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Posted April 30, 2008

Diverse leadership seen at summit
as key to future of healthy church

By Karen Osborne
Catholic News Service

On the last day of an unprecedented summit, Catholic ministry leaders detailed lifelong learning, collaborative ministry, solid formation and a greater need to encourage diverse leadership as crucial to the further growth of a healthy church.

"Emerging models require an emerging vision of leadership," said Robert McCarty of the National Federation of Catholic Youth Ministry April 23, near the close of the National Ministry Summit, which attracted about 1,200 lay ministers, religious and clergy.

McCarty served as a panelist on the morning's plenary session, which examined responses to recommendations for the future of pastoral leadership made earlier in the April 20-23 summit.

Present were members of a coalition of six Catholic national organizations -- the National Association for Lay Ministry, Conference for Pastoral Planning and Council Development, National Association of Church Personnel Administrators, National Association of Diaconate Directors, National Catholic Young Adult Ministry Association and National Federation of Priests' Councils -- that received a $2 million grant in 2002 from the Lilly Endowment for a four-year study in response to changes in the church.

These changes include an increase in the number of Catholics, a more educated laity, a decrease in the number of priests and vowed religious, an increase in deacons and professional lay ecclesial ministers and growing cultural diversity in the church.

Many of the recommendations made at the summit proposed changes to the training, formation and development of parish ministers at every stage in their careers.

Attendees suggested developing comprehensive training programs for ministry at all levels in the diocese; defining the roles and responsibilities of lay ecclesial ministers, sacramental ministers and priest moderators; providing initial and ongoing formation for ministers that balances leadership, management and support roles; creating a culture of accountability; and increasing consultation between lay leaders and pastors.

Panelist Kerry Robinson of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management said the church, its people and its facilities "deserve to be managed well," and emphasized that "the mission of the church is far more important than the bottom line of the corporation."

Her challenge to the summit participants was to "be the change you want to see in the church."

"Aspire to excellence at every level for the sake of the church," she said. "Ensure that your parish and ministry (are) worthy of generosity."

Father Richard Siepka of the seminary division of the National Catholic Educational Association said lifelong learning must be emphasized both in the seminary curriculum and in lay ministry formation.

He said lay ministers and deacons should study alongside future priests, as they do at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora, N.Y., where he teaches. Springing from the "unity of vocation" that ordained ministers and lay Catholics share in baptism, such side-by-side study "has maximized exposure to all in formation," so "priests and laity find it easier to work together in parishes," he said.

The lack of racial diversity among summit participants was a major concern for many. With 91 percent of attendees identifying as white or Caucasian, and 70 percent between the ages of 50 and 69, speakers wondered about the summit's ability to adequately speak for the more diverse parts of the church, which has a growing Hispanic and intercultural population.

"Look around this room," said Greg Welch, a young adult minister from Renew International. "We are very white, and very white-haired. Where are the Hispanics? Where are the young adults?"

Debra Krisher, a lay ecclesial minister involved in adult ministry in the Diocese of Syracuse, N.Y., also expressed her disappointment with the conference's racial makeup. "I don't think it's a fair representation of the church, of my parish and of the population of the Northeast," she said.

Age diversity was also a concern, with only 2 percent of attendees younger than 30. Robinson challenged participants to be proactive in encouraging the next generation of church leaders by inviting young adults onto finance councils, parish councils and other boards in Catholic organizations.