SALT LAKE CITY — In the Diocese of Salt Lake City, the efforts of lay Catholics are critical in the work of evangelization and formation of the faith. To aid in this work, the diocese offers a four-year training course for lay ecclesial ministers, or LEMs.
What is an LEM?
The term “lay ecclesial minister” encompasses various different roles a person could play in the life of his/her parish or diocese. “For several decades and in growing numbers, lay men and women have been undertaking a wide variety of roles in Church ministries. Many of these roles presume a significant degree of preparation, formation and professional competence,” according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 2005 document Coworkers in the Vineyard of the Lord, which is “a resource for diocesan bishops and for all others who are responsible for guiding the development of lay ecclesial ministry in the United States,” the USCCB states.
Being an LEM “is a call from baptism to go out and to serve in a very special way, collaborate with our local pastors but to go where the bishop sends them in ministry, where he needs help,” said Susan Northway, diocesan director of faith formation.
What Training do LEMs receive?
Candidates who are accepted into the Diocese of Salt Lake City’s LEM program pursue a four-year formation. The diocese partners with the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame’s STEP (Satellite Theological Education Program) program, which provides five online classes a year. Additionally, they meet in person one Saturday a month for day-long classes with a resource person (a priest, religious or PhD-level academic) from the Congar Institute for Ministry Development, an initiative of the Southern Dominican Province that offers professional ministry development. In their final year of formation, each candidate is encouraged to complete a pastoral project.
The current cohort of English-speaking LEM candidates – four women and four men — will be commissioned during an Aug. 12 Mass at the Cathedral of the Madeleine which will be celebrated by Bishop Oscar A. Solis. Five parishes — St. Francis of Assisi, St. James the Just, St. Olaf, Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady of Lourdes (Salt Lake City) — are represented in the cohort. This is the fourth cohort to complete the program, which was initiated in 2006. The LEM program in Spanish, known as Emaus, has had two cohorts, with 116 people commissioned.
Where DO LEMs Serve?
Currently there are 46 commissioned English-speaking LEMs serving in the diocese and 110 Spanish-speaking, who are in a variety of positions. While some work in paid positions, this is not a job opportunity, Northway stressed. “It is a call to ministry; they may or may not be in ministry that is paid,” she said. “We are called to serve through our baptism, and this particular kind of service is a leadership service for laity. It will change over time and unlike ordination, which is a lifetime thing, the calls vary and change over time.”
LEMs are called to serve in areas where Bishop Oscar A. Solis discerns a need. For example, some travel to provide formation to catechists, work in prison ministry or preside at Communion services. They may serve in their home parishes, or may be asked to take on other ministries throughout the diocese, especially if they have specific skills. With the shortage of priests, especially in rural areas and missions, LEMs may help with administration duties.
Some members of previous cohorts who have completed the program went on to the diaconate and are actively serving as deacons in the diocese. Others have completed Clinical Pastoral Education certification and have served as chaplains at St. Mark’s Hospital. A number have gone on to get a master’s degree in pastoral ministry.
“They are very-well prepared both pastorally and intellectually,” Northway said.
Why Do LEMs Serve?
“All of the baptized are called to work toward the transformation of the world. Most do this by working in the secular realm; some do this by working in the Church and focusing on the building of ecclesial communion, which has among its purposes the transformation of the world. Working in the Church is a path of Christian discipleship to be encouraged by the hierarchy,” Coworkers in the Vineyard of the Lord says.
In a mission diocese like the Diocese of Salt Lake City, the resources of the bishop and clergy are stretched thin, so the help of the lay faithful is needed to fulfill the Church’s mission in Utah, Northway said.
“It is also essential to continually have a formation program going” because as some LEMs retire or experience health issues “they phase out of what they began,” she said.
Applications are being accepted for a new English-speaking LEM cohort that will begin this fall. For information, contact Northway at 801-456-9326.
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