In September 2000, the Subcommittee on Lay Ministry of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat for Family, Laity, Women, and Youth engaged the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University to design and conduct a comprehensive study of the spiritual formation of lay ecclesial ministers. For the first phase of the study, CARA designed and facilitated a consultation process for selected leaders in various aspects of lay ministry and ministry formation. This group convened in October 2000 for a day of guided discussion on the topic of the spiritual formation of lay ecclesial ministers. CARA provided a report of the consultation process, including a summary and transcriptions of the proceedings of the day, to the Subcommittee in November 2000. The Subcommittee plans to use the findings from the consultation to help in preparing a draft document on the spiritual formation of lay ecclesial ministers.
The findings from the initial consultation also informed the design of the survey of lay ministry formation programs that forms the basis of this second phase of the study. The questionnaire for this part of the study was designed to measure current goals and practices in the spiritual formation of lay ecclesial ministers. Questionnaires were sent to the program director of all 323 lay ministry formation programs in CARA's database of ministry formation programs in December 2000. CARA conducted a lengthy follow-up process by mail and fax to assure that as many questionnaires as possible were returned for analysis. A final follow-up was sent in February 2001 and the last questionnaires were received in March 2001. CARA obtained a total of 207 completed questionnaires for a response rate of 64 percent.
Major findings include:
- Seven in ten lay ecclesial ministry formation programs include some type of formal spiritual formation component and more than a quarter have a formal spiritual formation assessment process. On average, approximately one-third of a candidate's time is devoted to spiritual formation activities. Theological reflection is the most commonly required element of lay ministry formation programs.
- A commitment to the person of Jesus Christ and a desire to serve others are the qualities that are most characteristic of candidates when they begin lay ministry formation programs. These qualities are even more evident at the conclusion of the formation program.
- Program directors report that candidates for lay ecclesial ministry who participate in their formation programs grow most in their ability to articulate their faith experiences and to reflect theologically as well as in developing a sense of community, a sense of mission and discipleship, and a sensitivity to diverse expressions of faith.