even and especially the smaller things that count.  I never really thought of that.
  • The opportunity to set some designated time aside to read and reflect on the assigned readings and to participate with others in open discussions
  • I’m always amazed at the insights from a small group--often ideas totally different from my own thoughts.
  • Thank you for this opportunity.  I enjoyed the small group discussions that led to sharing of a personal nature and knowing new friends.
     

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