Bishop Matthew H. Clark did not invent lay ministry. The Second Vatican Council was responsible for promoting the recognition that baptism is actually a sacrament of mission and ministry. This means that every baptized Christian is called to carry on the ministry of Christ through the community of the church.
As I see it, Bishop Clark’s role regarding lay ministry in our particular local church of the Diocese of Rochester is characterized by two significant traits that dominate his response to everything: He listens carefully to what those around him are telling him about their needs and aspirations in faith, and then he invites.
In this, he exemplifies the very best of pastoral leadership. He is not interested in imposing a predetermined scheme or plan on others. In fact, it is quite the opposite here. He is interested in hearing what others are saying about things. And then he invites us to take up a role in making the vision reality. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard him say, from pulpits, in board rooms and meeting halls, in smaller gatherings of all sorts: “I invite you to‚Ä¶” The church I grew up in seemed to proclaim many condemnations, lots of “do nots,” many “you can’ts.” The church Matthew Clark promotes is the one that invites us to.
So when it comes to lay ministry, he understood what the council said about lay ministry. He knew that biblical scholars and theologians had begun to explain baptism as a sacrament that sends all of us believers to ministry on behalf of Christ both in the church and in all our other roles as well. He heard what the priests and people were saying about the needs of our parishes and other agencies for good staff members. He saw how vocation patterns were changing, and he met scores of lay women and men who told him they were ready to take up the challenge of forging ahead with the new ways of ministry.
He heard us, and then he invited us. He let structures grow and resources be made available for training lay leaders. As a result, we now have 17 parishes led by pastoral administrators. We have scores and scores of lay people whose career now is church work. We have a brand-new campus for St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry and a fresh vision for that school to help train people for ministry and bring deeper knowledge of faith to all the adult seekers in our diocese. Because of his work as bishop, we all have a truer sense that our communion with God takes place through our family life, our work life, our loves and losses, and that all this is part of our ministry through baptism.
I repeat: Matthew Clark is a bishop who listens and invites. Pretty interesting for a bishop in these times, I’d say.
Sister Patricia Schoelles, SSJ, is president of St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry.