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Posted December 14, 2005

Title: Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord
Authors: U.S. Bishops
Origins Dec. 1, 2005, Vol. 35, Number 25

(Follow this link to read the complete report)

The U.S. Bishops approved a resource document to guide the development of lay ecclesial ministry during their fall general meeting in Washington. “The Church’s experience of lay participation in Christ’s ministry is still maturing,” the bishops say. They present the document as a “pastoral and theological reflection on the reality of lay ecclesial ministry, as an affirmation of those who serve in this way and as a synthesis of best thinking and practice.” The document discusses the theological foundations of lay ecclesial ministry, the discernment of suitability for such ministry, formation of lay ecclesial ministers, and workplace policies and practices. A parish associate, catechetical leader, youth ministry leader, school principal or director of pastoral music are some examples of lay ecclesial ministers, the document says. Within the larger group of laity serving in the world and the church is “a smaller group on whom this document focuses” — those whose ecclesial service is characterized by authorization of the hierarchy, leadership in a particular ministry area, close collaboration with the pastoral ministry of bishops, priests and deacons, and appropriate formation, the document explains. It examines characteristics or dispositions of lay ecclesial ministers and, among other objectives, looks into their human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation.

Excerpts from the document:

“Co-workers in the Vineyard of the Lord’ expresses our strong desire for the fruitful collaboration of ordained and lay ministers, who in distinct but complementary ways continue in the church the saving mission of Christ for the world.”

“The ministry is ‘lay’ because it is service done by laypersons. The sacramental basis is the sacraments of initiation, not the sacrament of ordination. The ministry is ‘ecclesial’ because it has a place within the community of the church, whose communion and mission it serves, and because it is submitted to the discernment, authorization and supervision of the hierarchy. Finally, it is ‘ministry’ because it is a participation in the threefold ministry of Christ, who is priest, prophet, and king.”

“An ecclesiology of communion looks upon different gifts and functions not as adversarial but as enriching and complementary. It appreciates the Church’s unity as an expression of the mutual and reciprocal gifts brought into harmony by the Holy Spirit.”

“The call to lay ecclesial ministry adds a particular focus to the Christian discipleship expected of all the baptized. Their call, however, should not foster an elitism that places lay ecclesial ministers above or outside the laity. Like Jesus, they are called to serve and not to be served.”

“References, background checks and various screening instruments are an objective means of determining an individual’s suitability for ministry. Lay ecclesial ministers working with children will be required, in accordance with diocesan policy, to submit to a background check.”

“Human formation seeks to develop the lay ecclesial minister’s human qualities and character, fostering a healthy and well-balanced personality for the sake of both personal growth and ministerial service.”

“Lay ecclesial ministers need more than thorough adult faith formation; they need proper theological study that builds on and goes beyond the work of catechesis. Those who embark on formation, whether in academic degree or diocesan certificate programs, should . . .be open to the demands such study will place upon them.”

“It is important that all who provide formation realize the vision, principles and components of the total formation process and how they are to be integrated. In this way each formator can coordinate his or her component with the whole.”

“It is particularly helpful for small and rural dioceses to collaborate with one another and with other institutions to develop the resources that will provide excellent formation.”

“Whenever possible, provinces or regions can develop consistent certification standards and procedures so that lay ecclesial ministers might transfer from one diocese to another in the region with the approveal of the sending and receiving bishops.”

“It is particularly helpful for small and rural dioceses to collaborate with one another and with other institutions to develop the resources that will provide excellent formation.”

“Those lay ecclesial ministers serving in paid positions need fair compensation for their work. The church has a long history of speaking about the dignity of work and the proper recogniation of people’s service.”

“The same God who called Prisca and Aquila to work with Paul in the first century calls thousands of men and women to minster in our church in this 21st century.”