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Fall Ministries

Lay ministry: the oldest profession in Christendom

A church like ours that follows a God who is “ever ancient, ever new” is always in flux like a great river. Lay ministry, a strong current in that river, has been a part of the church from the beginning, though it has been less in the foreground than today. Its outward forms vary from era to era, but ministry is the way the church lives and grows. Ministry is the church’s beating heart.

A familiar scene at most parishes today is that of lay women and men gathered around the altar at Communion time as eucharistic ministers, along with servers, lectors and music ministers. They remind us of the even wider variety of lay people who minister and serve the church as youth ministers, hospital chaplains, catechists, administrators or social workers distributing food from the parish pantry.

The Second Vatican Council reminded us that we all share in the one priesthood of Christ; the priest through holy orders, the faithful through baptism. “For in Him all the faithful are made a holy and royal priesthood” (Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests). We are a priestly people, and ministry is how we exercise that priesthood.

Over 35,000 Catholics are currently enrolled in lay ministry formation programs around the country. Two thirds of all dioceses have programs training lay people for church work. Is this a last-ditch response to the shortage of priests or is it a new way God works in the church and a part of the Vatican II vision?

Patricia Lefevere, in four articles in this special issue, takes the pulse of lay ministry today and finds a vibrant beat. Joni Woelfel describes a ministry she undertook after a tragedy in her family, one that uses current cyber-technology to support survivors of a loved one’s suicide. Her account of how her ministry developed shows how an initiative that comes from the bottom up intersected with the latest technology to give solace and help heal broken hearts.

-- Rich Heffern

National Catholic Reporter, September 7, 2001