Recently, I attended my first meeting as a Consultant to the USCCB Subcommittee on Certification for Ecclesial Ministry and Service. It was enlightening and encouraging to find the bishops of the Subcommittee dedicated to moving forward the vision of the document Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord and bringing in a tremendous group of consultants from the field to assist them. For a list of the Bishop members and the Consultants, click here. Thanks to the openness of the Bishops on the Subcommittee, the Consultants will not be mere yes-persons, but will have a voice on par with the bishop members.
The Subcommittee is new. Previously, the Commission on Certification and Accreditation was an independent body separate from the Bishop’s Conference and its focus was on accrediting lay ecclesial ministry formation programs and approving standards and procedures for certification. A task force of the USCCB headed by Bishop Aymond proposed that especially with the new certification standards and national certification process, the Subcommittee be formed to approve processes of certification rather than programs of formation. This is the mandate of the new subcommittee that is now part of the USCCB structure. This marks a new day for lay ministry for the Catholic Church in the United States. Now the process of reviewing national competencies for leadership roles and approving standards and procedures for certification is directly overseen by the Bishops themselves through the Subcommittee. This is as it should be.
According to its mandate, the Subcommittee reviews and approves certification standards and procedures to be used on a voluntary basis by arch/dioceses and national organizations in the certification of specialized ecclesial ministers in such roles as campus minister, parish catechetical leader, youth minister, pastoral associate, director of music ministries, as well as hospital, prison, and seafarer chaplaincies. It also offers consultative services aimed at improving the quality of lay ministry formation programs. Its mandate specifically refers to Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord, which is considered the touchstone for the concerns and priorities of the U.S. Bishops for ministry, namely, that those who minister in the name of the Catholic Church, are humanly and spiritually mature, well-prepared through education and formation, possess professional competence and pastoral skills, and adhere to the authentic teaching of the Church.
The Subcommittee’s mandate goes beyond overseeing processes of certification to advocacy as well as consultancy. In its advocacy role, the Subcommittee is to promote the development and application of voluntary certification standards for specialized ministry based on Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord. The Subcommittee will also offer consultation, upon request, to lay ministry formation programs to improve their quality and effectiveness in accord with Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord and other relevant pastoral documents. There is much work to be done. This Subcommittee is the right group to do it. I am honored to be included and pleased to bring the unique perspective of the Congar Institute and our concern for lay ecclesial ministry formation in under-served regions of the country to the work of the Subcommittee.