Share the Light, Lead the Way

Volume 1, Issue 1

Fall 1999

The Center and Catholic Lay Leadership Formation

The Center for Catholic Lay Leadership Formation has created a new formation and education process for the development of the personal vocation of lay leaders. For 17 years, the Center offered courses which were taught successfully in parishes as adult religious education courses.

In clarifying who laity are in a time which is calling for trained collaborative ministers, we have developed a formation process for preparing collaborative ministers. We have developed a formation process for preparing collaborative ministry in parishes. This model sees the parish, the local church, as the place where the training of lay leaders will occur. The Center will assist the pastor and the pastoral staff to prepare a needs assessment for what will be needed to bring a parish on-line with its mission. The fact that the task is formational and transformational means that spiritual and moral leadership involves men and women who are ready to take on the roles of spirituality/community ministry. These are not just jobs or volunteer tasks; rather a comprehensive and substantive response to needs, not just remedies or fixes.

The Center has a mission to the Church as the encounter with Christ in all phases of human life. It invites commitment on a level which is sensitive to the call of an unknown future, yet holding a level of awareness charged with some real sense of the difficulties of present reality. It will take some time for a shift in the popular mindset of many of those who are called forth. The word 'vocation' in the minds of most churchgoers is usually reserved for deacons, nuns, brothers, and priests. It will require time for laity to become a familiar vocational concept. Outside of marriage vows, there really is little precedence in this country for ministry as a personal option for laity although it has been changing rapidly.

Who are those who will be called?

The Center looks to persons who know the language of commitment, generosity, and dedication which is inspired by faith in Christ and a love of His Church. There will be those who have an APOSTOLIC DESIRE, almost a hunger to keep faith alive in their neighbors without the need to control or meddle. The present moment calls mainly for working together to bring a new sense of community to the "as-is" complexity of parish reality. A new kind of authority is the authority of service of Love. Servant Leadership is the name that many give to this kind of ministry. At the Center we call it being "Called forth to be sent forth."

What is the Center addressing?

There are problems in how laity may "hear" the call to be sent forth. We see some: a lack of identity on the part of the laity with regards to their vocation and mission as Church in society: a fear or ignorance of the meaning and possibility of collaborative ministry as a way of being Church. We are also facing situations in parishes where insufficient education about the shift of model underlies Vatican II has left many people confused in what they should be loyal to, and too often they view changes as threats or annoyances rather than opportunities and possibilities.

The invitation of the Fathers of Vatican II to the laity is an invitation to a new vision of how to be church in a multicultural and interactive global world. Vatican II sees the laity as having "come of age" and as welcome partners in ministry by virtue of their baptism. The call to the laity is to know their dignity as persons, called forth to be church in a world that challenges and nullifies Christian values. The call is the call to be holy in a world of frequent changes and transformation.

The stress now is on the dignity of each person and the inviolability of freedom of conscience. These changes actually have had much to do with reconstructing the context for responsible lay involvement in the ethical and moral teaching heart of the church as well as full-fledged participation in parish life.

Expectations of Parish Services.

The personal benefits that people generally have come to expect in terms of social and health services are putting greater pressure on parishes. They need to match the type of services the greater community takes for granted. The shifting and developing horizons of parish life, including or excluding schools, loss of religious personnel, the addition of more paid lay staff, has shifted the needs f the parishes to a new level professionally and financially. Parishes are naturally more community-based with many small communities coexisting within on e parish. What we are experiencing now is the recognition of the complex infra-structure of the parish community: each individual Mass has its own consistent constituency, which in a smaller place would constitute a parish by itself. This is one of the realities that needs to be brought forward as we look to prepare leaders for the future.

Which Parish are they called to serve?

Which model of the Church best depicts the real situation today? A reality-based assessment of each parish will bring into clearer light the specific leadership needs. The formation process is an educational process involving the whole parish community, leading to an in-depth corporate and personal discernment. The process is not just a new way of gathering volunteers for tasks, but a whole reorientation of a particular parish. Tip O'Neill said, "All politics is local." We can say, "All parishes are local." It is within that frame of the local parish that the Center offers formation process for lay leadership.

What are we to do, or what can we do?

When we allow the big picture to become visible, the little picture gains intelligibility from the shift of perspective to possibility and re-creation. The institutional Church lives in a new social reality of corporate responsibility, one that senses it is a privilege to serve others, particularly as Church. Coming from that future allows the process to move into development of new forms of lay involvement. The shift is to see Church as one's way of life into which the rest of one's life fits. And so we distinguish between active lay person and lay leader.

Lay leadership in the Catholic Church is no longer an option, nor is it simply to be tolerated. The time has come for dioceses and parishes to recognize the moment and foster an earnest commitment and effort to train laity for their new roles in parish and diocesan and universal church ministries. The re-visioning that has gone on in the Center in the past few years is not a solitary effort, lay leadership training programs are springing up in almost every diocese. Not all are demanding the same amount of depth of training, but the process has begun, the clock is running and cannot be turned back. It is an exciting and joyful time.

Ed Zogby, SJ. Faculty/staff member.

Rearview Mirror and the Road Ahead: Pastoral Response Then, Now and Imagining.

"In the beginning … South Bronx: 1970s"

Creativity seems to emerge when challenges are embraced. It was no exception for the parish pastoral team at Our Lady of Victory in the south Bronx during the early 1970's to face and embrace the awesome mission to inculcate Hope in their parishioners, as the neighborhood was crumbling - the consequences of arson and neglect. Instead of succumbing to the plight of urban decay and the depression of the human conditions, they created a pastoral strategy of focusing their energy on small groups of people - one group at a time. The pastoral team members included Fathers Robert Stern, Neil Graham Peter Gavigan; and Religious Sisters of Charity , Muriel Long and Nora Cunningham. The team designed religious formation and leadership skills programs for parishioners already involved or about to become involved in roles of ministry or services in their local communities. The programs offered to strengthen what the people held precious - their faith and spirituality; and the skills to engage others in issues pertaining to their community.

"The rippling effect … and sustaining effort."

Enthusiam for the programs enrolled more and more parishioners each year. Members of meighboring parishes got wind of the excitement and began to register themselves for the programs. As these programs seemed relevant to the surrounding parishes of the South Bronx, the need to establish a centralized effort of the religious education of their members became evident. By 1978, a plan was drawn, agreed upon and approved to institute the South Bronx Pastoral Center. In addition it was incorporated as a not-for-profit tax exempt corporation in the State of New York. In order for the pastoral team to devote their time and energy full time, it was determined that the Center had to separate its immediate ties with the parish and become an enterprise of its own. Therefore, the staff who were involved with the Center had been assigned to the parish could be reassigned to the Center. At the end of 1979, Frs. Stern and Graham were appointed as Executive Director and Associate Executive Director, respectively.

"Institutionalizing effect … "

As the Center became formalized as an institute, it had to develop along the prescriptions of an educational institution. In other words, requirements for enrollment, course wok, standard of work and participation had to be setup in a more rigorous manner. This formalizing procedure helped to ensure a quality religious education to those who might not have much formal education in religion or schooling. The Clergy Report, at this time, noted that the Center offered 8 programs - 3 in English and 5 in Spanish. Participants came for 18 different parishes. Consequently, encouraged by the tremendous response by the participants, the Center began to collaborate with other educational establishments such as Fordham University in 1985. Students completing the Christian Leadership Formation Program with at least a "B" average received up to 18 undergraduate credits through Fordham's School of General Studies.

"Reaching out … beyond South Bronx."

With the advent of Fr. Jim Bolger as the second Executive Director in 1986, the Center extended its pastoral response to the other three vicariates of the Bronx by setting up several regional class locations. A new one-year/three course program entitled Growing in the Faith, was introduced to cater for those participants who could not commit to a 4 year leadership program. An invitation from Manhattan - Lower East Side Conference (of Parishes) took the Center's programs to the parishes there in 1988. The extension of the Center reached out to affiliate itself with the Archdiocesan Center for Spirituality and the Catechetical Office of the Archdiocese of New York. The latter affiliation offered the students of the Center the opportunity to receive credits toward the Level I and Level II Catechist Formation Programs of the Archdiocese.

During this period, tow new courses in spirituality were developed with the assistance of the Center for Spiritual Development. The four-year/twelve course Christian Formation Program had been updated to accommodate electives in one of several areas of specialization: Scripture Social Justice, Ecclesiology, Ministry and General Theology. Since the Center served several locations in the Archdiocese, the Board of Directors agreed that it was more appropriate to create a new trade name which the Center would operate. The State of New York approve the Center to be known as the Center of Catholic Lay Leadership Formation on January, 1989. This occasioned the impetus to reach out to parishes in Yonkers, New Rochelle, Port Chester and the Upper Manhattan vicariates. Two regional offices were established, one in Lower East Side and the other at St. Catherine's School in Pelham. However, these two offices were short-lived due to limited financial resources. Classes continued to be held within a parish convenient to the region.

"Maintaining the web of parish connections … "

When Fr. Jim Bolger was assigned to the Catholic Youth Organization in the Summer of 1992, Br. Edward Bergeron, a Christian Brother, was selected as the executive director. During this period, it became increasingly more and more apparent that the Center has veered itself towards and academic rather than a pastoral model of formation of the laity. The contacts and connections between the pastors and the pastoral staff of the parishes and the Center were loosely coupled, as compared with the early period of the Center's history.

As an attempt to balance the academic and pastoral aspects of the Center's services, the staff began to offer workshops and retreats to parishes.

"A new dawn … soul searching"

In the Fall of 1995, the Center welcomed the first lay person, Mr. Rudy Vargas IV as executive director. He came with a different perspective, not only from a lay person but also from the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge in the Diocese of Brooklyn where he as involved in various pastoral programs.

In assessing the state of the Center up until then, it was clear that among its mayany contributors, the Center provided quality religious education for many parishioners. However, the perennial challenge for the Center was on the effectiveness o the formation program on student participation in their parish communities and/or performance of the students when they moved out to take on leadership roles in the communities. It was assessed that the linchpin to more positive outcomes of the program hinged on the involvement of the parish pastoral staff to plan and build structural support for the lay ministries and lay participation in the parishes.

The Center seemed to need some realignment of its "wheels" and to steer its orientation towards something old and something new. It had to revisit and to recapture the vision and the missionary spirit of the pioneers who envisaged the critical leadership role the laity could play in the life of the parish and their community at large. However, the development of the Center in its early years and the subsequent direction it took tended to model on the traditional or established educational institute. That model had served the Center very well.

In order to create a different model, the Center had to base its programs and the implementation of the programs on different assumptions. Should the programs be targeted on parishes which are ready and willing to provide structural support for lay leadership? To what extent should the parish pastoral staff be involved in the formation of their leader candidates? Should the design of the programs be religious content-centered or should they be process-centered?

This soul searching lead to the pastoral strategy of enrolling a parish or a cluster of parishes one at a time to a more collaborative commitment between the parish staff and the Center in the formation of the parish's leader candidates. The first of this new venture was conducted in the Fall of 1966 at Holy Rosary Parish in Staten Island. It was followed by Holy Family Parish, East Bronx. In addition, a cluster of parishes in the East Bronx invited the Center to initiate a youth leadership program for their parish base youth groups. Concurrently, the Center conducted courses in Specialized ministries, such as Lectors and Eucharistic ministers for parishes that requested them.

The refocusing of the Center on the parish pastoral activities led to a collaboration with the New York Archdiocesan Office of Evangelization in developing the Parish Evangelization Cell Groups.

"Imagining … "

As the millennium draws to a close, the mantra of organizations and enterprises seems to be "reinventing, reengineering, refounding" so that the birthing of a new age may bring forth new hope. The Center is not immune to the mantra. In its search for the foundations of the Center, it discovers two pillars - the vision of the critical role of lay leadership in the Church, and the missionary spirit that energizes the Center to embrace the many challenges that lie ahead.

The road ahead presents new possibilities. The new possibilities require new learning. Parishes have to be learning communities in order to be alive and stay alive, and cannot afford to be static. The Center, thus, has to provide pastoral formation that is community centered. The parish as a learning community involves the collaborative learning of parishioners, parish staff and pastors. It is they who will see Visions and dream dreams. It is the Center's contribution to continue to relentlessly tilling and sowing the seed in the 'Vineyard of the Lord'.