This posthumous work of Patrick McNamara provides a fitting conclusion to his efforts of investigating the dynamics of stewardship in Christian Churches. Called to Be Stewards adds novel input to the study of stewardship by presenting and analyzing Roman Catholic parishes. What is more, McNamara approaches his subject as a sociologist. McNamara's work is groundbreaking for two reasons. First, the language of stewardship, despite the work of the International Catholic Steward Council since 1962, is still rather new to American Catholics. Previous studies, some of which include McNamara as a researcher, indicate that Catholics are behind other Christian denominations in understanding and practicing stewardship. The days of fundraising events, such as bingo, are coming to an end; stewardship is the direction of the future. This study, then, is very timely for the Catholic community.
Second, the author approaches the study through sociological analysis that grasps contextual dynamics of parish life, including size, economic demographics, and length of involvement in stewardship. This is not a theological treatise on stewardship; neither does his enterprise aim at providing a general template for initiating stewardship in any parish. McNamara engaged in a careful study of the valuable and variable texture of parish life. He places the analysis within the framework of the socially challenging dynamics of shrinking social capital identified by Robert Putnam and the delicacy of addressing money concerns in churches by Robert Wuthnow.
For the sociologically informed reader there is satisfaction in learning how certain variables succeed or defeat efforts to establish and maintain a stewardship program in a Catholic parish in the United States. The non-sociological reader, a member of the audience that might be the larger consumer of this text, is guided through important factors that helped the selected congregations initiate and succeed in implementing a stewardship program. His use of interviews is helpful to these readers because it grounds the study in human response beyond statistical analysis. Hence, McNamara succeeds in providing a text that can bring a diverse audience into a common discussion of an important future dimension of American Catholic Parishes. He further teaches through the very structure of the text by framing the chapters according to levels of involvement in stewardship: Beginning parishes, those "Under Way," and the Advanced parishes. I was pleased to see that he did not choose to present data on the flagship of Catholic stewardship, St. Francis of Assisi in Wichita, KS. No one disputes the success of stewardship there, but many, including myself, are at a loss about where else stewardship works. Hence, this book begins to catalogue other successes that are lacking in the literature.
The book is eminently readable. His narrative, based on contextual observations and interviews, guides the reader through data to an understanding of how each parish has engaged stewardship. Ethnography plays an important part in opening up the world of stewardship to the reader. It is an evocative method especially to a reader who is also a practitioner. Who will cherish this book? Any pastor, Stewardship Committee, or group of interested parishioners will find this book informative and motivational. I even suggest it as a way for a group of parishioners to reflection on their parish's stage of development with regard to stewardship and formulate questions about how to move to the next level. A sociologist interested in church activities around finances will want to know the content of this book. McNamara's study suggests that the Catholics are arriving in this matter, and not only that, but there are several congregations that are quite successful. On the other hand, as a sociologist I would appreciate more discussion about his findings and the challenges he presents from Putnam and Wuthnow in the Introduction. Since stewardship is a counter-cultural vector to what these sociologists present about American life, I want to engage with the author in some hypotheses about if, how and why stewardship can succeed in Catholic congregations, and possibly even expectations when compared with other Christian churches. And the paucity of charts, figures or other statistical analyses aids its accessibility to the lay reader, but leaves the sociologist yearning for more. Nevertheless, I am happy to see this study come to print. It is a fitting conclusion to Pat McNamara's contribution to stewardship. It belongs on every bishop's, pastor's and sociologist's shelf.