Bishops’ new 'Co-Workers' Guidelines Embraced by gGraduate Program in Lay Ministry, Director Says

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The Institute in Pastoral Ministries will re-imagine the way it trains lay ecclesial ministers in response to a new document from the U.S. Catholic bishops, says Gregory Sobolewski, PhD, director of the graduate program in lay ministry at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. The document, “Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord,” makes specific recommendations for the formation of lay ecclesial ministers and, as its title implies, envisions greater collaboration between ordained and lay leaders. More than 30,000 lay ministers are already employed by the Catholic Church in the United States.

The U.S. Catholic bishops’ new document on lay ecclesial ministry will be warmly embraced by the Institute in Pastoral Ministries, says Gregory Sobolewski, PhD, director of the graduate program in lay ministry and pastoral administration at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.

The new document, “Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord: A Resource for Guiding the Development of Lay Ecclesial Ministry,” affects about 30,000 women and men who serve as lay ecclesial ministers (youth ministers, parish life coordinators, religious educators, and so on) in the Catholic Church in the United States. The document makes specific recommendations for the formation of lay ecclesial ministers and, as its title implies, envisions greater collaboration between ordained and lay leaders.

The document’s guidelines will pose a positive challenge to the Institute in Pastoral Ministries, which has trained about 250 lay ministers since its founding in 1986. Sobolewski says that “Co-Workers” invites academic lay ministry programs like the Institute in Pastoral Ministries “to be more radically and innovatively Catholic.” Many of those programs were originally created in close cooperation with ordained leaders. “Co-Workers” invites lay ministry formation programs to continue that cooperation. The document also calls ordained leaders to incorporate rigorous academic training into preparing their lay ecclesial ministers.

“We’ll need to grow our imagination of ministry just as the bishops have,” Sobolewski says. “With the bishops and all pastors, we’ll need to study, design, and implement new ways of educating Catholics called to ministerial service.

“I look for exciting new relationships to develop in the next decade.”

The Institute in Pastoral Ministries will adapt to “Co-Workers” by drawing on the same spirit of innovation that marked its inception, Sobolewski says. “The Institute in Pastoral Ministries pioneered a blended delivery of Catholic education twenty years ago, incorporating distance learning and summer residency. We combined spiritual friendships, academic rigor, and flexible structures. I think that our 250 alums are confident that we’re up to the task.”

Professor Sobolewski has a broad, national perspective on “Co-Workers.” He was an invited participant in the bishops’ national consultations on the document, as well as a contributing writer for the “Proposed Foundational Document on Lay Ecclesial Ministry” that served as the basis for “Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord.” As director of the Institute in Pastoral Ministries at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota since 1996, Sobolewski has participated in the formation of hundreds of lay ecclesial ministers from across the country. He also served on the executive committee of the Association for Graduate Programs in Ministry from 2001-2003, and was the association’s president for 2002.

Professor Sobolewski is available for additional comment on “Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord.” Media may contact him at his office (507-457- 1767), home (507-452-8837).

About the Institute in Pastoral Ministries

The Institute in Pastoral Ministries (IPM) was established at Saint Mary’s University in Winona, Minnesota, in 1986. Since then, some 246 alumni from 35 states and provinces have earned either a certificate or a master of arts degree in pastoral ministry; recently, the IPM added a degree program for pastoral administration, one of only a handful nationwide. The IPM has been a pioneer in blending the delivery of Catholic higher education, incorporating distance learning and summer residency. For more about the Institute in Pastoral Ministries, visit its website at http://www.smumn.edu/ipm.

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Jerry Windley-Daoust