The work of forming lay and ministerial leaders

The work of forming lay and ministerial leaders

Professor Zeni Fox of Seton Hall University is the recipient of the lifetime achievement Called and Gifted Award given by the Association of Graduate Programs in Ministry.
Photo courtesy Seton Hall

This week the Association of Graduate Programs in Ministry met in Orlando, Florida. The 30-year-old organization draws together directors of programs, deans, administrators and faculty from the Catholic world charged with forming lay and ministerial leaders in the church. The conference intersects in many ways with the discipline of practical theology, a precise methodological approach which roots effective pastoral leadership in a nuanced understanding of culture, professional ministerial competency and the contemporary world.

It’s a collegial and stimulating group of scholars, which as a body is intentionally trying to include more ethnically and ideologically diverse participants so as to better reflect, serve and lead the church in the United States, and the entire People of God, broadly construed.

The Center for the Applied Research in the Apostolate, a non-profit and sociologically serious body of demographers housed at Georgetown University, recently released a study in which they called Lay Ecclesial Ministers “the backbone of the church.” There are currently 40,000 of such largely unsung heroes in the United States, which is more than double the number of active diocesan priests. Another 19,000 are currently enrolled in formation programs, many in AGPIM institutions.

The conference invited participants to contribute chapters to an upcoming volume on a wide range of ecclesiological, biblical, historical and ethical topics. We discussed these papers over three intensive days of meetings and meals, where the authors were able to gain invaluable feedback from their peers and other experts in the field on their contributions. Related bodies like the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Association of Catholic Chaplains and various Catholic healthcare organizations were also represented.

The lifetime achievement Called and Gifted Award was presented to Professor Zeni Fox of Seton Hall University.

Zeni’s writings have long been staples in the field in preparing men and women to live out their baptismal and ministerial vocations more fully, and have been instrumental in interpreting and continually applying the bishops’ instructive document Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord: A Resource for Guiding the Development of Lay Ecclesial Ministry (2005).

The theology of the Second Vatican Council consistently called for “full, conscious and active” participation of all church members, both within liturgical settings and beyond. This certainly applies both to those called to serve the church in a wide variety of fields, and to those of us given the solemn and joyous duty of helping to offer the intellectual, spiritual, pastoral and human formation of such men and women. We all include pedagogies in our classrooms that allow us to learn with and from our students as we engage in this process. AGPIM continues to serve a vital and irreplaceable role in bringing those of us committed to this charge together to revitalize the ongoing relationship between the church and the post-modern world in which we find ourselves as a community.

Both the positive and negative elements of our Catholic response to the many ills of today’s fraying social fabric are due to the beneficial work and ongoing culpability of parents, catechists, professors, social media bloggers and healthcare professionals, not simply pastors, bishops and cardinals. AGPIM seeks to address these twin realities, our strengths and weaknesses, as a whole-body church, with efficiency, passion and conviction.

Originally from Collingswood, Michael M. Canaris, Ph.D., teaches at Loyola University, Chicago.

Categories: Columns, Growing in Faith

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