WASHINGTON (November 1, 2005)--The U.S. bishops will vote on a document to guide the roles and functions of lay ecclesial ministers in the Catholic Church at their 2005 fall plenary meeting in Washington, November 14-17.
"Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord: A Resource for Guiding the Development of Lay Ecclesial Ministry," addresses several concerns of lay ministers, a group of more than 30,000 men and women, and one that is growing.
Lay ecclesial ministers are non-ordained men and women who hold significant church leadership positions. They work in close collaboration with clergy and their positions require particular levels of education, formation and authorization according to their roles.
Their roles in dioceses, parishes and other institutions include those of chancellor, parish associate, youth minister and religious educator.
The document addresses the theological understandings of lay ecclesial ministry and the minister's relationship to the bishop, priest, deacon and other parishioners. It also addresses the appropriate education and formation and offers suggestions for how lay ecclesial ministers can be integrated into the "workforce" of the Church.
A new study by the National Pastoral Life Center, Lay Parish Ministers: A Study of Emerging Leadership, shows that in U. S. parishes alone, more than 30,000 lay men and women serve in such roles. The numbers continue to grow. In 1990, lay ecclesial ministers were on the staff of 54 percent of U. S. parishes; in 2005, they are on the staff of 66 percent of all U. S. parishes. The study also reports that 74 percent of these parish ministers work full time; 80 percent are women. In 1990, religious sisters accounted for 41 percent of parish ministers; in 2005, they account for 16 percent.
Parish ministers serve in a variety of specific roles as director of religious education, pastoral associates, director of youth, music, and liturgical ministry. Some 418 lay men and women care for a parish in the absence of a resident pastor.
In addition, over 2,000 lay men and women serve in the name of the church in hospitals, and health care settings, on college and university campuses, and in prisons, seaports and airports. The National Education Association reports that over 5,400 lay men and women serve as principals of Catholic elementary and secondary schools.
Editors: Anyone seeking an electronic copy of the document can contact Sister Mary Ann Walsh at 202-541-3201 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.