Catholic News Service
“There are different forms of service,” says St. Paul, “but the same Lord” (1 Cor 12:5).
“In the church there is diversity of ministry,” says the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “but unity of mission” (No. 873).
In other words, building the body of Christ on earth takes many people working together — recognizing and utilizing their God-given gifts in service of one another. Nowhere is that more necessary than at the parish level, where lay ministers are indispensable to the work of the church.
Like at the Church of St. Mary in Lake Forest, Illinois, where bereavement and outreach ministers serve the needs of those grieving, dying or in pain by bringing them “the presence of Christ,” in the words of pastoral associate Lore Nugent.
Or at Holy Trinity Church in San Pedro, California, where choirs lead parish assemblies in sung prayer, “giving voice to God’s word and bringing people closer to God,” says choir member Edra Widener.
Or at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in rural St. Paul, Nebraska, where religious educators minister to children and their families, “teaching them by sharing not just faith but the things in our lives that have formed us as disciples,” says Becky Knox, director of religious education.
For Knox, religious education was a natural link to her profession as special education teacher. “I had experience in the classroom, and I felt I was being called to use my gifts and talents in the service of the church,” she explains. “This ministry keeps me on my toes, keeps me thinking about how we can better serve our youth and families.”
Widener had sung in choirs and glee clubs all of her life. “There was always singing and dancing in my family,” she smiles. “But I’d never thought to join the choir at Holy Trinity until my mom became ill. Singing in the choir would help me from feeling overwhelmed completely; it was my saving grace.”
More than 20 years later, she says, “participating in music is a joy, especially because I see how we support the assembly in proclaiming and receiving the Scriptures through our singing. It’s about strengthening the community and building the kingdom.”
Nugent, like Knox, entered parish ministry as a religious education teacher, and eventually took on further leadership roles and positions at the parish after completing the lay ecclesial ministry program at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Illinois.
As pastoral associate, she oversees the bereavement ministry team and those who minister in hospitals and nursing homes. “We have the opportunity to walk with and give consolation to families, to share painful and challenging times in their lives,” she explains. “It’s an opportunity to bring Christ’s healing to those who need it most, and just to be present for them is really an honor and a blessing.”
In fact, she smiles, “I can’t even call what I do ‘work,’ because it is such a joy to serve in this ministry.”
To the laity in the pews who feel unsure of how or even whether to serve, Nugent suggests they spend time discovering their gifts with the aid of pastoral staff.
“It’s about sharing your faith journey with someone else,” she says. “It’s part of evangelization, discovering how Christ enriches every aspect of our lives. And that’s the heart and mission of our church.”
Widener believes it is important to extend an invitation. “I see many people who, like me, have dealt with death or sadness in their families,” she says. “And not only do they find healing and joy in being part of a choir where they find support and camaraderie, they can support others through using their own gifts.”
“We are all learning,” adds Knox. “It’s a lifelong process. That’s why we come to church, why we pray to the Lord, so we can better understand what our faith teaches us — and our faith teaches us to serve. You can be supported in your role, and you can support others.”
Catholic journalist Mike Nelson writes from Southern California.