No More Baby Steps


By Matt Keppel

So what next? This seems  an obvious question to address, but in a Church obsessed with its rear-view watching as the van barrels forward, it needs to be forced to look beyond the “glory days.” But really, what do we do next? How do we address the burgeoning lay ministry (up 5,000+ in 3 years)? These are questions that the dioceses need to look at. Questions like these beg answers that are financial as well as pastoral: and neither take precedence over the other.

We already have people answering the call for lay ministries, and have for nearly two thousand years. However, the difference between then and now is that formerly they were lay members of religious orders (sisters and brothers).  Whereas previously these religious were inexpensive people who worked in and ran institutions, we now are looking at massive costs incurred by the  growing numbers of lay non-religious who have replaced the ever-diminishing lay religious. Okay, that’s not entirely true:we have been dealing with this problem since the 1970s! Sadly, little to no progress has been made, and in many cases our ministries have declined or disappeared entirely. Parishes, schools, and hospitals are still struggling to make ends meet and the workers are suffering because of it. Our ministers are still burning out from being overworked and under-appreciated. Much is yet to be done, and it is up to us to do something.

I love the Church, I really do! But, if our mission is one of justice and mercy, then it’s something we need to truly live. It must begin in-house. Anyone who works in business knows that in order to be successful you must (the list is daunting here, and I’m being choosey) hire and maintain employees. I realize that finances are tight, and for a variety of reasons this reality isn’t changing. Nevertheless, the reality remains that our dioceses cannot expect the highest quality of employees if they are offering substandard pay and benefits; nor can our institutions offer only part-time jobs in hopes to avoid paying health insurance.  It is bad business practice, and entirely unethical from a Church that preaches economic justice. We deserve better.

So, what can we expect if (and it’s a big “if”) parishes and schools were to shell out the compensation that their employees deserve? Well, all of those job listings that ask for people with Master’s degrees might actually receive applications from rightly qualified people.  And, I’m not talking about men and women who are just taking on a job for some extra money, but young people looking to start a career, you know, those LAY MINISTERS who feel called to spend their lives working within the Church. Another aspect of business that I’ve learned from my father is that people are always willing to pay for a good product. The Church is no different. If we are willing to put our best people forward, there will be donors there to help support that which is supporting them. More importantly, people will respond to good people and programming with their presence.



3 thoughts on “No More Baby Steps”

  1. When I see this picture the only thing I can think is:
    “When asked, ‘Why was there then only one set of footprints,’ Jesus replied, ‘The sand-people ride single file to conceal their numbers.'”

  2. Matt thanks for putting this out there – I think that for too long we have been reactive rather than proactive! As a professional Lay Ecclesial Minister I do what I do because I love my Faith and my Church – but if I hear one more time “the pay isn’t much but the retirement plan is out of this world” (chuckle, chuckle) I might scream. It seems to me we have gotten to a place where we want qualified people but we want to pay them less under the stance that they are working for the betterment of the kingdom of God – yes we are but we have to pay bill, retire in this world, and support families in many different ways!

    But above and beyond financial, (which is an important and necessary conversation) what about institutional? I have been working for 15 years as a professional minister. I love the priests I have worked with, but am always shocked (not sure why I still am other than hopefulness) when I encounter a priest who is threatened by my ministry. I don’t want to be a priest, many women doing this ministry are not here to press for women’s ordination. I am more than happy to support our clergy in the unique giftedness that their vocation and ordination calls them to. What I would really like institutionally is a recognition that lay people (men and women) can serve in serious and meaningful ways in the parish without infringing on their pastors/priests toes. Will we ever realize that our parishes would be stronger if we empower our clergy to do the ministry that is unique to their ordination and simultaneously let competent lay people engage in ministry and parish leadership in ways that they are fully trained and competent to do?

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