By Steven Halligan
SAN BERNARDINO—The Diocese’s flagship lay formation program, the Ministry Formation Institute (MFI), has become one of only seven in the country, and the first in California, to receive a key national certification from the U.S. Bishops’ Conference.
On March 13 the USCCB Subcommittee on Certification for Ecclesial Ministry and Service officially approved the MFI’s standards and procedures for certification of Lay Ecclesial Ministers (LEM). This recognition is specific to the MFI’s Continuing Ministry Formation Program (CMFP).
The certification of the CMFP standards and procedures by USCCB has long been a goal of Bishop Gerald Barnes. MFI Department Director Maria Sedano in collaboration with directors of specialized ministries worked with the USCCB Subcommittee to secure the certification.
In essence, the certification gives those who complete the CMFP program a national recognition as a lay professional in their respective area of specialization, said Sedano. Also, she added, “certification enables diocesan officials to formally identify and authorize lay people with the appropriate education, formation, experience, ecclesial recognition and authorization to meet the needs of the community.”
The certification falls under two main categories: 1) Ministry Leaders, which include: Catechetical leaders, Young Catholics leaders, Adult Faith Formation leaders, Liturgy Coordinators, Charity and Justice Coordinators, Life and Dignity Coordinators, and 2) Pastoral Associates who assist the Pastor or Pastoral Coordinator in the general pastoral care and administration of the parish as needed.
You might be asking “What is a Lay Ecclesial Minister?” or “Why does this matter to me?” These are very good questions.
Fifty years ago, most ministries in a parish were led by priests or religious (brothers or sisters). However, if you were to look at a typical parish today you will see that many of those roles are now filled by lay professionals. And this brings us to a logical definition of a lay ecclesial minister. The LEM is a lay person who has felt and responded to the call of God to serve the Church, the Bishop, and the local parish (hence ecclesial), in a position of leadership. The call to Lay Ecclesial Ministry is a “vocation to servant leadership,” directing and coordinating the various ministries and programs as designated by the Pastor and the local Bishop.
Over the last 30 years of the 20th century, the number of lay ministers in the USA had grown so much that the U.S. Bishops sought to study the transformation underway and to express their hopes that the lay involvement in ministry work would be properly integrated with priests and the local Bishop. In 2005, the USCCB issued the letter “Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord,” as a resource for guiding the development of Lay Ecclesial Ministry.
In “Co-Workers,” the Bishops acknowledged that all the laity are called to the work of the Church as a result of Baptism. However, there is a much smaller group whose ecclesial service is characterized by:
• Authorization of the hierarchy to serve publicly in the local church
• Leadership in a particular area of ministry
• Close mutual collaboration with the pastoral ministry of bishops, priests, and deacons
• Preparation and formation appropriate to the level of responsibilities that are assigned to them.
It is in the area of preparation and formation that the Ministry Formation Institute has helped to shape the laity for leadership of ministries throughout the diocese. The CMFP was created to provide the laity with the advanced theological training and formation necessary for ministry and leadership. The most recent revision of CMFP was designed to ensure students in the program received the formation necessary for LEM.
In 2011, the USCCB approved National Certification Standards for Lay Ecclesial Ministers. These standards have shaped the pattern of programs for formation institutes around the country.
MFI in collaboration with many other diocesan offices is now in a process of advising past graduates and ministry leaders in the Diocese about the process to apply for their certification as Lay Ecclesial Ministers, either as a Ministry Leader or Pastoral Associate. The deadline for applying is January 15, 2020. It is anticipated that the first group of Lay Ecclesial Ministers will be “Certified” “Called” and “Authorized” by Bishop Barnes in June of 2020.
Steve Halligan is the English Language Director for the Continuing Ministry Formation Program (CMFP) for the Diocese.