Recently I was talking with a friend from another Christian faith tradition. She asked me how I became involved in lay ministry in the Catholic Church. I replied: “I had very little to do with it. It was the community.” When she looked at my quizzically, I went on to explain that in spite of my own intentions to spend my professional career in education, God seemed determined to change my path.
It all started the day my friendly, Irish pastor approached me as I ate lunch in the teacher’s lunchroom of the Catholic school where I was a substitute teacher. He sat down and started explaining to me that he had unexpectedly lost his Religious Education Director and he thought I might want to consider the position. I was completely taken aback and I blurted out: “I’m a teacher, not an administrator!” He smiled and said, “That’s exactly what I’m looking for. You have taught in our school and you have been teaching religious education for the last few years in another parish so why not help me build our program?” I teasingly reminded him that he seemed to be missing another significant but obvious detail: I was about to give birth to our third child. He winked, “You can put together a flexible schedule.” I laughed, thanked him for considering me and politely declined. He walked away with his signature grin and twinkling eyes and although I should have known better, I sincerely thought the subject was closed.
The following week I ran in to him twice and he asked me each time if I had thought about his offer. I patiently explained that I would not be able to accept the position and thought, “surely he won’t ask me again.” Imagine my shock when he called me while I was still in the hospital after I gave birth to our baby and asked, “Now that you have had your baby have you reconsidered?” I laughed again at his outrageous persistence.
In an effort to put closure on this once and for all, I set up an appointment with him to discuss the topic. Somehow (and I’ll never know how) by the end of the meeting, I ended up agreeing to “help him out” for a year while adamantly insisting the he continue to search for a replacement. When I asked him why he wanted a teacher to run the program he said: “I have seen you in the classroom. I want you to shape this program as if you were teaching in it. What type of religious education program would be the most effective for you to work as a catechist?” It’s all I needed to hear and it’s exactly how I approached the job.
I spent seventeen years at that beloved parish and I grew along with my ministry. I loved the parish community, families, children, staff and the teachers/catechists with whom I worked. My ministry developed and expanded in ways I could never have imagined.
My pastor saw something in me that I didn’t know existed. He believed that I had qualities which would serve our parish community. Once I immersed myself in my ministerial role, I also began to understand my “call to ministry” through the eyes and hearts of the community which I served. The members of that parish community shaped and formed each step of my professional life through the feedback and interaction which we shared. I eventually realized that God had called me to ministry through the persistence of a kind pastor and the presence of a faith-filled parish community.
When I’m asked why I became a lay minister, I think Dr. Edward P. Hahnenberg says it best in Ministries a Relational Approach: “For it is not in individual status or in specific tasks, but in relationships of service, that the minister finds his or her identity and purpose. All ministers share this common foundation, they minister in relationships and they minister to relationships—a call rooted in the very life and mission of the triune God.”
Let us pray today by reflecting on those people who have been God’s voice in our lives. Who has invited you to answer the many calls in your life? May we embrace community and become “…no longer strangers and sojourners but…citizens with the holy ones and the household of God…”
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