Stewardship is Not Taught; it’s Caught

Peter Pereira is a man of many gifts – a doting father, a caring friend, a successful accountant, and a faithful witness to Christ. In our short conservation however, I quickly discovered that his greatest strength was relationships.

In his official capacity, Peter is the Treasurer/Chief Financial Officer for the Episcopal Diocese of Hawaii, but he doesn’t hesitate to make abundantly clear that his true calling lies in stewardship and planned giving.

Peter’s ministry in the Diocese of Hawaii can be plotted by a series of successful and fulfilling relationships. The first relationship in planned giving Peter mentions is his friendship with Jim Murphy, Managing Program Director for Financial Resources at Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF). This was an example of a fortuitous meeting that grew into a rich and continuing relationship. They first met six years ago, and Peter says that on meeting him, he was immediately drawn to how generous Jim was with his time and how patiently he was willing to teach. Jim has since worked with Peter on a variety of projects, conducted planned giving trainings for congregations in Hawaii, and even helped get the diocesan Legacy Society started by sharing templates, brochures and material created by ECF. The society has grown into a vibrant group of 120 people after six years, with the main aim of securing planned gifts for the future of the Diocese of Hawaii.

ECF has provided planned giving services to the Episcopal Church since 1995. ECF has distributed more than $23 million in planned gifts to Episcopal dioceses, congregations, and organizations nationwide, and manages over $40 million in charitable gifts.

When Peter first started working in Hawaii, his world revolved around accounting taxes and insurance. He wanted to start his own accounting firm but his wife reminded him that if he continued to work the kind of hours he was (70 hours a week), he wouldn’t ever get to know his own child. Finding himself at a crossroads after six years in Hawaii, Peter, a Roman Catholic, decided to take a job in the Episcopal Church. He said this was best decision of his life – God had given him the gift of time. Although work did keep him busy, he was grateful for the opportunity to build deep relationships with his children as they were growing up.

Another key relationship-moment in Peter’s ministry was in 1993, when Hugh Majors, a stewardship officer from New York, came to Hawaii to teach the concept of stewardship. He preached the Parable of Talents, which Peter describes as a “conversion moment” for him. The story made Peter realize quite suddenly, that everything he had was a gift begotten not from his own hard work, but from God. The words, “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance.” became a core part of his belief system.

Peter also treasures all the relationships he has made with many wonderful and dedicated volunteers in the Episcopal Church. He is grateful for their gifts, talents and generosity.

For Peter, stewardship is a way of life. He says with sadness, “Some of the leaders of the church are so busy doing the work of the church, they don’t really have a relationship with Jesus, and I know this because it reflects in their giving. It’s the typical Martha and Mary story.” He felt that many in his circle of acquaintances and colleagues were missing something really important and he wanted to change that. To that end he often meets with lay leaders for lunch, offering spiritual guidance and encouragement, following up with individuals regularly. Prayer is very important to Peter in his personal life as well; he prays with his wife Serene every day. He says, “When we dedicate time, talent and treasure, we must remember that time spent in church meetings is not as important as time spent in relationship with Jesus.” Peter also shares ECF’s resources and tools with the wider Church. An avid follower of ECF Vital Practices and Vestry Papers, he often shares relevant and inspirational articles with clergy, wardens, treasurers and parish administrators in all the dioceses.

ECF Vital Practices is a vibrant web-based resource for Episcopal leaders that includes Vestry Papers articles, a blog for sharing ideas and experiences, stories about congregational issues, and practical tools and resources.

Currently, Peter’s work has expanded to include property, stewardship and planned giving, HR and managing the Diocese’s endowment fund (which has grown from $10 million when he first started, to $32 million currently). However busy things get, Peter insists on starting all meetings with a bible study – he says it changes the mood of the meeting, and most importantly, builds strong relationships. In all his planned giving work, he often looks to ECF’s Planned Giving on Demand for guidance, and has even purchased a copy for every parish in his Diocese.

Planned Giving on Demand provides easy-to-use resources to help launch and sustain a planned giving program in your church, all in one place. A combination of printed and online resources, Planned Giving on Demand will walk with you through every step of the way to establish, enhance, and sustain an effective planned giving ministry.

Peter is a man of many memorable one-liners, and my favorite is: “Stewardship is not taught; it’s caught.” He explains that if we begin to understand that everything we have is a gift, our relationship with God will be radically different.

A man looking firmly into the future, Peter is someone who has dedicated his life to the Church. “We have to think about what we’re leaving behind”, he says, “Because I want to make sure the Church is still there for my grandchildren.”

Charis Bhagianathan joined ECF in November 2015 as Communications Coordinator. Before moving to New York, Charis worked at Council for World Mission in Singapore as Communications Manager and at Dorling Kindersley Publishers in New Delhi as Senior Editor. At ECF, she focuses on strategic internal and external communications. While Charis has always enjoyed working in marketing and communications, her heart lies in social/new media and writing.