Denver parish transmits spirit of stewardship, community for over 45 years

Spirit of Christ continues to bear fruit through generosity and small-group ministries

When Father Chris Renner requests volunteers for a new parish outreach project, he often has a different problem than most priests: too many people respond. It’s a problem many pastors would like to have more frequently. Founded in 1974, Spirit of Christ Parish has kept a living tradition of generously giving to the Church and local community by keeping a spirit of stewardship and small church communities that continues to bear fruit.

“From its very beginnings, Spirit of Christ was founded with a sense of outreach, charity, stewardship and small church communities,” said Father Renner, pastor of the parish. “People have a sense of it being a community center for their lives and families. It has maintained that for over 45 years. Parishioners have been true to that tradition.”

When it comes to supporting international and archdiocesan ministries monetarily, few parishes can afford to do what Spirit of Christ does. With hundreds of thousands of dollars given to charity and ministries, the parish tithes 15 percent of their gross offertory yearly, without fundraisers or second collections.

Spirit of Christ committed to a zero-based budget from its foundation and was honest with its members about what the church needed to sustain itself.

(Photo by Andrew Wright)

“From the beginning we said that we would live from what people gave us. They had to support [the parish] because we didn’t have the money to survive [without their help]. So, volunteers had to step up and do what needed to be done,” said Cathi Politano, current Ministry Coordinator and staff member for 23 years. “Then every year the budget grew. And finance council raised the percentage of tithing, which is now at 15 percent.

“The finance council believed we needed to be true to what we had received. God blessed us, and we need to bless those in return,” she continued. “And that’s what we teach. We rely only on what we need and everything else we will share with those who have a need and present it.”

Yearly, dozens of organizations submit grant requests of direct needs to the parish. Some of the institutions Spirit of Christ has had the opportunity to help are St. Antony’s Hospital, Christ in the City, Centro San Juan Diego, Marisol Health, international groups that build houses or develop water programs, other local groups to help the poor and homeless, and many more.

“It makes me feel good when people call and ask, ‘Do you think your parish could do this?’ and I’m able to say, ‘Yes, we can do that.’ We are blessed with this parish, with the people and the Spirit that resides here. And I believe 100 percent he’s active here every single day,” Politano said.

Giving together

Father Renner sees the key to sustaining the original mission and vision of the parish in two factors: the pastor and the community.

“The parish has had strong pastors who have truly embraced stewardship in their hearts,” he said. They have committed to preaching and talking about it. “[Parishioners understand that] it is about a responsibility we have to God, to each other, to the Church… I’d never seen stewardship so infused in everything in the parish.”

When people understand that stewardship is a lifestyle in which the Christian is called to trust and cooperate with God for the building up of the Kingdom on earth through their time, talent and treasure, it becomes contagious. For this reason, community is another aspect that has kept this mission alive in the parish.

From its very beginnings, Spirit of Christ was founded with a sense of outreach, charity, stewardship and small church communities. People have a sense of it being a community center for their lives and families. It has maintained that for over 45 years. Parishioners have been true to that tradition.”

“When you see your fellow parishioners so involved and so giving, it’s a positive reinforcement and challenge,” the pastor said.

It’s no surprise that the spirit of giving has grown along with the spirit of community, especially through the 118 small church communities that form part of the parish.

“These faith-based small communities were developed when the Church was founded. They consist of small groups of eight to 12 individuals that meet at homes, have meals together, have social time and pray together. Some groups do book studies and discuss them, or others prepare for Sunday readings, [etc.],” said Susan Levesque, Small Church Communities Director at Sprit of Christ, where she grew up.

Among the many small church communities, there are some specifically for families, newly married couples, widows, divorced, and for men and women in general, among others.

Through small church communities like this, Spirit of Christ fosters a culture of discipleship among its parishioners. (Photo provided)

Amy Feijoo, long-time parishioner, says that being part of a small church community has allowed her and her husband to transmit a strong Catholic foundation to their children and form strong relationships that have helped them grow.

“I am most grateful for the love my community has given me. I have these people that love me unconditionally and can share with me in Christ. It’s true love for neighbor and I’m just so grateful for that,” she said. “We have laughed, prayed, cried, and walked with each other. We have supported a couple from our community through the process of adoption … [and have even] helped each other in hard financial times.”

Small church communities also help non-practicing Catholics and non-Catholics who are part of their group to know the faith and attend Mass and other parish activities, Levesque said.

These strong relationships and commitment to the mission of generosity to God and neighbor present at Spirit of Christ Parish make anyone feel at home, she added: “I’m home. I got really spoiled growing up in this parish. You can go years without finding another parish like this and you come back and say, ‘This is it, I’m home.’”

COMING UP: A caveat on the great Tom Wolfe

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When the great Tom Wolfe died on May 14 — he of the white suits, the spats, and the prose style as exuberant as his wardrobe — I, like millions of others, remembered the many moments of pleasure I had gotten from his work.

My Wolfe-addiction began on a cross-country flight in 1979, shortly after The Right Stuff was published. Always an airplane and space nut, I was fascinated by Wolfe’s re-creation of the culture of America’s test pilots and astronauts at the height of the Cold War. And there was that extraordinarily vivid writing. At one point I burst out laughing, scaring the daylights of the elderly lady sitting next to me but not daring to show her the passage — it must have involved Pancho Barnes’ Happy Bottom Riding Club, a saloon outside Edwards Air Force Base — that set me off.

After The Right Stuff got me going on Tom Wolfe, it was impossible to stop. The first half of Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers — Wolfe’s scathing account of a reception thrown for the Black Panthers by Leonard and Felicia Bernstein — remains the quintessential smack-down of political correctness among the 1% cultural elites. From Bauhaus to Our House explains why anyone with an aesthetic sense thinks something is seriously wrong with modernist architecture, and does so in a way that makes you laugh rather than cry.

Then there was Wolfe’s first novel, The Bonfire of the Vanities. One of its chapters, “The Masque of the Red Death,” takes its title from Edgar Allan Poe and with mordant humor dissects the vacuity of Manhattanites consumed (and in some cases destroyed) by their grotesque, over-the-top consumerism. I recently re-read that stunning set-piece and the thought occurred, as it had before, that it was a far more effective polemic against materialism than anything ever issued by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Bonfire was also brilliant in skewering the destructiveness of New York’s race hustlers, the obtuseness of a values-free media, and the fecklessness of too many politicians.

Asked once by monks who run a prestigious prep school what they might do to disabuse parents of the notion that their sons were doomed if they didn’t get into Harvard, Duke, Stanford, and the like, I suggested giving a copy of I Am Charlotte Simmons to the parents of every incoming senior. Wolfe’s fictional tale of life on elite American university campuses in the 21st century is a sometimes-jarring exercise in the social realism practiced (a bit less brutally) by Dickens and Balzac. But Charlotte Simmons, like Wolfe’s other fiction, has a serious moral core and an important cultural message. The young innocent, the brightest girl in town who makes it to an elite university, gets corrupted by stages: and her moral corruption is preceded by intellectual corruption — the class in which she’s taught that there’s really nothing properly called “the truth.”

I do have one post-mortem caveat to register about Tom Wolfe’s oeuvre, which takes me back to The Right Stuff (and while we’re on that subject again, forget the inane movie). The central figure in Wolfe’s tale of aeronautical daring-do is Chuck Yeager, the man who first broke the “sound barrier” in the Bell X-1, and did so with a couple of broken ribs, which he managed in flight with the aid of a sawed-off broom handle. Yeager was an extraordinary figure who never became a national celebrity because of the (absurd) news blackout surrounding the X-1 project, and Wolfe clearly wanted to pay tribute to him as an unsung American hero.

To do so, however, Tom Wolfe seemed to think he needed a foil, and he cast astronaut Gus Grissom in that role: “L’il Gus,” the Hoosier grit lampooned as a bumbler to make Yeager look even better. And that was a grave disservice to the memory of Virgil I. Grissom, who did not mess up the second Mercury space flight (Wolfe’s account notwithstanding), and who gave his life for his country in the launch pad fire that consumed Apollo 1 — which Grissom knew to be a deeply flawed spacecraft and had urged NASA to improve.

So now that Tom Wolfe and Gus Grissom have both crossed what Wolfe once called the Halusian Gulp, I hope these two American patriots are reconciled. Both had the right stuff.