By Marnie McAllister, Record Editor
Lest you picture a roomful of priests and religious, this gathering was meant for lay ecclesial ministers — business managers, pastoral associates, music ministers, principals, catechetical leaders, youth ministers and other professionals who lead ministries for the local church. Representatives of 42 parishes or schools and 15 agencies attended the Lay Ecclesial Assembly.
“The Archdiocese of Louisville is known for having continuing education opportunities, but this was a unique event that brought a variety of ministers together for a significant period of time, learning from each other and from our speakers,” said Dr. Brian B. Reynolds, chancellor and chief administrative officer of the archdiocese.
“It really went beyond my expectations, but it also built my sense of hope for the archdiocese. We have such gifted lay ecclesial ministers. That’s not a new learning, but it was so impactful to see them all together,” he said.
The Aug. 6 to 9 gathering was the first such assembly for the Archdiocese of Louisville — unique because of its length and its wide variety of participants. It was funded by a grant from the Lilly Endowment, a private foundation that awards grants to help enrich the religious lives of Christians in the United States.
Reynolds, who led the assembly, based it on “Co-workers in the Vineyard of the Lord,” a 2005 document published by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on lay ecclesial ministry.
On the assembly’s opening day, he told participants that the document begins with the words: “God calls. We respond.” The document’s premise — that lay ecclesial ministers are responding to a calling — was woven throughout the week’s activities.
The gathering included nine speakers and a dialogue with Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz. The speakers were:
- Sal Della Bella, director of parish leadership development for the Archdiocese of Louisville, led a workshop on leadership styles.
- Dr. Ed Hahnenberg, a professor of systematic theology at John Carroll University, presented “Theology of Lay Leadership.”
- Whitney Bishop, an instructor for the Center for Nonprofit Excellence and owner of the Nonprofit Leaders Network, offered a workshop on “Effective Management of Volunteers.”
- Michael Castrilli, professor and business fellow at Villanova University’s Center for Church Management, lectured on parish financial management.
- Father David Songy, OFM Cap., president of the St. Luke Institute, discussed emotional intelligence.
- Carol Fowler, retired human resources professional for the Archdiocese of Chicago, presented “Aggressive or Passive-Aggressive: Managing Conflict.”
- TED Talk-style presentations were given by Archdiocese of Louisville speakers — Michelle Herberger, who recently retired from the Office of Family Ministries, retired Father William Fichteman and Annette Turner, executive director of the Office of Multicultural Ministry.
They encouraged the ministers to find their own identities a lay ministers, offered tips about how to work with pastors and discussed the importance of respect for the church’s diversity.
The topics were selected by lay ministers in the archdiocese during a 2017 survey about their interests and needs.
On the last morning, Archbishop Kurtz addressed the assembly and expressed gratitude to the participants for their commitment to serving. He also urged them to strive for greater cooperation.
“I have this conviction that if we want a healthy and holy archdiocese, we need vibrant and holy parishes,” he said. “That means we have to work as a team and not work in our silos.”
He went on to ask the assembled ministers to share with him what aspects of the gathering will affect their ministry.
Chad Bader, a youth minister from St. Raphael Church, said Michael Castrilli’s presentation on parish financial management made an impact.
“When he said your parish budget is the largest theological statement because it shows where your priorities are — that was meaningful to me,” said Bader.
Renée Guidry, a director of religious education and youth minister for two parishes, said the talk by Carol Fowler on conflict management was helpful.
“I got a lot of wisdom and tools to use,” said Guidry, who serves at Church of the Annunciation in Shelbyville, Ky., and St. John Chrysostom Church in Eminence, Ky.
Deborah Grisanti, coordinator of senior care ministry for St. Edward Church, said she learned both from the speakers and the variety of ecclesial ministers in attendance.
Turning toward the roomful of ministers, she said, “There is such wisdom among all of you guys. I gained a lot from the speakers and from all of you.”
Joni Richter, pastoral associate of Our Lady of Lourdes, gave thanks for the lay ministers who came before her and said, “they opened the doors in their ministry for me to do ministry.”
She said the TED Talks helped her “appreciate my responsibility as a lay leader” and they “reminded me I need to take care of the people I work with as well as the people I serve.”
Renelle Stallings, who serves in adult faith formation at St. Gregory Church in Samuels, Ky., said she felt “reminded that God doesn’t call me to walk alone.”
“The beauty and privilege of walking holy ground — where you walk with co-workers and parishioners — is something we need to appreciate.”
Reynolds said the assembly’s purpose was two-fold: to educate lay ministers and “to build one holiness in Christ among lay ecclesial ministers.”
Both objectives were a success, according to those who attended.