Advancing excellence in lay ecclesial ministry


By Barb Arland-Fye

Lay men and women in the Davenport Diocese are coordinating and directing a variety of ministries as parish life administrators, pastoral associates, religious education directors and youth ministers among other titles. They are known in the Church as lay ecclesial ministers. The academic and spiritual formation necessary to serve in these roles is available through the diocese’s Ministry Formation Program (MFP), which begins the new academic year in September with classes in English and in Spanish.

Earlier this month, Ministry Formation Coordinator IlaMae Hanisch participated in an invitation-only symposium at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., designed to advance excellence in lay ecclesial ministry. The U.S. bishops, citing a 2005 report from the National Pastoral Life Center, states that “30,632 lay ecclesial ministers work at least 20 hours per week in paid positions in parishes. An additional 2,162 volunteers work at least 20 hours per week in parishes.”

“This symposium was part of a larger conversation being held regarding ministerial theology,” Hanisch told The Catholic Messenger. “In my 32 years of ministry, this symposium will be among the top 10 highlights. To be with such inspired, dedicated and educated professionals to discuss lay ecclesial ministry was humbling and energizing.”


The 240 participants held conversations on the religious landscape and its implication for pastoral leadership, explored common theological themes and dialogued with seven authors about their essays on aspects of lay ecclesial ministry. Topics of in-depth study during the symposium Aug. 2-5 included cultural diversity, canon law, excellence and accountability and Gospel values in the workplace.

“I have never had such an opportunity to do in-depth study, dialogue, and converse with so many authors, theologians, educators and practitioners about lay ecclesial ministry,” Hanisch said.

Conversation will continue on eight points of convergence that symposium participants voted on as a way to provide a framework for lay ecclesial ministry:

1. Spirit. Lay ecclesial ministry is the work of the Holy Spirit.

2. Baptism. Baptism is the foundational sacramental source that empowers lay ecclesial ministers to carry out the mission of Christ.

3. Vocation. Lay ecclesial ministry is a genuine vocation to ministry discerned within the ecclesial community.

4. Relationships. Lay ecclesial ministers enter into a distinctive set of relationships within the life of the Church.

Their ministry is characterized by appropriate formation, the authorization of the hierarchy, leadership in a particular area of ministry, and mutual collaboration with the ordained and other ministers. These characteristics distinguish the ministry of lay ecclesial ministers from other ministries and the broader participation of the lay faithful in the communion and mission of the Church.

5. In the name of the Church. Lay ecclesial ministers serve in the name of the Church.

6. Authorization. The bishop or his delegate authorizes the lay ecclesial minister for ministry in the name of the Church.

7. Ritual. Public rituals provide an opportunity for the ecclesial community to receive, affirm and celebrate the ministry of the lay ecclesial minister.

8. Structural support. The presence of lay ecclesial ministry calls the Church to provide systems of support and to adjust parish, diocesan and national structures and policies to more fully integrate this new reality in the ministerial life of the Church in the United States.

Hanisch said this symposium was the third of three significant gatherings of ministers in the Roman Catholic Church since the U.S. bishops published “Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord” (2005), a resource for guiding the development of lay ecclesial ministry.

“Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord expresses the bishops’ 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, his vineyard,” states the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) on its website.

In 2007, two years after publication of Co-Workers in the Vineyard, a meeting was held at St John’s University to explore pathways to lay ecclesial ministry, the formation of lay ecclesial ministers, their authorization and the workplace. A second pivotal gathering, the National Ministry Summit held in Orlando, Fla., in 2008, drew more than 5,000 bishops, priests, deacons, religious men and women and lay ecclesial ministers to review research being done in the Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership Project.

“U.S. Catholic parishes are changing. What do those trends mean for leadership?” Hanisch said. Addressing that question at the symposium were adults of different ages and ethnic groups. “All had come together for the purpose of continuing the work that was begun on behalf of lay ecclesial ministry in the U.S. Church,” she said. The conversation will continue.

MFP classes begin next month

The 2011-12 Ministry Formation Program begins this September.

The Basic Year 1 is available through on-site classes two Saturdays a month at the Diocese of Davenport offices,  780 W. Central Park Ave., Davenport, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. DVD format classes meet monthly for three hours for small group work at sites to be determined. Classes in Spanish are available at St. James Parish in Washington from 3-6 p.m.

The specialized track offered this year is on liturgy and is held one Saturday a month from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the diocesan offices.

Application forms and program information are available on the Diocese of Davenport website at Go to offices, to faith formation to lay ministry.

For more information on any of the Ministry Formation Programs, contact IlaMae Hanisch at or (641) 791-3435.

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