WASHINGTON (August 27, 2001) -- Programs to educate lay men and women for ministry in the Church not only give book knowledge but also enhance expressions of faith, according to a study on spiritual formation of lay ecclesial ministers by the U.S. Bishops' Subcommittee on Lay Ministry.
Lay ministry programs currently enroll 35,000 men and women preparing to work in such positions as pastoral associate, youth minister and director of religious education through the nation's 314 church-related lay ministry formation programs that lead to a certificate or a college degree.
In addition to enabling students to articulate their faith, other areas of significant growth for program participants include their sense of community, sense of mission and discipleship, sensitivity to diverse expressions of faith and ability to reflect theologically.
The study, known as the Spiritual Formation of Lay Ecclesial Ministers, surveyed 323 directors of lay ministry programs and had a response rate of 64 percent. A summary of the study results was distributed to U.S. bishops August 10.
Bishop Joseph A. Delaney, subcommittee chairman, noted the study's significance.
"Spiritual formation is being taken very seriously by the programs that are preparing our future lay ecclesial ministers," he said. "Service in the Church calls for a lot more than book learning and the ecclesial lay ministry programs recognize that."
The study included a Fall 2000 consultation with eighteen ministry formation directors on the meaning, goals, and programmatic aspects of spiritual formation and a subsequent survey by the Georgetown University-based Center for the Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA). Significant conclusions included the following:
Lay people enter formation programs with a wide range of experiences and with spiritualities already formed to some extent.
There are many programs and it is important to identify key elements of spiritual formation for lay ecclesial ministers common to all of them. They include personal and communal prayer, development of a sense of mission, and discernment within dialogue.
Spiritual formation must focus on formation rather than information, take place within an intentional community of faith, be faithful to Church tradition, and include theological reflection and service to those in need.
Prospective lay ecclesial ministers can be assessed as to their level of spiritual formation by formal assessment tools and by discernment assisted by peers and others. Most often, though, spiritual formation is measured by the student's completion of the steps of the ministry formation program and the evolution of their level of ministry. Ensuring fidelity of the assessment process to the goals of the spiritual formation program is important.
Respondents to the survey were divided into five categories: diocesan (45 percent), college or university (31 percent), seminary or school of theology (13 percent), clinical pastoral education (CPE) (5.5 percent), and independent (5.5 percent).
Most programs require or offer the following elements: Theological reflection, Faith sharing, Shared prayer, Academic courses on spirituality, Liturgical celebrations, Days of reflection or recollection, Retreat, Mentoring and a Formation Director
Theological reflection is the most commonly required element of lay ministry formation programs, followed by faith sharing and shared prayer.
Seventy-one percent of all responding programs have a separate formal spiritual formation component. These programs are even more likely to require or offer the elements listed above.
Seminaries are most likely to have such a spiritual formation component; CPE programs, least likely. On the other hand, CPE programs are most likely to have a spiritual readiness screening process and a process for spiritual formation assessment.
The Fall 2000 consultation developed the following list of important qualities in lay ecclesial ministers: Sense of mission/discipleship, Sense of community, Desire to serve others, Openness to ongoing conversion, Openness to transforming grace of ministry, Commitment to the person of Jesus Christ, Commitment to prayer, Openness to life-long faith formation, Ability to integrate ministry within the multiple roles of one's life, Healthy sense of self, Sense of personal call, Commitment to social justice, Commitment to the Catholic Church, Ability to reflect theologically, Ability to articulate personal faith experiences, Willingness to serve diverse populations, Ability to invite others to a life of faith, Appreciation of diverse models of the Church, and Ability to engage in discernment.
According to survey respondents, a commitment to the person of Jesus Christ (98 percent) and a desire to serve others (95 percent) are the qualities most characteristic of candidates when they begin lay ministry formation programs. Candidates also come with a high level of commitment to the Catholic Church (94 percent) and a sense of personal call (93 percent).
The qualities least frequently found in beginning candidates include ability to engage in discernment (47 percent), sensitivity to diverse expressions of faith (47 percent), appreciation of diverse models of the Church (43 percent), and ability to reflect theologically (25 percent).
At the conclusion of the programs, the candidates' most characteristic qualities are a commitment to the person of Jesus Christ, the desire to serve others (two qualities most characteristic at the beginning also) and a sense of mission/discipleship.
When the "before" and "after" responses are compared, the greatest differences are in ability to articulate faith experiences, sense of community, sense of mission and discipleship, sensitivity to diverse expressions of faith, and ability to reflect theologically. There is a 60 percent or greater increase in the "very much" responses after the program on each of these qualities.
According to CARA, "[t]he findings suggest that those who enroll in lay ministry formation programs come into these programs with a desire to serve others and fairly strong
commitment to the Catholic Church and to the person of Jesus Christ. Other qualities that are desirable in a lay minister are present to some degree but are less well developed. By the time candidates leave the programs, however, these qualities are stronger and more fully developed. In addition, many of the skills and abilities that are desirable in a lay ecclesial minister are instilled in the course of lay ministry formation."
Program directors report that approximately one-third of a candidate's time is devoted to spiritual formation activities.
The report is available on the Web at www.usccb.org/laity/laymin.