KC Lay Formation

Both Rock and Amy have posted on the Announcement of Ave Maria University coming to KC to conduct lay ministry formation. I knew of the story from the Catholic Key on Thursday (the stories aren’t posted online as of tonight) and I hadn’t planned on commenting, but maybe I’ll jump in with a few tidbits I’ve not seen covered elsewhere. Abbreviated reports from the dicoesan web site are available here.

My student experience with non-degreed lay ministry formation is zilch. It simply wasn’t available in Rochester when I was discerning the complex possibilities of priesthood, music, liturgy, marriage, and a secular job in the early to mid-80’s. I had degree choices in music and theology, and I had a Master’s and an MDiv from which to choose. For various reasons I chose a Master’s program in theology. I very nearly re-enrolled after graduation (’88) for an MDiv, and around 1990 tossed around the notion of doctoral studies in Rome or Notre Dame. Needless to say, I remained in parish ministry, and it doesn’t look likely I’ll ever be heading back to school.

I’ve taught and been a student advisor in lay ministry programs in a few dioceses over the years. Across the board I’ve thought liturgical training was fairly weak, but since I’ve never been asked to do anything about it, I’ve generally kept my mouth shut. Kansas City and New Wine were not exceptions. There was very little liturgical training in the program as it was run. I thought it to be a serious drawback.

So now Ave Maria University is coming to town. There are a few rumblings in my professional circles not for Bishop Finn’s choices per se (though there were some), but for the awkward way the new direction was instituted. My sources tell me there was very little attempt to assess adult formation with the people who were actually doing it. The bishop’s appointees seemed to have an agenda in mind, and actual fact-finding was sometimes set aside so as to minimize communication. Case in point: the myth that the Center for Pastoral Life and Ministry was responsible only for lay ministry formation. In fact, the Center staff conducted professional development workshops and days of recollection for parish staffs, collaborated with the Priestly Formation office on other professional workshops, and were available as consultants for parishes on any number of issues or projects. I’m aware Bishop Finn publicly stated a budget investment and connected it with New Wine, but either he wasn’t telling the whole story or he was woefully misinformed.

Last time I checked, nobody at the chancery is quite sure who’s responsible for parish staff formation. Or some of the other services the CPLM used to cover.

My assessment of lay ministry formation is as follows: how it’s put together and what the emphasis prayer, liturgy, and spiritual direction are given for students. I assume adult catechists in these programs are competent. I’ve never known otherwise. So long as formation programs address student learning needs and are relevant to pastoral situations faced in actual parishes, I probably won’t have a serious disagreement with the program.

A substantial number of Spanish-speaking or bilingual candidates were due to hit New Wine this past year. I’d expect AMU folks to be on-board with Hispanic ministry needs and a facility in Spanish.

I think a helpful aspect of ministry formation is a seminar/practicum in which students (near the end of their studies) attempt to integrate their learning in a nearly-completed program to practical ministry in their parish. Even non-professional Catholic core volunteers need the pastoral tools to deal with the minefield of actual service. And a program’s directors need a student assessment of the coursework provided.

In a year or two, I’ll know for what we’ve traded a decent lay formation program. The ball is in the diocese’s court. I’ll keep you informed on how they’re doing.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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