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Stewardship is counter-cultural

A couple devoting their life to promoting stewardship spirituality travel far and wide to deliver their message with enthusiasm. Journalist PAUL DOBBYN interviewed them in Brisbane recently

“AN attitude of gratitude” – that’s how United States couple April and Ed Laughlin usually describe stewardship spirituality.

It’s a message the couple have recently spread as guest speakers at a series of stewardship institutes and a national conference hosted by the Australia and New Zealand Catholic Stewardship Network.

As Ed and April see it, they have a lot to be grateful about, including the discovery of “the gift of stewardship” itself.

“It’s become one of our real joys … stewardship has enriched our marriage and family life,” April said.

“For example, when you view your spouse as a gift not as a burden, life changes in ways which are wonderful.”

A family tragedy more than 30 years ago led the Florida couple to a whole new way of life which would eventually take them around the world to spread a message essential to the Church’s vitality.

Ed reaches back into painful memories to tell the story.
“Our stewardship journey started when our two-year-old son Michael was severely burnt in an accident,” he said.

“The situation went from one of life and death to a drawn-out ordeal.

“It was a tough time … we had a four-month-old baby girl Meghan as well to care for.

“Our experience of hospitals, visits to clinics, meeting with surgeons … changed our total perspective on life.”
April continues the story.

“We felt this incredible need to thank God and to give back something to our parish which had taken care of us in so many practical ways.

“For Ed, one way was to leave his administration role within the non-sectarian system and become involved in the Catholic school system.

“This led to a post for Ed at Marquette High School in Ottawa, Illinois.”

Around this time, the couple had started to hear about stewardship.

“The stewardship message was taken into my new school and students were very responsive from the outset,” Ed said.

“The school’s program was so successful, invitations started to roll in from schools and parishes from all over the diocese.

“Eventually, the bishop invited me to join him in a stewardship project and I’ve been involved ever since.”

As April eagerly points out, the benefits for Marquette High School and its students quickly became apparent.

“It became a school of service,” she said.

“Students also discovered new skills through their involvement in the program.

“An attitude of service became part of the fabric of students’ lives.

“Many took and developed these skills in different ways when they left school.”

While the couple’s enthusiasm for the stewardship way of life is infectious, both agree motivating others can at times be difficult.

“One of the great errors people make is to think it’s all about financial matters,” Ed said.

“The message is much more spiritual than financial.

“It’s all about an attitude of gratitude – to focus on what you have rather than don’t have … to use various God-given gifts not because you feel obligated, but because of gratitude for what you have.

“People often come reluctantly to institutes, quite often only because their parish priest asked them.

“But after getting the full message, they’ll often say: ‘This isn’t what I thought it was’.

“And they’re very glad they came along.”

Ed and April said generally stewardship spirituality was not something that “immediately takes off” although “good lay leadership and a committed parish priest” would ensure it takes off faster.

“Stewardship is counter-cultural,” Ed said.

“Society says you collect and gather … stewardship says you share.

“Many people today have their wants and needs mixed up … what many consider needs are really wants.

“It’s not a message that people feel comfortable with – the whole idea of a life of service runs against current trends.”

Disasters such as Queensland suffered earlier this year can lead to a temporary softening of such attitudes.

“For example, many will be aware of the widespread community support for those impacted by disasters following the state’s flood and cyclone crises,” Ed said.

“Such attitudes of support often quickly pass.

“However, as Archbishop Thomas Murphy of Seattle once warned, the crisis may end but hunger does not.”

Thirty years on from their first involvement in “the stewardship way of life”, it’s clear Ed and April are in this for the long haul.

When the couple spoke to The Catholic Leader, they had conducted a stewardship institute in Wellington, New Zealand, attended by more than 300 people on August 27 and 28.

They had spent early September holding well-attended stewardship institutes in dioceses including Townsville, Rockhampton and Brisbane and were also guest speakers at the second National Conference on Stewardship held in Brisbane on September 9 and 10.

Coming up fast on their busy calendar was a role as guest speakers for the International Catholic Stewardship Conference from October 23 to 26, fortunately right on their doorstep at Orlando, Florida.

Ed sums up their commitment and the reasons for it.

“Quickly after we first began the stewardship program, we realised in many ways it’s not a program as such – this implies a beginning and an end,” he said.

“We now see it as a journey which we’re all on together as followers of Christ.

“It all comes down to Jesus’ call to love one another … which in the end is based on service to others.”


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