Last Updated:Saturday - 12/11/2010
November 27, 2000
A look at laity in the parishes
Ont. bishops launched dialogue to examine role of lay pastoral associates
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
It's easy for Canadians to feel overshadowed, at times, by our American neighbours. They have 10 times the population and apparently so much more money, power and prestige than us less obtrusive Canadians.
On the other hand, they also have much more crime, illiteracy and homelessness. They also seem to feel they carry greater responsibility for the affairs of the world and of the Church. Their opinions and approaches are well known around the world, whereas many Canadian products and ideas struggle for a fraction of the recognition, even at home.
Last fall, for instance, the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops (OCCB) put out a study paper entitled Lay Pastoral Associates in Parish Settings. Probably most of us in the West have neither seen nor heard of it. Their study focuses especially on "professionally trained lay pastoral associates" in parishes, including catechists, youth ministers, social ministry, liturgical coordinators and others.
Although the OCCB presents this document "as a reference for the dioceses of Ontario," it initiates a dialogue that other dioceses might fruitfully continue.
The paper begins by noting the three historical movements towards lay ministry: 1) involvement of religious, 2) involvement of lay volunteers and 3) involvement of lay professionals who pursue degrees in theology and ministry in hopes of making lay ministry their life's work.
The greater acceptance sought by lay pastoral associates includes "an appreciation for the growing leadership role that women can exercise in the Church." All this needs to be grounded, of course, in a solid ecclesiology. The bishops recognize that a theology of lay ministry for the 21st century is still evolving and should not be concretized prematurely.
First, a number of variables need to be understood. For instance, the men and women seeking to become lay pastoral associates range from retired parishioners to younger or middle-aged people seeking ministry as a full-time career.
This latter group seems "ready to follow the steps typical of all careers: a lengthy time of formal study in a post-secondary institution (with the attendant financial investment), application and interview for a position, a contract spelling out working conditions and remuneration, periodic evaluation and long-term job security." Ideally these candidates are grounded in a relationship with a particular diocese and its ministry needs, and are screened to assess their suitability for ministry.
The OCCB identifies three essential components for the formation of these candidates: 1) theological formation including college level credit courses in the fundamental elements of the Christian faith and Catholic tradition, 2) formation for pastoral intervention including group leadership, workshops, sustaining volunteers and collaborating in ministry, and 3) spiritual and emotional integration.
The document also encourages some type of internship and a process of ongoing evaluation. And they encourage settings in which those seeking lay ministry study together with those seeking ordained ministry in order "to foster the kind of respect and recognition of diverse ministries and offices needed in the field" so as to "flesh out the specificity and complementarity of both the royal and the ministerial priesthood."
In the parish setting the presence of lay pastoral associates should strengthen volunteerism rather than weaken it by pouring an informed energy into the animation of a vibrant parish community. Public recognition is seen as essential to this process and a number of dioceses in Canada have formal installations of lay ministers on a parish or diocesan level.
The document makes a number of practical suggestions and cautions that "etching every detail in stone is not necessary (the Church needs to give itself time to learn) nor imposing a common solution to all situations (parish and diocesan realities vary greatly from place to place)."
At their best, Canadians are known for their careful, courageous and compassionate responses to many issues and concerns. This study paper reflects those fine characteristics and is a promising beginning to a distinctively Canadian approach to this important area.
As adult children of our parent Church in Rome, the Canadian Catholic Church has a responsibility of maturity to enter into dialogue with Rome's documents.
Without this dialogue, are we not like disrespectful teenagers who do not listen carefully enough to fully engage what their parents are saying? Will bishops in other areas of Canada enter the dialogue that the Ontario bishops have initiated? Priests and laity need to be in on this discussion so that an overall Canadian, understanding can begin to be forged.
Good parents feel blessed when adult children shoulder the responsibilities of a mature self-understanding that makes for creative and fruitful living.
Those of us who were in our teens during Vatican II are beginning to face the "empty nest" and being called, in the process, to direct our energies of maturity towards other issues about which we care deeply. For an increasing number of us, as well as for some of our children, professional lay ministry beckons.
(Sixth in a series – Adela Torchia is director of the Lay Pastoral Leadership Program at Newman College.)
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