Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh

New ways of serving God’s people

New ways of serving God’s people

After returning from an innovative diocesan course about spiritual gifts and roles, a group of parish staff members decided to put into action what they had learned about leadership for effective ministry.

The staffers were assigned tasks to plan an upcoming parish talk. One who was good at organizing asked a co-worker to recruit a speaker.  Another leader was put in charge of food and drinks. A fourth staff member lined up greeters. Another handled publicity.

The presentation at St. James the Apostle Parish in Pulaski was well-attended and warmly received. And something clicked for those five leaders who are among 145 attendees of the first Lay Ecclesial Minister Leadership & Evangelization Collaborative, a state of the art effort designed to change how church leaders approach ministry.

Lay ecclesial ministers include catechetical administrators, pastoral associates, youth ministry leaders, college campus ministers, school principals, directors of music ministry, parish business managers, social ministers, and pastoral care ministers.

“Everyone has their unique, God-given abilities to help make the community work well,” said Vicki Pavalko, director of religious education at St. James. “Before, we used to volunteer for different tasks. This time we asked, ‘who is best in a particular role?’”

A Deacon Leadership & Evangelization Collaborative is also underway, with 69 participants, and a Priests Collaborative was held in 2017. The training is supported by sacrificial gifts from donors to Our Campaign for The Church Alive!

“This is what it means to be the body of Christ,” said Father Joe Mele, episcopal vicar for leadership development and evangelization in the diocese, “equipping each team member to do what she or he is called to do by Christ.”

Topics covered by the collaboratives include strength-based leadership, building bridges, leading in transition, making disciples, raising up new leaders, and the universal call to holiness.

“There’s a real openness to the ideas they’re learning,” said Dr. Michel Therrien, president of the diocesan Institute for Pastoral Leadership. “They’re seeing the vision and opportunity to lead in a different way.

“When people know what their own strengths are, they can help others step up with their God-given strengths,” Therrien said. “Every member of the body of Christ has an indispensable role to play.”

Deacon Bill Palamara of St. Athanasius Parish in West View said deacons are well-positioned to help build vibrant parishes as part of the On Mission for The Church Alive! initiative.

“As our parishes come together, some people will feel left behind and we’ll be called upon to help lift them up,” Deacon Palamara said. “Deacons serving in parishes can be a stabilizing force.”

Deacons are ordained ministers with a special calling to do works of charity and service, proclaim the word of God, and assist in the liturgical and sacramental life of the church. Bishop Zubik assigns deacons to specific ministries in parishes or institutions such as hospitals, nursing homes, jails and prisons.

Clergy and lay leaders will be forging teams in new parishes, providing pastoral care for people who are displaced, upset or confused by the changes, and reaching out to those who have drifted from the faith or never encountered the Lord in a meaningful way. Leaders will need integrated knowledge, skills and attitudes in a vibrant relationship with Christ, self and others.

“The change that’s ahead is a little scary, but it’s also exciting,” Pavalko said. “I have great hope that more people will really participate in the faith.”

Registrations are being accepted for a second lay ecclesial ministers collaborative that begins June 9. Call 412-456-3110 for more information.

Vicki Pavalko teaches Catechesis of the Good Shepherd at St. James the Apostle Parish.