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: Past 25 years remembered, next 25 anticipated at More Than You Realize conference

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“Be not afraid!”

This was the rallying cry at the Aug. 11 More Than You Realize conference, echoing the very same call St. John Paul II gave exactly 25 years ago when he visited Denver for World Youth Day in 1993.

Over 5,000 faithful from across the Archdiocese of Denver filled the seats of the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland at what was the largest Catholic gathering in Colorado since WYD ’93. The all-day conference was presented in both English and Spanish tracks, featured a dynamic lineup of renowned Catholic speakers, and culminated in a powerful commissioning Mass.

The name More Than You Realize and consequently, the logo resembling an eyechart, stems from the idea that almost everything may appear a certain way at surface level, but upon closer inspection, it can be more than one realizes and seen in a different light. This is especially true when it comes to the Catholic Church.

Over 5,000 gathered at the Budweiser Events Center Aug. 11 for the More Than You Realize conference, which celebrated the last 25 years since World Youth Day in Denver and looked to the next 25. (Photo by Jason Weinrich)

In planning for nearly two years, pastors from each parish of the archdiocese hand-picked those parishioners and members of their community who they wished to attend the conference, which revolved around the idea of discipleship. Through engaging videos and talks given by speakers such as Chris Stefanick, Luis Soto and Dr. Edward Sri, attendees were invited to join a new movement of discipleship within the archdiocese, echoing the one sparked 25 years ago at World Youth Day.

“[I] had a great rejuvenating time at the More Than You Realize Conference,” said Alex Martinez, a parishioner at St. Pius X Parish. “I am excited to see the MTYR movement take shape.”

Brenda Garrett, a parishioner of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception said, “It was an amazing event, so blessed my pastor Father Ron from the Cathedral Basilica sent me. I am so proud to be part of this movement.”

The key to evangelization

Cardinal J. Francis Stafford spoke before Mass began about the impact of World Youth Day 1993 and the challenges the Church faces today.

“What does the summer of ’93 teach us about our present circumstances in 2018?” the cardinal asked. “The Holy Spirit was sent out in a special mission to our Church in 1993. The power of that sending was unexpected and disorienting to me as archbishop and to most others.”

Cardinal J. Francis Stafford speaks during the More Than You Realize conference. (Photo by Jason Weinrich)

But despite urban violence, threats of boycotts, organized protests and other issues prior to World Youth Day 1993, “a fundamental change took place in the Church of Denver,” said Cardinal Stafford, “but not only here — among the young people who came throughout the world, [and] even the Holy Father.

“Above all, our Church was transformed,” he said.

Cardinal Stafford said that to evangelize those who don’t know the Gospel, we first need “…a deep awareness of the delight of the Father taking in each of us as baptized men and women,” he said.

“I would urge you to think deeply and to pray deeply about realizing how delighted God is in you — each of you — because you are received by the Father as being [part of] the body of his Son, who is beloved.”

‘Jesus is much more than you realize’

In his homily given in both English and Spanish, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila also touched on what World Youth Day 1993 means for us today.

“The world likes to tell us many things about ourselves,” he said, “and not many of them today are good or uplifting. Just look at the distorted image of beauty that is prevalent today, let alone the distortions of what it means to be a human person…

“The devil is certainly having a field day in a world that has abandoned God, and even in some members of the Church who have a weak faith in Jesus,” he said.

But despite similar issues taking place in 1993, the pope brought to Denver a message of hope.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila celebrates the commissioning Mass that closed out the conference. (photo by Andrew Wright)

“When St. John Paul II spoke to the youth gathered for the prayer vigil on Saturday night at Cherry Creek State Park, he reminded them that God and a much bigger role for them to play in history,” said Archbishop Aquila.

That message is just as important today, within an archdiocese and Church that stand at a crossroads, the archbishop said.

“We have an opportunity to make a major impact for Jesus Christ, even as the surrounding culture is becoming less Christian.”

The pope opened the doors for those who attended to become greater disciples of Christ — not just directly after World Youth Day, but forever.

“St. John Paul II believed in retrospect that a revolution had taken place in Denver,” said the archbishop. “We, today, are the inheritors of this spiritual revolution, and we must not be afraid to put out into the deep to let our nets down for a catch.

“Jesus is much more than you realize. The Church is more than you realize. And your role in the plan of God is much more than you realize or [can] even imagine,” he said.

“And so, I beg you as your shepherd today to open your hearts to Jesus and speak heart-to-heart with him who loves you most.”

Aaron Lambert, Moira Cullings and Vladimir Mauricio-Perez contributed to this report.