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The many faces of pastoral ministry – ‘today’

By Bishop Terry R. LaValley

Feb. 19, 2014

What differences exist between pastoral ministry today and pastoral ministry of about forty years ago here in the North Country?  The biggest differences are the people and the places. In a previous article we spoke about the many tasks involved in pastoral ministry, especially in parishes.  The main “providers” were the priests, some religious men and women, and some dedicated volunteers. 

Over the past several years we have seen fewer and fewer priests and religious.  In our Diocese we rarely have more than one priest in a parish. 

It is no secret that there are fewer priests and religious serving in our Church today, but that does not mean that less ministry is being provided. 

We are familiar with Directors of Religious Education or Catechetical Leaders who today are often referred to as Directors of Faith Formation.  Today, no matter what the title, this person often is a lay person, having been formally trained or learned through experience to lead the catechetical or religious education program at the parish level. 

Over this same period of time, our Department of Christian Formation has designed and implemented an important program to certify volunteers to teach religion in our parishes. 

This instruction coupled with the enthusiasm of the volunteers has helped insure the quality of our programs. But, we know that Pastoral Ministry is more than religious instruction.  To respond to the many needs of pastoral ministry, the Diocese of Ogdensburg established and continues to sponsor the Formation for Ministry Program. 

Over a two-year period, volunteers participate in intensive training so that, upon completion and commissioning, they might serve in certain areas of pastoral ministry in their parishes.  After their commissioning as Lay Ministers, they are urged to participate in ongoing formation activities within the Diocese, especially retreats specifically designed for their needs.                 

We have been blessed with an increase in the number of Permanent Deacons in the Diocese of Ogdensburg. These ordained men serve the faithful in their parishes and in other settings such as prisons. 

Their training program builds on the Formation for Ministry program as well as on their previous experience as volunteers in parish ministry. 

In the Diocese of Ogdensburg, we are also fortunate to have many religious, deacons, and trained lay women and men who serve as Pastoral Associates in several of our parishes. 

Pastoral Associates usually work full-time in parish ministry and take on those responsibilities specified by the pastor.

The past forty years have also seen a reduction in the number of parishes and church buildings in our Diocese as well as new parish configurations.  This has meant that our pastors have taken on additional pastoral responsibilities. 

The pastoral care of those who are parishioners in these new reconfigurations continues to be vitally important and an essential responsibility of the local Church. In our next article, we will speak about a model of pastoral ministry that the Diocese of Ogdensburg is adopting, in unique situations, that will ensure that the fullness of pastoral ministry continues to be available to all.

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