Newsletter for U.S. Bishops Sponsored
by the NCCB Subcommittee on Lay Ministry
|This newsletter is developed by the NCCB Subcommittee on Lay Ministry. The purpose of this newsletter is to highlight lay ministry trends, resources, models, and other key information that may be helpful to the U.S. Bishops. Please forward suggestions and comments to:
NCCB Secretariat for Family, Laity, Women, and Youth
3211 4th Street, NE
Washington, DC 20017-1194
Focus Groups Probe Issues
Since the beginning of the ecclesial lay ministry project, 33 bishops have met in five focus groups across the country, each group convened by a bishop on the subcommittee. In addition to sharing "snapshots" of the state of lay ministry and formation programs in their diocese, the bishops had the opportunity to probe more deeply some of the issues identified by the lay ministry survey.
While there were differences in emphases in light of local situations, the focus groups all concluded that an understanding of the theology of lay ministry and its underlying ecclesiology is essential before addressing some of the more specific issues. All agreed that clearer definitions and descriptions would be helpful. Another need is for the study of the idea of vocation or call to ministry for both the ordained and lay ministers.
Bishops also suggested that "models' of formation programs be identified and shared throughout the country.
In their evaluations of the groups the bishops valued most highly the opportunity to talk with one another in a focused way about lay ministry and to learn from one another about the experiences and programs in different dioceses.
Bishops have different opinions about the appropriateness of addressing the topic of the "professionalization" of lay ministry. In fact, some question what "professional" means:
- Is the professional minister distinct from the minister called by vocation?
- Does "professional" simply mean "paid"? How does the "professional"differ from and relate to the "volunteer"?
- Is professionalism a new clericalism, based on degree rather than ordination?
- How will the attention given to professional ministry within the church affect the call of all the baptized to ministry to the "marketplace"?
The bishops agreed that the challenge of encouraging both vocations to the priesthood and religious life and to lay ministry is one which must be met; they must not be seen as in competition.
There was general agreement that lay ministry is to be valued in its own right and not merely as an expedient solution to a priest-shortage, and also that the Conference needs to address questions of lay ministry.
Archdiocese Develops Certification
When Barbara Shine began her work as Director of the Office for Pastoral Ministers for the Archdiocese of Boston in 1988 there were already 24 persons, 90% of them women religious, who were pastoral associates, positions that had developed without any clear guidelines. Today there are 130 pastoral associates, 63% of them women religious, and most of them certified according to archdiocesan standards.
Ms. Shine, who also serves as the chair of the certification subcommittee of the USCC Commission on Certification and Accreditation, says that she has learned a great deal in the midst of the Boston process. She began "with some fear and trepidation," fearing resistance, but she discovered that "most people accepted and even welcomed certification as an affirmation of themselves and their ministry." Ms. Shine emphasizes that the support of the Ordinary is absolutely essential. "Without the Bishop's support, it won't work; he has to believe that the position is important and that certification of the person in that position enhances that ministry."
It is imperative that the diocese seek to understand the meaning and content of the position before writing certification standards, according to Ms. Shine. In Boston, over two years were given to reviewing and defining the position as it exists in the unique circumstances of that archdiocese, a generalist position with some specific responsibilities, before guidelines were written. One of the questions considered was how does this position affect other parish positions, personnel, and structures, e.g. the pastor, parochial vicar, those responsible for sacramental preparation, parish pastoral council.
Once the guidelines were in place, they began writing certification processes and procedures, and in 1991 certified the first people as pastoral associates. In the belief that this is a new ministry with its own requirements, they decided not to "grandparent" any pastoral associates; but they did identify experience as valuable and, in some cases, equivalent to related credits in theology. A very few were not certified.
Certification is granted only after a full year's experience and requires an application; references, including the pastor and regional bishop who gives the "ecclesial endorsement," and a copy of the Baptismal certificate. Candidates are also interviewed by a team of three persons for 30-45 minutes to clarify the information on the application. Certification is granted for five years. Occasionally a certificate is issued "with a notation" when the review board notes that there is need for current courses in a particular area. At the time of the next certification review a person's continuing education will be considered in light of the notation.
New Members for Subcommittee
Two new members have recently joined the Lay Ministry Sub-committee. Auxiliary Bishop Bernard J. Harrington, of Detroit, will be liaison from the Priestly Life and Ministry Committee, and Auxiliary Bishop Emil A Wcela, of Rockville Centre, will be liaison from the Pastoral Practices Committee.
From Our Tradition . . .
Laity Called to Ecclesial Ministry
When Called and Gifted was published (1980), we [U.S. bishops] were just beginning to experience the tide of professionally prepared lay men and women offering their talents and charisms in the service of the Church. These persons are often called ecclesial lay ministers. Over the past fifteen years, we have seen great numbers of lay people become involved in the liturgy. . . The Church's mission is being carried forward and far by all these lay ministers who tirelessly serve the Church and God's people. We join pastors and parishioners in expressing gratitude for this development. Ecclesial lay ministers speak of their work, their service, as a calling, not merely a job. They believe God has called them to their ministry, and often the parish priest is the means of discerning the call.
We and all pastoral leaders feel challenged: 1) To develop and commit the resources necessary to help laity, both paid staff and volunteers, prepare for church ministry. Lay ministers have often invested in their own education and preparation for ministry and they need Church support. 2) To practice justice in the workplace and to provide a living wage. It is often difficult for lay ministers to support themselves and their families. 3) To incorporate minority lay ministers into ecclesial leadership. 4) To ensure that the Church becomes an exemplary steward of all its human resources. With the entire Church we give thanks that the Church has been blessed with many laity who feel called to ecclesial ministry, even as we continue to work and pray for vocations to priesthood, diaconate, and consecrated life. We also recognize that God is blessing the Church with lay vocations to ministry.
U.S. Catholic Bishops, Called and Gifted for the Third Millennium, 1995, pp 16-18.
From Around the World . . .
Latin American Bishops Explore The Reality of Lay Ministries
The Latin American Bishops' Conference (CELAM) is actively pursuing the development of lay ministers. In April 1995, CELAM sponsored an international meeting to "analyze and reflect on the reality of lay ministers, paying special attention to their relationship/impact on the lives of the diverse ecclesial communities in Latin America. Bishops laity, religious, and priests from 11 countries attended. CELAM is grappling with many of the same issues as U.S. bishops -- formation of lay ministers, theology of lay min-istries, definition of the natures and roles of lay ministries, and relationships between priests and lay ministers (specifically encouraging priests to be more supportive of lay ministries). Some of the differences between us are thought- provoking. For example, both of us have an abundance of laity involved in ecclesial lay ministries and both have a gender imbalance. However, in the U.S. we have very few men as lay ministers, whereas in Latin America they have very few women as lay ministers. Also, it is interesting to note that in Latin America the terminology used is lay ministries (plural), whereas in the U.S. we use the term lay ministry (singular).
The meeting was a great success and led to key recom-mendations. Every episcopal conference in Latin America was asked to establish a Department of Lay Ministry (or strengthen the ones that already exist). Also, CELAM was challenged to design a set of general formation requirements for lay ministers, to define the roles of lay ministers, and to produce a Latin American directory of lay ministries. Bishops were challenged to begin a dialogue within their individual dioceses; to pursue deeper study of the laity's call to ministry; to reflect on the cultural realities of those employed by the church; to recognize the necessity of church leaders in promoting and affirming lay ministries as a call from God; to provide adequate formation for seminarians, enabling future priests to work better with lay ministers; and to require all seminarians to work alongside lay ministers before ordination.
The report of the meeting Los Ministerios Laicales is available in Spanish in the CELAM May/June ‘95 Bulletin (No. 268). Contact the "Centro de Publicaciones del CELAM" in Santafé de Bogotá D.C. Colombia at phone: (57-1) 6714789, fax: (57-1) 6121929.
From Our Jewish & Christian Neighbors...
The Theology of The Laity Affects The Role of Bishops in the Episcopal Church
According to James C. Fenhagen, the role of bishops within the Episcopal Church is currently undergoing a transition. As he explains, there is a gradual decline in "the plausibility of the bishop and diocese as significant forces in the life of the church as it functions on a grass roots level. . . The administrative aspects of the job [of bishop] are clear, but the symbol of the bishop as a source of empowerment for the mission of the church is rapidly becoming more and more obscure. . . What we are seeing is an increasing gap between the function that a bishop performs and the symbol that gives this function authority and power."
Fenhagen approaches this problem not by focusing on the structural aspects within the Episcopalian Church, but by insisting that the problem is a theological one. He explains that in order to address the current trend, one needs to focus on the deeper theological level of the issue. "One of the underlying reasons for the role confusion so many clergy seem to experience today, both in relation to the laity and to the bishops in whose diocese they serve, is due to the fact that we have sought to develop a theology of the laity and a theology of the priesthood largely apart from serious work on our theology of the episcopate. The result is that we have separated that which needs to be intimately connected."
This connection is vital, according to Fenhagen. "The depth and quality of the relationship of the bishop with the church at [the] most local level is the source of his or her authority and the point from which all other expressions of episcopacy are empowered and confirmed." Examining the theology of the laity must be an important part of the equation if this problem is to be addressed.
Fenhagen's article, "The Bishop and The Diocese in A Time of Change," can be found in the Winter ‘95 issue of Anglican Theological Review, pp. 47-57.