"Together in God's Service"
By Peter Feuerherd
NEW YORK, NY -- Lay employees have always existed in the Church in schools, hospitals, and other Catholic institutions. But since the Second Vatican Council, a new element has been added to the mix: professionally prepared lay people, most of whom draw salaries and are employed in parish ministries.
Two recent books have chronicled this trend: Parishes and Parish Ministers: A Study of Parish Lay Ministry by Msgr. Philip J. Murnion and David De Lambo of the National Pastoral Life Center and Catholicism USA: A Portrait of the Catholic Church in the United States (Orbis Books) by Bryan Froehle of the Georgetown University-based Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA).
According to both, lay pastoral ministers are increasing at a rapid pace. In 1992, there were 11,700 lay, that is, not priests, deacons or members of religious congregations, pastoral ministers in U. S. parishes; just five years later, that number had grown to 18,460. When nuns who work on parish staffs are included the total goes to 26,000. In 1992, about 54 percent of parishes employed lay ministers. Five years later, 63 percent of parishes had them.
And more are on the way. According to Froehle's research currently some 30,000 people are enrolled in lay pastoral formation programs around the country.
Msgr. Murnion's research indicates that the average lay pastoral minister is 50 years old, a white woman of European ancestry, a Catholic since birth, and has a master's degree. But no one is average. Two-thirds of the lay ministers are married, 2.5 percent are widowed, 9.7 percent are divorced or separated, and 22.4 percent are single and never married.
Women comprise about 84 percent of the population of lay pastoral ministers. While 50 may not be considered a youthful age, lay pastoral ministers are, on average, considerably younger than priests (average age 60) or vowed religious (average age 70).
According to Froehle's research, the numbers of lay pastoral ministers are disproportionately lower in the Northeast and the South, and highest in the Midwest, particularly in the Upper Midwest region.
Most parish lay pastoral ministers serve in religious education (36 percent), an area which began filling with lay people in the sixties. The second largest category (24 percent) is those who describe themselves as working in general parish ministry. Other areas of service include music ministry (15 percent), youth ministry (11 percent) and liturgy (6 percent).
Peter Feuerherd is a frequent contributor to the Catholic press.