Archbishop John Nienstedt sent Eric Pederson and Jennifer Smeby to the 2011 Collegeville National Lay Ecclesial Ministry Symposium to gather information and ideas on promoting excellence in ministry.
In addition, Parish Services Team member Estela Villagrán Manancero attended as a long-time participant from the Latino community along with others from various ministries and institutions in the archdiocese.
The gathering took place Aug. 2-5 at St. John’s University in Collegeville.
Lay ecclesial ministry refers to lay persons who, with the authorization and supervision of the clergy in the church, participate in the mission of Christ in the world.
The goals of the symposium were to:
• Amplify the voice and strengthen the national will to promote effective leadership practices identified within “Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord,” the U.S. bishops’ 2005 statement on lay ecclesial ministry.
• Advance the theological understanding and pastoral practice of the vocation and authorization of lay ecclesial ministers.
• Publish recommendations and organizational commitments that will advance excellence in lay ecclesial ministry.
• Fund research and projects advancing the symposium’s recommendations and organizational commitments.
The following are comments from the perspectives of Pederson, archdiocesan assistant superintendent for religious education; Smeby, who is involved in parish pastoral ministry with Latinos at St. Stephen in Minneapolis; and Manancero, who serves the Latino community as part of the archdiocesan Parish Services Team.
Pederson, who came into full communion with the Catholic Church in 2000, is a career educator who holds a master’s degree in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, with studies at the Angelicum in Rome. He previously taught music and religion and worked in high school and youth ministry.
He said that two key bishops spoke at the symposium about the three-fold responsibilities of those who are ordained: to teach, sanctify and govern.
Both Cardinal Francis George of Chicago and Bishop Blasé Cupich of Spokane, Wash., discussed ways that the laity can collaborate and assist bishops and priests in the area of teaching.
“This insight can be of great help to our Catholic schools because it provides principals and teachers with the understanding that when they teach, they do not do it in isolation,” Pederson said. “The passing on of the Catholic faith is an awesome responsibility and is always done in connection to the local bishop and the entire magisterium.”
The most important practice discussed, Pederson said, was the initial and ongoing formation of lay ecclesial ministers.
The U.S. bishops said in “Co-workers in the Vineyard of the Lord” that lay ecclesial ministers should have: a desire to serve the church and its mission; a commitment to prayer and participation in the Mass and penance; and a zeal to live a Christian life and teach as the magisterium teaches.
“Those items would need to be part of any formation programs in the area of lay ecclesial ministry,” he said.
Smeby is in her second year at St. Stephen, working with Latinos in the areas of marriage preparation, adult formation and parish cell evangelization, and will teach natural family planning this fall. She served as a Catholic missionary from 2001 to 2009 in Canada, Florida and Argentina. She is currently working on a master’s in theology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.
“It was interesting that discussions touched on preparing the ‘next generation’ of lay ministers for the church,” said Smeby, 34.
Smeby noted three things that she learned during the symposium that will help her as a lay minister:
• “It reaffirmed for me that our position of service to the parishioner in a ‘ministry’ role/employment is on behalf of the teaching office of the archbishop.”
• “The need for solid theological formation . . . knowing the teachings (and so to live them) is a great service to the people searching for ‘the answers to life’ found only in [Christ].”
• A recent study on U.S. parishes noted the need to invest in evangelization and to accept the changes needed with a growing Latino population.
Although Smeby is not involved in any formal lay ministerial group, she said that she has friends and colleagues with whom she discusses the mission of the church.
“And teamwork at our parish has been a gift — each open to the other’s suggestions and looking together toward working to build the parish,” she said.
Manancero said she has participated in the National Lay Ecclesial Ministry Symposiums since they were initiated in 2007 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ subcommittee on diversity. She was originally invited by the USCCB to discuss issues faced by the Latino Catholic community.
“When we were first invited and sent in 2007, there was a big movement mobilizing the Latino leadership in this symposium because the ‘Co-Workers’ document just came out and we felt they left out the whole non-white church,” she said.
During discussions about promoting excellence in lay ecclesial ministry with an intercultural perspective, the Latino and other ethnic communities expressed concerns about proposed education levels for catechesis.
“The American standard is very high for formal education, and when we started the talks a few years ago, there was talk that only people with master’s [degrees] would be educators and catechists,” Manancero said. “Not everybody that comes from Latino America has a master’s or four years of university. But they are still doing a great job teaching catechesis in our parishes.”
One of the initiatives the bishops approved is to do training about intercultural competency, she said.
“There is a need for all the Catholic dioceses to have that . . . to be more open to our differences and similarities,” she said. A pilot training program was started earlier this year in three dioceses, she said, and is to be expanded to regional training sessions in January 2012.
“All this push about intercultural ministry comes from the vision of the bishops that our church is changing,” Manancero said.
“It gave me hope that we as a church community are going to be respected . . . and be able to still teach and pass along our faith and . . . valued as baptized people. “I always tell my leaders that God doesn’t choose the prepared ones, but prepares the chosen ones.”
To read about previous symposiums, speakers, authors and more, visit www1.csbsju.edu/sot/symposium.
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