SALT LAKE CITY — When many people hear the word “vocation” they think of a calling to the priesthood or religious life, but all are called to do God’s work and to build his kingdom in different ways throughout each person’s lifetime. As a layperson, it may be difficult to discern just what that calling is. Some may be called to minister within their own families while others may be needed at a parish, institutional or diocesan level.
Such individuals may find Church-based training helpful. The Diocese of Salt Lake City offers a lay ecclesial ministry formation program. Currently, the fourth English-speaking group, or cohort, is completing the program, and applications are being accepted for the next.
The Spanish lay ecclesial ministry formation program, known as EMAUS, has about 60 people going through the program. Participants in both programs will be certified in August.
LEMs serve in a variety of roles in their ministry depending on the needs in their parishes and in the diocese.
“This is not an offer of employment; it is an opportunity in one’s life to be formed to serve,” said Susan Northway, director of the Diocese of Salt Lake City Office of Religious Education, who coordinates the English-speaking LEM formation program. Maria-Cruz Gray of the Office of Hispanic Ministry coordinates the Spanish-speaking group.
There are four components to LEM formation: spiritual, intellectual, human and pastoral.
Each participant is paired with a spiritual director who will help them on their formation path and help them in their prayer habits.
Participants complete online courses through the University of Notre Dame designed specifically for LEM candidates. They also meet and hear from a speaker one Saturday a month nine months of the year.
LEM candidates work on what Northway calls “practical tools for the ministry:” conflict management, time management, understanding different personalities, work styles and similar areas.
“It’s important we form ministers who are able to function in parish or institutional settings,” she said.
Participants complete a pastoral project that includes a final paper. After three years, they determine a particular area of focus such as education, chaplaincy, jail or interfaith ministry. Once certified, they may be placed in a particular ministry, based on need and their particular experience, or they may serve informally in their parish or community.
The diocese funds most of the cost of the program. Participants are asked to contribute $60 a month but special arrangements can be made where there are financial challenges.
Deana Froerer, a St. Florence Parish member, completed the LEM program in 2014.
“It was a worthwhile investment of time and energy,” she said. “I got so much out of it. It was inspiring, informative and formative as a human being.”
Certification in the program does not always lead to a formal position in a parish, Froerer said. Instead, God may be calling a LEM to labor elsewhere.
“It takes a lot of patience to make changes within a parish,” she said. As a high school and college instructor, Froerer said her LEM training “just rolls into my role of working with young people every day.”
Current LEM formation program participant John Valdez said he has had a calling to serve the Church for the past 40 years but only heard about the LEM program in 2015.
The program is “a Godsend to the laity of our church to become better trained and to receive better formation to be able to serve the Body of Christ,” he said. “I see the role of the LEM to be one of support and service to the pastor and to the roles he has in the parish.”
The LEM formation experience “has helped me to better focus on the gifts I have received through God’s graces and how better to put them to the service of our brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ,” he said.
The LEM formation program is not for everyone, Northway says. The timing may not be right in an individual’s life or they may be called to labor elsewhere.
“There is always a way to minister; God is always calling,” she said.
She invites those who are interested in the program to visit with her so that together they can determine if it is the right calling for them. (See the story "Thinking about becoming a lay ecclesial minster?" on the home page for contact information.)