Stewardship driven by gratitude

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Father Peter M. Idler, pastor of All Saints Parish, Millville, stands with Bud Birmingham, a retired bricklayer, and his wife Pat, a retired teacher. The couple are involved in a variety of activities and ministries at the small parish. Photo by Alan. M. Dumoff

“The Call to Stewardship” is a periodic series profiling individuals and families throughout the Diocese of Camden who have shown an inspiring response to the call to Christian stewardship highlighted in 1 Peter 4:10 “As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.”

Bud and Pat Birmingham, of the Parish of All Saints, Millville, believe they have a calling to help the families of those who’ve just died.

Pat has a part-time job at the rectory,  but she also offers her own time, even on weekends, to help coordinate funeral Masses, contact organists and vocalists and work with funeral homes.

Bud helps with what many would consider the hardest job of all: digging graves at Holy Cross Cemetery.

The many unseen details of putting together a funeral matter greatly to bereaved families, and Bud and Pat take care of them with sensitivity and compassion. “That’s my contribution to the corporal works of mercy, to bury the dead,” says Pat.

Clearly for both Bud and Pat, taking care of their fellow parishioners as they’ve passed into the next world is a work of love. But the Birminghams gladly offer more. Without saying so, they clearly see stewardship as a way of life.

Father Peter Idler, pastor of All Saints since 2017, describes stewardship as the way that we “take ownership of our faith and of our parish family. The Birminghams exemplify those qualities in our parish.” He adds, “We’re a small parish, and we’re like family.”

For Bud and Pat, retirement offered the opportunity to give more of themselves to their parish family. As Bud retired from his career as a union bricklayer, and Pat retired from teaching elementary school in Commercial Township, each began to spend more and more time helping at the church where Pat grew up.

Pat loved being a teacher, and never grew tired of helping her students. So when she retired, she was determined to find a way to give of herself that was pleasing to God. “I prayed that I would be open to whatever path God was going to put me on.”

Bud came to Catholicism as a convert more than 20 years ago, enthusiastically embracing the faith already shared by his wife and their daughter, Tricia. “I love it,” he says. “The Mass is so much more beautiful than what I knew before.” Attracted by the beauty of his new faith, he was open to lending a hand to a friend who was in charge of maintenance at the church, and early in his retirement, Bud became involved in that job for a while. Today, Bud’s the resident jack-of-all trades, volunteering to do all sorts of jobs at the parish, and always happy to be able to help if he gets a call from Father Idler.

Working at the rectory, Pat puts together the bulletin every week, relishing the job of choosing colors and art to coordinate with the seasons. She loves the creative effort that goes into making each week’s news an attractive read for her fellow parishioners. And like Bud, she wears many hats, sometimes answering the phone and the door, coordinating baptisms and funerals, and helping wherever she can.

Bud describes giving to the parish as his greatest joy. “I’m having fun,” he says. “We want to help Father Idler in any way we can.” And he helps in so many ways, from helping to run the parish food pantry, to being on call to help with maintenance and cutting grass. He’s especially eager to assist with the logistics of a big transition for the parish, the upcoming move of the rectory offices, scheduled to be relocated in the new parish center sometime in 2020. Thanks to the Catholic Strong Campaign, renovation projects for the center are currently underway in the old school building, and Bud and Pat, along with Father Idler, are excited about the prospect of new spaces for the All Saints community to meet and grow as a community.

The Birminghams are both in the choir, and sometimes Bud acts as cantor with Pat as his backup. At a point in the past, they were both altar servers as well. Over and over again, Bud and Pat simply see a need and then, if they’re able, they step up to help.

As Father Idler says, “Anything the parish needs, they are willing to do, and they do everything with great joy. I’ve learned a lot about how to serve from them.” It’s easy to see why. Both Bud and Pat say, “This is like family,” and seeing them with their fellow workers in the parish office, the sense of fellowship and camaraderie is almost palpable.

For the Birminghams, stewardship is about gratitude for their church and for others. As Bud points out, in getting older, he’s realized that the good in his life has far outweighed the bad.

Pat agrees. “The idea is really gratitude. I recognized how blessed I’ve been.” And as Pat sums up their inspiration, she recalls the passage from the Gospel of Luke, “To whom much is given, much will be required.”

The mission of the Office of Stewardship is to help the disciples of Christ who live in the Diocese of Camden to live out Christian charity in a sacrificial way that “we might understand the grace that comes from giving back from our blessings so that in all things God may be glorified.” For more information, contact Deacon Russell Davis at 856-583-6102.