June 19, 2015

Be Our Guest / Mark Erdosy

Lay ecclesial ministers essential to Church’s mission of evangelization

Today, there are more than 39,600 lay ecclesial ministers in the United States, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. It is common in parishes to find lay ecclesial ministers collaborating with the ordained primarily in religious education, sacramental preparation, liturgy and/or music ministry, youth and young adult ministry, and general parish administration.

This increased lay role was the subject of the Lay Ecclesial Ministry Summit in St. Louis on June 7-8 sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church and the Subcommittee on Certification for Ecclesial Ministry and Service, with the support of the Committee on Doctrine.

The summit was a gathering to mark the 10th anniversary of the bishops’ statement, “Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord.” The summit’s three aims were to assess the experience of the past 10 years, identify best practices and emerging trends, and recommend potential future directions.

In his keynote address on June 7, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston summarized the reality by saying, “Lay ministers have a co-responsibility with their ordained counterparts to further the Church’s mission of evangelization.”

Summit attendees came from across the United States to learn and dialogue with each other and bishops. Attendees included diocesan bishops, representatives of national ministry organizations, academic leaders and lay ministry experts, along with USCCB staff.

Bishops, academic leaders and lay ministry experts shared the latest research in their presentations. Lay Ecclesial Ministry Summit participants heard presentations on the following: the changing pathways to ministry; formation; immigration; workplace best practices; and authorization. Participants dialogued with bishops in small groups following each round of presentations.

Reporting to the USCCB, Bishop Richard J. Malone, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, said, “All of this [the summit] was done in the larger context of advancing the co-responsibility of all the faithful for the Church’s mission of evangelization.”

Echoing Pope Francis’ emphasis on evangelization, Cardinal DiNardo said, “We need incredibly well-trained lay ecclesial ministers to discern what is happening. … We need to build up a Church of missionary disciples, and need them to be a laboratory and leaven for everyone, so people pick up the boldness of proclamation.”

(Mark Erdosy is executive director of the Rebuild My Church Program and director of the San Damiano Scholars Program for Church Leadership at Marian University in Indianapolis.)

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