Lay leaders collaborate in ministry



COLUMBIA — The best kind of gifts are not the ones that come wrapped in pretty paper and curling ribbon, they are the individual gifts that God gives.

The lay leadership of the Diocese of Charleston was encouraged to identify and put their gifts to use during the Collaborative Ministry conference held Jan. 18 at the Holiday Inn Northeast sponsored by the Institute for Parish Leadership Development.

Brother Loughlan Sofield, a Missionary Servant of the Most Holy Trinity, and Sister Carroll Juliano, a Sister of the Holy Child Jesus, are authors and nationally known speakers, who help teach people how to work together in ministry.

They highlighted how the faithful can discover and call forth their gifts; the stages of development of collaborative ministry; obstacles to collaboration; conflict resolution; and a process that can be used in local parishes.

To begin a collaborative ministry, Brother Sofield said a group must clarify the meaning of the word “collaborative.”

“People have a different understanding of the word,” he said. “Once clarified, the second issue is: are we convinced of it. Collaboration is messy, and when it gets sticky and messy, what most of us do is run away from it. It takes a deep conviction.”

Those involved in the collaboration also have to determine if they are committed to it and look at the obstacles within themselves. The group and the individuals must next determine if they have the capacity and the capability for collaboration.

“First there needs to be spirituality,” Sister Juliano said, “and it must flow from God. I must be willing to share with you … the most personal aspect of my life, my relationship with God.”

A parish must also have a process and determine what its purpose is. The basis of collaboration, as the presenters saw it, was identifying gifts, ministry and mission.

“All collaboration begins with gifts,” Sister Juliano explained. “We are all called to ministry, a deepened spirituality, a deepened relationship with God and a compassionate response to a human need.”

To address concerns people might have about a collaborative ministry that involves the laity more than they are accustomed to, Brother Sofield explained that collaboration does not mean homogenization.

“Leadership is a gift,” he said referring to the role of a priest in a parish, “and each gift has a place and a value — as leadership has a place.”

He went on to discuss the five characteristics of collaborative ministry: a common and explicit vision; a ministry based on the ongoing discernment of gifts, not on roles; mutual respect of those gifts; responding to human need; and continuously looking for ways to call forth the gifts in the larger community.

The meeting followed the annual Priests’ Convocation for the three days prior which addressed collaboration for priests on a local level as well as with the bishop in his ministry and administration. Brother Sofield and Sister Juliano emphasized that priests need to be ready and willing to listen to one another.

Over half of the priests’ program covered the practicalities such as the election of deans, selection of members for the Presbyteral Council and Priest Personnel Board along with the relationship between the priests and parish life facilitators, according to Msgr. Tom Evatt, who organized the events.

At the end of the lay leaders meeting, members of the audience asked why more than just a handful of priests attended. Msgr. Evatt stressed that the Priests’ Convocation was a continuing education opportunity for the clergy and that, especially in South Carolina, priests need the opportunity to get together for fellowship and fraternity as a group, priest to priest. He did assure the group that more priests, deacons and religious would attend the multicultural program that will be offered in May.