For Deborah Organ, lay ecclesial ministry is a matter of heart. While the current president of the Catholic Association of Teachers of Homiletics keeps her head about her as she goes about her work, she also seeks out communities that are deeply in need.
Organ has worked in a variety of parish settings and currently ministers to the immigrant community at Holy Rosary in south Minneapolis.
In celebration of the “Year of the Liberal Arts” at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Organ spoke April 6 on “Lay Ecclesial Ministry in the Church Today: A View from Inner-City Minneapolis.”
Drawn to one another
Organ opened her talk with a story about a bat that had flown down upon her and her colleagues in church one morning. It interested her to learn that bats fly toward the vibration of the human voice, and she drew a parallel from the story to lay ministry.
“We hunger for God and we move in and within grace,” said Organ. “We do draw one another by the warmth and vibration of our voices, sometimes unexpectedly but generally unmistakably.”
Organ also recounted the story of a middle-aged woman who rushed into church just as Mass was about to start one day. The woman had led a life full of trauma and pain, Organ had recently learned during their discussions, and she was struggling to find her place in the world.
“She came to the first pew, slid in — just in time for Mass,” said Organ, who was moved to tears by the action. “She was drawn to that first pew quite simply by the love of God. She was pulled to a place that she’d never been.
She’d never been front-row anything, let me tell you. And because she experienced the warmth of people in that place as she sat there, she started to carry herself differently.”
Organ said in her initial sessions with the woman, the woman had often complained, “I don’t understand. I’ll never understand.”
“Though she had very little opportunity for formal education, she found herself able to live right up against mystery and face it squarely,” Organ said. “Then the sense that she had nothing to offer and she couldn’t learn started to change. Recently, she opened a small business in the community. Somebody who always thought she was more like a back-row or out-the-door person now knows herself to be front-row material.”
Organ said it’s important to acknowledge that lay ministers play an active role in the church.
“A lay ecclesial minister is someone who is and does that which is necessary for people to see themselves as front-pew material,” said Organ.
During her presentation, Organ invited the audience to quietly reflect on their own experiences several times. She also encouraged her audience to move past the obstacles standing in their way as lay ministers.
“Lay ecclesial ministry matters, and it has for a long time,” said Organ. “The ministry is essentially concerned with a communal and active living out of and into our fundamental reality — the life in, and with, God. Thirty years of professional ministry have drawn me into awareness that the kingdom that we want to build is already our most basic reality, evidenced by the resurrection.”
She encouraged those in the audience to be aware of that concept, to claim it, reflect it and live it. And she said, in part, that means that Christians must realize there is more to any situation than meets the eye, and live out of a larger context.
“Every single day that I’m at Holy Rosary, I’m reminded of that,” said Organ. “Every day I get to spend time with people who have managed to survive horrific circumstances and who in some cases are still living in those circumstances, but somehow they get up in the morning and they walk around and they do what they need to do, and a lot of them, though not all, have found a way to flourish.”
Organ then gave her audience a recipe for flourishing in lay ministry today. A few of the ideas she brought forward included releasing personal grief, committing to the ministry even when it is unclear what lies ahead, and extending a feeling of family across family lines.
She said lay ministers must trust that what they are doing matters and that their ministry will help the mission of the church unfold in the world. She also stressed the importance of listening in order to build relationships and creating a sense of home.
“The church I was trained into as a professional has changed a great deal, and sometimes I wonder how to keep the promises I made then — until I realize that this church is that church,” said Organ. “It has been useful to me, at challenging times of life and ministry, to remember the larger context of communion.”
For more information on the “Year of the Liberal Arts” at St. Catherine University, visit http://www.stkate.edu.