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.
“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.
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.
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.’”