At the end of May, I participated for the first time in the Annual National Association for Lay Ministry Conference. I have in the past learned about the Certification Standards for Lay Ecclesial Ministers and their importance to help our Church in the U.S. to have clear goals and objectives in the preparation of lay persons to serve in ministry in dioceses and parishes. Together with the documents “Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord” and “Intercultural Competencies,” these standards have helped dioceses to increasingly unify effective faith and ministry formation programs. My experience in this conference has challenged me to better understand what these standards mean to me, to my ministry and to my community.
Pope Francis has repeatedly addressed the need for Unity in our Church, a Unity that is founded in our personal and communal discipleship with Jesus and His teachings. My reflection on what I heard at the NALM conference led me to ponder on the importance of formation in order to build Unity in our Church in response to our Pope’s call. I asked myself, how can anybody be a disciple of Jesus if we know little about Him and about the teachings of His Church? How can we pass on our faith to our families and to others as formation ministers if we are poorly prepared?
These questions may sound simple and repetitive, but they do challenge us to think about the critical consequences they have for the mission in communion of the Church. A strong faith and ministerial formation with community development fosters Unity through the discipleship with Jesus. On the other hand, the lack of a strong discipleship of all baptized leads us to what we are living today in our faith communities: breaking of families, secularism, relativism of truth and value, members being lured to other faith traditions, lack of unity in the Church, and decreasing participation of the sacraments. It is a critical responsibility of our pastors to ensure excellent formation programs in the Church, available to all cultural groups and that respond to the current basic and advanced formation Standards. As lay persons, we also have the co-responsibility to serve the Church’s mission and are responsible for our faith formation and preparation for those ministries where we are called to serve.