Room for everybody: how a vibrant stewardship culture flourishes at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish
ARLINGTON — Sadly, the position in which Tommy and Linda Woodson found themselves was not unusual.
Members of Most Blessed Sacrament Parish since 1985, the couple had been quite involved with the parish as they raised their five children. But once their nest was empty, they looked around the pews and felt they were sitting among strangers.
My, how times have changed.
Most Blessed Sacrament has fostered a culture of stewardship and an atmosphere of welcome in the last five years, causing parish engagement, ministry participation, and relationships between parishioners to soar.
“Tommy’s goal is knowing everybody by name,” said Linda Woodson, explaining her husband’s routine of introducing himself to visitors and newcomers. “Worshipping with folks that we now know — you want to know everybody. It’s almost like a movement in this parish.”
Monsignor Joseph Pemberton, the pastor of the 1,800-family parish, said seeds of stewardship were planted before he arrived at the Arlington parish in 2016. “The spirit of that concept was already here when I came…. It wasn’t too hard to make it begin to bloom, to blossom, and so we continue to build on that with God’s grace,” he said.
A critical first step in the transformation of the parish was the introduction of Welcome Weekends (formerly known as Christ Renews His Parish), an opportunity for parishioners to form small communities and determine ministries in which they would like to serve.
When Msgr. Pemberton decided to launch Welcome Weekends, he asked the Woodsons to be the contact people, which started the retired couple’s personal commitment to stewardship at the parish.
Getting people involved is the goal. “As people become involved and see what the needs are, then they make the connection that they can make a difference. There’s room for everybody, 100 percent participation,” Tommy said.
“And an invitation for everybody to participate in some way,” emphasized Linda.
Msgr. Pemberton noted he’s surrounded by many leaders that have inspired “an excitement, an energy that is contagious: to see stewardship not as something we do, but as a way of life.”
For example, according to the pastor, “If we’re working on a particular project, when it’s over and done with, they say, ‘What more can we do?’ There’s always a hunger to do more and more.”
The Stewardship Committee of Most Blessed Sacrament Parish began meeting regularly in 2019 to help funnel that dynamic spirit into hospitality, prayer, formation, and service. About 25 members and staff attend the monthly meetings.
The Woodsons, who chair the committee, said the atmosphere is a “culture of ‘yes’ where we never, ever squash an idea,” said Linda.
Tommy elaborated, “We call them mustard seeds, because they are so small and yet if somebody comes up to you with an idea, at first we take that mustard seed and say, ‘If you think that needs to happen, give it a little more thought and then a little more words, and let’s go back to it again when it has more form and structure.’
“They have to make this their own home. They have to feel that their being here makes a difference; and they are relevant; they are important; and that God wants them here and that we want them here,” he continued.
Mustard seeds that have born fruit include a parish library, Rosary groups, and check-in phone calls during the pandemic.
Stewardship extends beyond the parish walls as well, reaching into the Arlington community to those experiencing hunger or homelessness. And earlier this year the parish donated $45,000 to help build the All Saints Family Activity and Youth Center in Eastland, which four parishes will share.
Msgr. Pemberton explained the gift for the parishes more than 100 miles west of Most Blessed Sacrament. “We’re part of them and they are part of us. So as a family, we have a responsibility to each other, to try to help our brothers and sisters in faith, and to walk with them in their journey, as they walk with us.”
Stewardship “causes people to dream,” said Tommy. “And once we get the okay to move forward, then we work on making it happen.”
Those dreams, Msgr. Pemberton pointed out, are rooted in Christ and our role “as an extension of the mind, the heart, the hands of Christ Himself.”
“Through the grace of God, we have taken that seed [of stewardship] and He has enabled it to grow, if we stay focused on Christ. Once we take our eyes off of Christ, all of this endeavor is going to fail, because we begin to look at ourselves as the one doing it, not our Lord. Ultimately it is His grace that is enabling all this goodness of stewardship to be alive here,” Msgr. Pemberton said.
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Doubling the dollars
The All Saints Family Activity and Youth Center planned in Eastland has been awarded a challenge grant by the Mabee Foundation. If $200,000 is raised by January 11, 2023, the Mabee Foundation will match it. Including the Most Blessed Sacrament gift, $62,141 has been raised toward the grant to date. The multi-purpose center with classrooms, a kitchen, and auditorium will serve four parish communities: Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in Cisco; St. Francis Xavier in Eastland; St. John in Strawn; and St. Rita in Ranger.
Father Vijaya Mareedu, SAC, pastor of the four parishes, said, “God’s hand is seen in the process, seeing the parishes working together” raising money through burrito and tamale sales, rodeo contests, and the like. “All four parishes realize we are working for the future.”
The project’s total budget is $2.3 million, a daunting amount, but Fr. Mareedu said, “This is God’s work. If He wills it, nothing can stop it.” Parishioners are grateful for the grant and support from the diocese, which shows “We care for you. We are one diocese, one Church,” said the pastor.
Donate online at bit.ly/MabeeEastland.