ROCHESTER — Lay ministry is growing so quickly that it requires careful evaluation by those involved.
That was the premise for the Diocese of Rochester’s first-ever “Gathering of the Ministerium” on May 26. The five-hour event, held at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center, was attended by approximately 550 people invited by Bishop Matthew H. Clark. All are engaged in pastoral ministry at parishes and other faith communities across the Rochester Diocese. Serving as the main speakers were Bishop Clark and Richard Gaillardetz of the University of Toledo, a noted theologian and author.
Lay ministry is a relatively recent development in church history, fueled by the Second Vatican Council’s emphasis on lay people taking more active roles in the church by virtue of their baptism. Typical of these roles are parish-council membership, lector and extraordinary minister of holy Communion. In addition, many lay people began preparing themselves to work for the church professionally, training for such positions as pastoral associate, administrator and youth minister. This group was defined by the United States bishops as lay ecclesial ministers.
Bishop Clark introduced the term “ministerium” in 2001 to define those in the local church who exercise an official ecclesial ministry, whether they are ordained or not.
According to Sister of St. Joseph Patricia Schoelles, president of St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry, the ministerium may include “all those whose primary job description would be spiritual care of others.” Examples are pastors, deacons, pastoral administrators, pastoral associates, religious-education coordinators and youth ministers, as well as hospital, campus and prison chaplains. These people generally serve in leadership roles, noted Sister Schoelles, who was a member of the planning committee for the May 26 event.
During his presentation that day, Bishop Clark said he seeks to foster four priorities for the ministerium:
* Collaboration in which ordained and lay ecclesial ministers hold mutual respect for each other’s roles and often share responsibilities.
* Competence for which preparation for church ministry continues to be accessed through quality education at St. Bernard’s.
* Recognition of lay ministers, who the bishop noted, “are often not easily identifiable in the parish.”
* Equity ensuring that lay ecclesial ministers on parish staffs receive fair pay and benefits.
The bishop noted that the Rochester Diocese has taken a leading role in educating lay ministers, pointing out that in the 1970s St. Bernard’s — then a part of the former St. Bernard’s Seminary — “was likely the first place in the country to offer a master of divinity degree for laity.” More recently, he pointed out, pastoral administrators — leaders of parishes who are not priests — have been invited to attend the annual diocesan priests’ convocation.
Currently, Bishop Clark said, “pastoral ministry in our church is changing at a breathtaking pace.” A good example would be the growing ranks of pastoral administrators. The first one was appointed in this diocese in 1994, and several such people are now leading parishes.
As this evolution continues, Gaillardetz said, it’s important that individuals enter into ministry not just as volunteers, but also because they are “called by a community or leader.” Gaillardetz added that such people should be called forth based on their charisms, or special gifts.
Bishop Clark agreed that the designation of lay ecclesial ministers should be “not simply a response to the shortage of priests.”