Lay Leadership Follows 'Grow-As-You-Go' Model

By Margaret Gabriel
September 19, 2003

The diocese of Lexington, Ky., is by definition a “mission diocese”: Although it covers more than 16,000 square miles, the vast territory has only 47,000 Catholics, served by 64 parishes and missions. It didn’t take long for diocesan leadership to realize that with its huge size and some 50 priests, the church needed to expand on its concept of pastoral ministry and develop a model of parish leadership that included laity as well as clergy. Lexington formalized its model of pastoral directors, administrators and coordinators in the mid-1980s. But only recently did the diocese examine the model with an eye to use in large suburban parishes as well as the small rural parishes where it was first implemented.

It’s been a “grow -as-you-go” framework rather than a carved-in-stone plan, according to Sr. Helen Garvey, a Sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary who is director of pastoral services in the diocese. “In the beginning, people wanted all the details spelled out, and in some things, the details were obvious, but in other places, the work of the pastoral director is defined by individual gifts,” Garvey told NCR.

The parish administration model that includes a non-ordained pastoral director in a large suburban parish was first put into place in Lexington in August 2002.

A regional search for a pastoral director started when the pastor of Mary Queen of the Holy Rosary, a Lexington parish of 1,800 families, announced he would retire shortly after his 70th birthday. The search ended when longtime parishioner Bill Greenwell was hired for the position.

Greenwell completed a three-year program of ministry formation, has 18 hours of work toward a master’s degree in pastoral studies at Lexington Theological Seminary, and is in his last semester of study for the permanent diaconate. Thirty years of experience with the Internal Revenue Service in course development and technical instruction, and his life as a husband to Mary and father to Heather and Alexis round out his background. Greenwell’s familiarity with the parish and the parishioners’ familiarity with him gave him a healthy head start in contributing to his success in the early months of his ministry.

“If you look at the scripture, you can see that the model [of lay ministry] is there,” Greenwell said. “That’s how the early leadership came, from the people. The more I study that scripture, the more committed I become.”

In instituting the pastoral director model, the diocese assures Catholics that when an individual is in need of a priest, a priest will be available. Relieved of the responsibility of serving as fulltime pastors -- sometimes for several parishes -- priests can devote themselves more exclusively to sacramental ministry.

In August 2002, after six years as pastor of a midsize parish, Fr. John Moriarty was assigned to Mary Queen of the Holy Rosary as the “sacramental minister” -- the diocese’s term for a priest who celebrates sacraments for a parish community but is not its pastor. “Queen” thus became the first large parish led by a pastoral director. Although insisting that the role of sacramental minister is still a “work in progress,” Moriarty said, “I have much more free time to give to the people emotionally, physically and spiritually. When the buck stops at your desk, you carry the conflicts of the staff and the parish. Now, I can approach those conflicts spiritually, not as a CEO. Some priests can do that, but it wore me out emotionally. As a sacramental minister, I feel like I’ve gotten my priesthood back.”

The use of pastoral directors and sacramental ministers will continue to grow as priests retire and other personnel changes are made in the years ahead, said Garvey. “Vatican II said we need to be men and women of faith and bring the faith to others. Use of pastoral directors is a need, but the church is still in the hands of God.”


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