A prominent bishop told a gathering of more than 200 clergy, faculty and lay ministers that the ordained ministry needs to recognize the importance of lay ecclesial ministry (LEM) within the Roman Catholic Church.
“The church would not fulfill its mission if it were not for lay ecclesial ministers who make our mission of Christ more alive, more visible and more active,” said Bishop Gregory M. Aymond of the Diocese of Austin, Texas.
“The bishop, the priest and the deacon should be encouraged to see the need for lay ecclesial ministry and how it enhances who we are as a church,” he said. “It should be part of their formation program.”
The bishop gave his remarks at “Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord: A Pastoral Convocation,” a one-day event sponsored by the Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education (GRE) to discuss the deepening role of lay ministry within the Catholic Church.
Lay ecclesial ministers are non-ordained—and often volunteer—pastoral ministers who do evangelical missionary work, teaching and other grassroots outreach alongside priests, deacons and theologians. There are more lay ecclesial ministers than priests or deacons, and the number of LEMs continues to grow. According to the National Catholic Reporter, by 2010 the active diocesan clergy in the United States will be less than the number of parishes, leaving lay ministers to fill the gap.
In 2005, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops approved a document, “Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord,” to help guide the development of LEMs. The document, which Bishop Aymond helped create and which had as one of its key supporters Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., set guidelines for suitability, formation and practice of lay ministry.
Calling the document a “wonderful beginning,” Bishop Aymond said that several other challenges of lay ministry need to be studied to ensure that LEM candidates are properly educated, trained and formed. These include: deciding who discerns authorizes and evaluates LEMs; what kind of curriculum should be required; and what level of salaries and benefits LEMs should receive.
Rev. Anthony Ciorra, Ph.D., dean of GRE, noted that the school’s online graduate Certificate in Faith Formation has strengthened the GRE’s mission to help prepare educators, volunteers, health workers and others who want to serve the lay ministry. Coursework for the program covers the core elements recommended in the Co-Workers document—the human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral development of the individual candidate.
“Fordham University is a leader in the conversation on the topic of lay ministry,” Father Ciorra said. “We hope to carry the legacy of this conference in what we do. . . to further deepen the dialogue and mission for lay ministry.” Representatives of GRE were meeting with other Jesuit colleges to discuss how Jesuit institutions might “collaboratively respond to the vision and competencies of co-workers,” he added.