Opportunities for lay ministry come into focus in lead-up to synod

| Jonathon Liedl | August 2, 2019 | 0 Comments
Totus Tuus summer program at Epiphany in Coon Rapids

Totus Tuus summer program at Epiphany in Coon Rapids. DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

With the archdiocese clear of bankruptcy stemming from the clergy sexual abuse crisis and preparations underway for a 2021 synod focusing on pastoral needs, leaders in the archdiocese believe the stage is set for revitalizing lay ministry.

“I feel we couldn’t be in a better place than we are now,” said Karl Kornowski, chairman of the Coalition of Ministry Associations, which brings together representatives from 14 ministry associations in the archdiocese, such as the Association of Parish Business Administrators and the Association of Pastoral Ministers.

At the same time, there’s a recognition that strong, well-supported lay ministers are needed now more than ever.

“Lay ministry is invaluable to the life of the Church today,” said Father Michael Tix, the archdiocese’s episcopal vicar for clergy and parish services. “We’re at that point of time where we need to recognize the gifts that people bring, and want to bring, in service to the Church, and we need to recommit to engage in a deeper way.”

A recent study on the matter could be an important tool for those working to revitalize lay ministry. Funded by the Catholic Community Foundation, the study surveyed 69 active lay ministers in the archdiocese. The results will be presented at an archdiocesan professional development day Aug. 20.

The initiative “fit perfectly with CCF’s goal of increasing parish vitality in our local Catholic community,” said Anne Cullen Miller, foundation president.

Theater production at Holy Family in St. Louis Park. DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

“Lay ministers were very grateful to be asked what they thought,” said Deborah Organ, an adjunct professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul and pastoral associate at Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Minneapolis, who led the initiative. “They’re passionate in their love for ministry and their love for God.”

Put together and implemented by a team of 12, including Catholic university faculty, clergy, lay ministers, and a religious sister, the survey painted a complicated picture of lay ministry in the archdiocese.

On one hand, Organ noted lay ministers surveyed had “deeply positive and passionate feelings” regarding their local parish communities, describing them as “welcoming,” “alive,” and “faith-filled.”

On the other hand, many lay ministers felt unsupported and overworked, while some expressed a sense of disconnect from the archdiocese and the wider Church.

Factors contributing to that unease could include the 2008 closing and restructuring of the archdiocesan Center for Ministry, which provided support for parish lay ministers, and financial constraints as a result of bankruptcy, observers suggested.

“Every time there is a ‘tightening of the belt,’ it often falls in the laps of our lay professional ministers, as the lion’s share of most parish budgets are in staffing,” said Kornowski, who also works as parish business administrator at St. Gerard Majella in Brooklyn Park. “This pressure definitely affects the day-to-day lives of people who have dedicated themselves in service to the Church.”

The study brought up several concrete areas for improvement that could be considered as the archdiocese prepares for the synod. For example, a desire for more support for ongoing formation and education was a clear request from lay ministers who were surveyed.

“Lay ministers need to be professionally developed just like [employees] in the secular world,” said Kornowski. “Ineffective ministers make for ineffective parishes.”

Other participants in the study expressed worries about stagnant wages and an inability to support a family on what a lay minister can typically expect to make. The need for improved collaboration with clergy also emerged as an important issue to local lay ministers.

“These ministers understand the role of pastor, and believe that pastors are more effective if they work with their staff,” Organ said.

An evening for married couples at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis.

An evening for married couples at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis. DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

Building momentum

Those involved in the study hope it will help give direction to the archdiocese going forward, especially as the local Church prepares for the 2021 Synod.

“(With this survey), support for lay ecclesial ministers can be grounded in insights gained firsthand, yielding more efficient and effective results,” noted Cullen Miller.

According to those with a bird’s eye view of lay ministry in the archdiocese, there’s already some good momentum to build upon.

This has been evident in collaboration between the archdiocese and CMA. The archdiocese has worked to strengthen and raise the visibility of CMA and its represented ministry associations, such as the Association of Pastoral Ministers and the Association of Coordinators & Religious Education, Father Tix said. When a new youth ministry director is hired at a parish, for example, they’re likely to be directed to CMA and the Youth Ministers’ Network.

“We see the value of what they’re doing in their networking and sharing resources with one another as we work together to live out the Church’s mission,” he said.

Father Tix, staff from the archdiocesan Office for Parish Services, and Father Charles Lachowitzer, the vicar general, often attend CMA’s monthly meetings, ensuring two-way communication between the archdiocese and lay ministers.

The collaborative spirit has been appreciated by those on the ground.

“The enthusiasm is palpable despite many challenges” Kornowski said. “We truly seem to all be ‘co-workers in the vineyard,’” he added, referring to a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop’s document on lay ministry.

In the area of ongoing education, Organ commended the recent work of The St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity, which provides accessible and affordable programs for lay ministers. Organ said she’d like to see lay ministry education offerings expanded in the archdiocese to meet a variety of needs.

These positive signs, Father Tix said, are important foundations to build upon as the archdiocese works to further strengthen lay ministry.

“Like anything, you’ve got to start from someplace,” he said. “Certainly more work can be done, but some pieces are falling in place.”

Kornowski said he hopes the synod can be an important step in the process, noting his desire for CMA and lay ministers to work collaboratively with synod leadership and serve as a “rich resource for them to pull from as needed.” “I hope for a renewed spirit of optimism, excitement, and a chance to move onward and upward as a Church,” he said.

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