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The call to lay ecclesial ministry

Diane Dover’s gift to the church

 

"Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.” (Jer 1: 4)

I have always thought of Jeremiah’s call as my own, because my love affair with God and the church came very early in life. Formed by the Adrian Dominican sisters and the Benedictine priests at St. Scholastica Parish in Detroit, and certainly by the example of my parents and extended family, I loved to pray, to attend daily Mass and to hear the stories of the saints. By the time I received my first Communion in the second grade, I knew I wanted to spend my life serving God. I was very serious about becoming a nun – one of the Adrian Dominicans, of course! But, by the time I entered the eighth grade and “discovered” boys, I knew God wasn’t calling me to that vocation.  Still, I wanted to be involved in the church any way I could. As an eighth-grader, I became a catechist in both our Saturday and Sunday morning religious education programs.

That ministry continued for more than 25 years and I gradually added the titles of part-time parish and religious education secretary, and then youth minister. In my current parish, St. Joseph Shrine in the beautiful Irish Hills, I am a pastoral associate and director of religious education. In September 1995 I was privileged to be commissioned as a lay ecclesial minister for the Diocese of Lansing. And it is with the help and support of my wonderful husband, Marion, and my two sons, Michael and Richard, that I have been able to answer God’s call to serve the people of my parish, the diocese and the universal church.

What an awesome privilege it was to stand before Bishop Kenneth Povish in St. Mary Cathedral – to be called forth, to know the church officially recognized my call, a vocation I had received long ago. I was filled with joy as the bishop, in the name of the entire church, accepted my declaration of commitment and then commissioned me to serve. My family’s support was invaluable, but just as important was the support from the parish community of St. Joseph Shrine. As part of the commissioning ceremony, I was actually presented to Bishop Povish by a parish representative, my mentor Jean Hausmann. These words were used, “In the name of St. Joseph Shrine, I ask you to commission Diane Dover for service to us, and we promise to assist her by prayer, encouragement and support.

Jean was one of the people from the parish who called forth my gifts and challenged me to go deeper – to see how God might be calling me anew. That led me to the diocesan ministry formation program, at that time called Church Ministries Institute (CMI). The faith community continually encouraged and supported me through three years of formation that included day-long classes every Saturday in Lansing, retreats, spiritual direction and a mentor program. And not only was I commissioned by Bishop Povish, I was also commissioned by the faith community of St. Joseph Shrine at each of our Masses that September weekend. What a powerful symbol of acceptance, affirmation and sending forth! I will never forget that experience and their love.

I wear two rings that I never take off – one that my husband put on my finger the day we were married. It continually reminds me of our love and our commitment, our vocation to each other. The other is a “Jesus” ring that I took the day I was commissioned – to always remind me of my call as servant to God’s people, a call I received so very long ago.

by Diane Dover

 

How does God call us?

In the prayer after Communion in the Mass for Priestly Vocations, we pray, “Lord, bring to maturity the seeds you have planted in your church.” Yes, it is the Lord himself who plants the seeds of church vocations into the hearts of many, whether it be a call to priesthood; diaconate; lay ecclesial ministry; or consecrated life, as a sister, brother/priest or consecrated virgin. But it is a seed that is always an invitation to dialogue.

Pope John Paul has given the church a profound understanding of personalism. God relates to us as persons, and we relate to God in the same way. And what happens between persons is dialogue. This is also true when God calls us.

Pope John Paul II wrote, “Nobody can use a person as a means toward an end, no human being, nor yet God the Creator. On the part of God, indeed, it is totally out of the question, since, by giving men an intelligent and free nature, he has thereby ordained that each man alone will decide for himself the ends of his activity, and not be a blind tool of someone else’s ends.”

(Pope John Paul II, Love and Responsibility, p. 27)

“Drawn or driven” is a phrase that may capture this notion of dialogue, as opposed to “coercion.” It is not unlike what men and women feel when they genuinely fall in love. They feel drawn to be with the other person more and more.

“Driven” connotes a compulsion, a lack of freedom. Again, Pope John Paul has given us the teaching called “the freedom of the gift.” A gift is not a gift unless it is given in total freedom. Between persons, there must be this “freedom of the gift.”

The church from its beginning has held before us the call of Mary. Through Gabriel, God called her, “Behold you shall conceive in your womb, and he who is to be born of you will be called Son of God.”

In dialogue with her Lord, Mary responded, “How can this be since I have had no relations with a man?”

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”

And Mary responded, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to your word.”

by Fr. Matt Fedewa

 

A closer look at lay ecclesial ministry

Through our baptism, we enter into the priesthood of all believers. We are called to serve the entire people of God. For some of us, that service is expressed through sacramental ministry as a priest or deacon, through vowed community life as a religious, or through service to our family as a married couple. But for some people, single or married, there is an additional call – a call to serve the church in a specific, commissioned ministry.

Most of you have encountered these people in your parish. They are the directors of religious education, the coordinators of youth ministry, the liturgists, the pastoral associates. Many of them have been commissioned by the bishop in a ceremony at the cathedral, sent forth to serve their parishes in a variety of roles.

These people are more than volunteers who have become church employees; they are people whose desire to serve has resulted in discernment, formation and then authorization by the church. In many dioceses, including the Diocese of Lansing, candidates for lay ecclesial ministry engage in an adapted version of the four pillars of priestly formation – human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral. Many of our lay ecclesial ministers have obtained master’s degrees in their fields, have discerned with spiritual directors and have answered the church’s call for more workers in the field of the Lord.

In November, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops will address the topic of lay ecclesial ministry in their document, Co-workers in the Vineyard: a Resource for Guiding Development of Lay Ecclesial Ministers. With the bishops, the priests, the religious and the deacons of the church, lay ecclesial ministers have stood before God and said, “Here I am, Lord. Send me.”