Glenmary's Approach to Lay Ministry: A Collaborative Model Offering Alternatives to Closing, Merging Parishes

As the Church continues to grow and thrive in the United States, it also continues to struggle with a shortage of priests. Not so for a shortage of leadership, however, according to Liz Dudas, mission resource worker for Glenmary's Department of Pastoral Ministers and Pastoral Services.

According to a 2005 study by CARA, (the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate), there are over 30,000 lay persons-men and women; single, married and religious-working in pastoral ministry positions in the United States and almost 19,000 additional persons are enrolled in degreed and certificate programs across the country preparing for professional lay ministry positions within the Church.

These professional trained leaders provide pastoral care to Catholic church communities. This increase in personnel resources enables parishes, that otherwise would possibly be closed or merged in some dioceses because of the lack of ordained ministers, to grow and thrive.

Glenmary began developing its current lay pastoral coordinator program in 1989 and the first class of lay pastoral coordinators was commissioned in 1992. Under the Glenmary model, the pastoral coordinator works collaborative with a priest who serves as the sacramental minister. The lay person, who is appointed by the local bishop as the pastoral leader of the parish. The pastoral coordinator is the recognized Catholic leader in the county, handling the day-to-day activities and adminsitration of the mission.

The addition of these folks to Glenmary has helped assure that Glenmary's ministry of service in rural and small-town America not only continues, but will thrive and flourish, Liz says.

Glenmary lay pastoral coordinators have established six mission churches in the past 15 years. One of which, the thriving St. Joseph the Worker in Madisonville, Tenn., has been returned to the Diocese of Knoxville for continued care. Currently there are seven lay pastoral coordinators leading missions in eight counties through Mission Land, USA.

Because of the positive experience Glenmary has had using this model of ministry, dioceses have requested that Liz make presentations to diocesan planners to explain the model and how it could be applied in a diocesan structure. Recently she met with a representative of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati; several years ago, she met with people in the Diocese of Lexington. Both dioceses have small parishes that can make use of the pastoral coordinator/sacramental minister model.

Glenmary's Department of Pastoral Ministers and Pastoral Services, located in Nashville, Tenn., provides support services to Glenmary missions in the areas of pastoral planning, evangelization outreach methods/materials and multicultural ministry. The department is headed by Lorraine Vancamp, who also serves as the evangelization consultant. ' 

In addition to all Glenmary has to offer about how the model of lay leadership works, they also have much to offer in how lay leaders are trained. The staff of the Nashville office has designed a three-phase formation program that addresses all aspects of home mission ministry.

During the initial gathering, new pastoral leaders consider and discuss their missionary call, the history of Glenmary, Glenmary's charism and approach to ministry, small-town living and much more.

After this gathering, two shorter sessions are held throughout the year with curriculum designed by department staff and shaped by participants and the needs they find in their daily ministry experiences.

In addition, DPMPS staff provide ongoing support for all Glenmary pastoral ministers. Each year, gatherings of pastoral ministers are held to provide ministerial enrichment, support and spiritual renewal.

"By virtue of baptism, we are all called to the ministry," Liz says. And different people answer that call in different ways. And luckily for Glenmary, many folks have answered—and continue to answer—the call to serve the home missions.