US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Read: Why Lay Ministry Formation?

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By Father Joseph T. Merkt (Gianiculum Press, 2012)

In the early church, ministers were called forth from the community, chosen because of their personal qualities and abilities. Today more than 50,000 women and men serve as lay ecclesial ministers, and many more serve in varied ministerial roles. The graying of these cohorts, however, is a frequently mentioned concern. The question of how in our day to call forth new lay ministers is increasingly important. Why Lay Ministry Formation? is an excellent resource for this purpose.

Designed as an interactive guide for someone considering participation in a formation program, Joseph Merkt invites readers into a process of discernment. The personal experience of the individual and the tradition of the church are the focus of short prayerful exercises throughout. In addition, stories of several lay ministers (notably of varied cultural backgrounds and life experiences) highlight diverse paths and different hesitations, sounding a note of reality.

An overview of the “four pillars” of formation—human, spiritual, intellectual and theological, and pastoral—introduces the scope of formation programs, again inviting response with probing questions about both conceptual and emotional responses to such a program. A helpful appendix outlines church promotion of lay ministry from 1951 to the present, and another the development in the thinking of now emeritus Pope Benedict XVI on this matter.

This volume is small and eminently practical, while at the same time having both theological depth and sensitivity to the real people who may consider being part of a lay formation program. That it is the fruit of years of creative and caring work with lay formation is evident. Pastors, diocesan lay formation leaders, and college program leaders would do well to keep a supply on hand, so as to assist in the calling forth of ministers for the church in our time and place.

This article appeared in the September 2013 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 78, No. 9, page 43).

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