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
Together in God's Service Available from USCC Publishing Service
The papers written for the colloquium "Toward a Theology of Ecclesial Lay Ministry," sponsored by the lay ministry subcommittee have been published as Together in God's Service. The papers look at the sociological and demographic reality of such ministers and then probe sacramental theology, church history, Scripture, canon law, and magisterial teaching to help understand its place in the life of the church. Also included are papers reflecting the pastoral experience of two bishops with ecclesial lay ministry in their dioceses.
The book (no. 5-285) is available for $12.95 plus shipping costs from USCC Publishing Services (800-235-8722).
Formation, Role of the Bishop, Terminology, Cultural Differences Engage Dialogue Participants
The group of continental dialogue participants that focused on formation developed the insight that formation is essentially about conversion, a particular challenge within the U.S. which emphasizes individualism. They also agreed that we need to grow not build the People of God according to some preconceived blueprint.
Discussing the role of the bishop, another group noted the different ways in which bishops make visitations to the parish. In Latin America, the bishop goes for a whole week and visits extensively, including the prisons. In North America, the bishop goes for one or two days and confines himself to strictly parochial organizations. Visitations need to be on-going if deeper issues are to be uncovered.
A third group, working with terminology, explored the differences between collaboration and pastoral de conjunto. The latter is much more inclusive and fundamental, signifying the total work within the pastoral plan. Collaboration, highly valued in the U.S., could occur within the pastoral de conjunto.
The fourth group observed that while Latin America talks mission and apostle language, the U.S. talks organizational language and could learn the importance of communio, the general call to holiness, and the priority of the poor.
Continental Dialogue Highlights Similarities and Differences
The two day dialogue on ecclesial lay ministry that brought together five bishops from the Latin American Bishops' Council (CELAM), a bishop and a lay woman from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and bishops, advisors and staff of the NCCB Lay Ministry Subcommittee focused attention on a common commitment to fostering lay ministry within the church although that commitment is affected by different cultural and ecclesial realities.
The dialogue began with presentations on the history and overview of lay ministry within the countries represented (Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, United States, and Venezuela). In each country, lay ministry is a growing phenomenon; Brazil, for example has over 300,000 catechists as well as delegates of the word, ministers of the eucharist, extraordinary ministers of baptism, official witnesses of marriage, and ministers to families. In Colombia, laity are responsible for 20% of the pastoral activity. In Venezuela, where 80% of the people are poor, lay ministry has seen greater development in the barrios than in the cities. Canada, not unlike the U.S., has been trying to assure greater spiritual formation for lay theology students and improved theological training for volunteers engaged by pastors. Throughout the "continent," women do most of the ministry.
In the Latin American countries, the church came with the conquerors; in North America, it came with the immigrants who struggled for acceptance. In Latin America, stability of local communities is the norm; in North America, mobility is a way of life. The poverty of the church in Latin America is a marked contrast to the middle class affluence of most of the church in North America. Relationships and community are highly valued in the Latin American cultures; individualism and independence mark most North American cultures.
The Latin American bishops participating in the dialogue returned frequently to the centrality of the mission of the church, consistently seeing the church as communio. They do not share the U.S. concern about ordering or defining the ministries, although they expressed admiration for the ways in which lay ministers are prepared in the U.S. Since most of the ministers in Latin America are in relationship with their bishop, the bishops from there found the term ecclesial redundant.
The dialogue was the kind of exchange encouraged by the recent Synod for America which four of the five Latin American bishops had attended. All the participants agreed that the dialogue had been a very rich experience, one that broadened and deepened their understanding and appreciation of the wider church. Several participants suggested that future dialogues include more lay persons. Archbishop Porras Cardozo of Venezuela, president of the CELAM department for the laity, promised to practice his English and hoped that all would soon become bilingual!
From Our Tradition . . .
New Situation Calls for New Skills
The future of ministry also requires new appreciation for the lay people who are willing, in Pope John Paul II's words, "to play a more active and diversified role in ecclesial life, and to take the necessary steps to train seriously for this." We need to give them adequate support, a proper place in the life of the local church and the opportunity to work with priests and other lay people in the church's pastoral ministry. The new situation calls for both new skills on all our part if clergy and laity, men and women are to cooperate effectively for the good of the ministry and new structures to integrate appropriately the various ways in which people take part in church ministry. Our approach to the ministry of the priest and the ministry of professionally trained lay people must always be carried out in such a way as not to usurp the role of the laity, not to distract from the fact that the primary apostolate of the laity is in family, work and world, and not to discourage the leadership of parishioners who are not professionally trained for ministry. This is an exciting time in ministry but a challenging one as well.
Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb, Dialogue About and Within Priesthood : Opening Address of the National Federation of Priests' Councils Annual Convention. Origins, Vol. 28, No. 1, p. 8
From Our Jewish & Christian Neighbors. . .
Laity Called to Leadership in Movement toward Church Unity
A recently published book that resulted from the 1992-1995 series of dialogues of the Roman Catholic - Presbyterian/ Reformed Consultation states that "Christian laity have the capacity and the opportunity to lead in the movement toward church unity as it may appropriately be defined in the twenty-first century."
Citing the ways in which citizens have brought about changes that governments and the military were unable to accomplish alone (Eastern Europe, South Africa, etc.), Brother Jeffrey Gross, FSC and Mr. Harold H. Saunders, authors of the chapter "Permeable Boundaries: Lay Christians in a Changing World," see similar accomplishments among the laity of the churches in the ecumenical movement, particularly in the U.S.
They write, "the real, but imperfect, communion realized in baptism becomes incarnate in the relationships among Christian believers."
They continue,"Christian differences in faith and church cannot be solved by theology alone, although theology must address these problems. These differences represent profound parts of human life that cannot be formally and rationally negotiated. Only fundamental changes in relationships - human, theological, ecclesiastical, can deal with them."
The book includes a Five - Stage Process of Dialogue, a systematic process for sustained dialogue, written by Mr. Saunders. It is a process in which the laity can lead because "they can provide the spiritual openness and practical experience that generate both a drive and a receptivity toward reconciliation."
Laity in the Church and in the World: Resources for Ecumenical Dialogue, available from USCC Publishing Service s (1-800-235-8722)
From Around the World . . .
Brazilian Bishops Prepare Statement on Lay Ministry
The National Conference of Bishops of Brazil at their April 1998 meeting received a draft of "Mission and Ministries of Lay Christians: Service of Life and Hope" for their suggestions and amendments. The preparation of the document was the joint work of the Office of Vocations and Ministries and the Office for the Laity, whose president, Dom Marcelo Pinto Carvalheira, participated in the Continental Dialogue on Lay Ministry.
The document begins with a review of the challenges and signs of the times, describing the economic, social, political, cultural, and religious challenges. Among the latter they included individualism and subjectivism as as well as a preference for "fundamentalist" churches or movements, The first section concludes with comments on the "strengths and weaknesses of Christians," noting that women are the largest group among pastoral ministers, participating "in all segments of the life and mission of the Church."
The second and longest section of the document is "The Mission of the People of God." In this section, the bishops say that ministry is "the charism that takes the form of service to the community and to its mission and, therefore, it is welcomed and recognized....But it can only be considered ministry that charism which, in community and in view of mission, assumes the form of a certain service involving an ample array of functions which respond to the more permanent demands of community and mission, assuming it with stability, taking real responsibility and being received and recognized by the ecclesial community."
The bishops identify four groups of ministries: recognized - linked to a significant service to the community, but not very permanent and could disappear according to circumstances; entrusted - conferred through some simple liturgical gesture or canonic form; instituted - not linked to a sacramental consecration, but guided to a particular service and permanently demanded by the community with real responsibilities and conferred by the Church through a liturgical rite called "institution"; ordained - conferred through the Sacrament of Holy Orders which constitutes the ministers of the unity of the Church in faith and charity so that the Church will stay in the tradition of the apostles.
In the third section of the document, "Community in Mission," the bishops call for a community t hat is "prophetic, missionary, welcoming , participatory, and merciful." The document also reaffirms the guidelines for the formation of lay people which the bishops established in 1995. In the final paragraphs, the bishops ask that assemblies and pastoral councils, communities, associations, "or simply groups of Christians" reflect on the draft and send them impressions, reactions, questions, suggestions, and action proposals.
The document is available in English and Portuguese from the Lay Ministry Office (202) 541-3001.