During a four-day conference at St. Meinrad Archabbey, lay women and men who have been called to serve as professionals in church ministry received thanks from Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz for their “commitment to Christ’s people.”
While most parishes around the Archdiocese of Louisville are led by a pastor, it’s common to find lay people working by his side in a variety of roles. They may be pastoral associates, youth ministers, business managers, directors of worship and catechetical leaders, for example.
These professionals — who have a vocation to their ministry as well as specialized education or experience — are known in church parlance as lay ecclesial ministers.
And their value is easily overlooked, many of the lay ministers and speakers noted during the conference, which included opportunities for worship, nationally-known speakers and social hours.
“It’s imperative that lay ministers have a time to pray together, learn together, relax together and build relationships,” said Dr. Brian Reynolds, chancellor and chief administrative officer of the archdiocese. “It’s imperative for the health of the church and for the ministers themselves.”
Reynolds organized the conference, the second Lay Ecclesial Assembly for the archdiocese, around the theme “Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord,” taken from the U.S. bishops’ 2005 document by the same name. The assembly was funded by a grant from the Lilly Endowment for the support of church ministers.
Participants heard from various speakers, including theologian Dr. Zeni Fox about the history and state of lay ecclesial ministry in the church today, particularly its growth after the Second Vatican Council and where it stands now.
And they heard from Kerry Robinson of the Leadership Roundtable, which promotes best practices in the church. She discussed the state of the U.S. church today during a presentation called “Justice, Recovery and Reform in the Catholic Church.” She also had praise for the Lay Ecclesial Assembly, adding that it’s unique in the U.S. church.
Participants also heard from Ann Garrido, associate professor of homiletics at Aquinas Institute of Theology and a consultant for conflict mediation. She offered a lesson in negotiating and reaching consensus.
Archbishop Kurtz joined the assembly on the last day to discuss what he has learned in nearly 50 years of ministry as a priest. He will celebrate that milestone this winter.
At the forefront of their ministry, he said, is relationship.
With “the power and person of Jesus Christ” and “the friendship of all of us together,” he said, “we become the body of Christ so that as anointed people we can lead others.”
“The closer we stay to Jesus and others, the more it’s about others and not about ourselves,” he said.
Expanding on this notion, the archbishop drew on a quote from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who was later quoted by Pope Francis:
“Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”
The archbishop went on to offer a list of six suggestions for successful ministry:
- “I think it’s important not to be ashamed to discover what your gifts are — it’s a false humility. And also what your passion is. A church will not survive unless we channel those passions.”
- Noting his Myers-Briggs personality profile is INTJ, he said, “If you’re going to be successful in your ministry, you are going to need other people. I’ve tried to make relationships with people where I know I’m weak. You’ve got to figure out where your blind side is.”
- Listen to God, he said. “Life is what happens in the interruptions between projects. My holy half-hour or 15 minutes every morning has some very concrete results. ‘Lord, what do we do with masks in schools?’ They’re things I won’t remember in 10 years, but they weigh heavily. Your prayer becomes very, very important.”
- “When there’s a problem, go to the eye of the storm. Don’t avoid conflict; learn to address it.”
- He touted the “Charism of administration: The capacity to clap and cheer for someone else. It’s a gift from God that means when you see success from your coworkers you will clap and cheer for them.”
- “Find a sense of balance. It’s very important for you to know what the right balance is in your life. Sometimes taking a break and coming back to see with new eyes can help,” he concluded.
Archbishop Kurtz acknowledged that his 75th birthday is approaching this month, the age at which a bishop is required to submit his resignation to the pope. While the letter of resignation is submitted at age 75, the pope may not immediately appoint a successor.
In addition to the conference speakers, the lay ministers also heard from a panel of clergy — three priests and a deacon. The panel discussed their approach to leadership and took questions from the church workers.
The lay leaders asked some challenging questions, including one about how to handle a pastor who doesn’t respect her role as a professional, particularly as a woman. Another asked for advice about how to set boundaries.