The Diocese of Salina is in its second year of the “Stewards of Hope” Pastoral Plan. One of the primary goals for this year is the promotion of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, as well as the promotion of lay ecclesial ministry.
It has long been known that the statistics of U.S. parishes are changing along with how we staff our parishes. A study published in 2005, “Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership: the Changing Face of U.S. Catholic Parishes,” tells us that the larger parishes are continually growing larger while smaller parishes, especially in rural areas, are decreasing in numbers. The statistics also reveal that the number of priests available to serve these smaller, rural parishes continues to decline.
The result is that it is estimated that there are at least 38,000 lay persons serving in some type of salaried parish ministry in our nation. The majority of these lay ecclesial ministers are lay women and vowed religious. Moreover, the U.S. Church is adding about 790 new lay persons to parish staffs each year to try to meet the growing needs in ministry.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has long recognized the call of the Holy Spirit among the laity. In their document, “Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord: A Resource for Guiding the Development of Lay Ecclesial Ministry,” our nation’s bishops affirm that the paid men and women who work for the Church are of immense value.
However, for this to benefit the Church fully, we must provide the candidates for lay ecclesial ministry with sound theological studies and pastoral formation. The bishops’ document also acknowledges that there is a distinct difference between ordained ministry and lay ministry. However, it stresses that the Church is richly blessed when ordained ministers and well-trained lay ecclesial ministers work together in complementary ways.
In the spirit of the bishops’ document, our diocese began a program of theological study for lay ecclesial ministers, known as Vinea. Graduates of our diocesan program have served as full-time parish life coordinators, as well as provided ministry in many other ways that did not involve full-time employment.
A workshop has been planned to bring this process to the greater attention of our pastors, parish leaders and interested parishioners. The workshop will be offered in two locations. The first will be at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Hays on Aug. 19. The second will be at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Salina on Aug. 26. Both workshops will run from 1 to 5 p.m.
Our goal is to encourage pastors and parish councils to assess the immediate and long-term needs of their parishes and parishioners. After considering those needs, our next goal is to identify, if possible, local persons who might be suitable to fill these ministerial needs and then facilitate their training for ministry.
Please join us in the effort of planning for the continued strength and vitality of our parishes long into the future. Everyone is welcome, but it is especially important that pastors, parish pastoral council members, “Stewards of Hope” committee members and others in positions of parish leadership will attend. Registration has been sent to each parish and pastor. The registration deadline is Aug. 10.