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Co-Workers in the Vineyard
of the Lord

A question & answer guide to USCCB's
"Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord"

Gregory Sobolewski, Ph.D.
An interview by Jerry Windley-Daoust, Catholic freelance editor and writer


(Winona, Minn.) November 15, 2005 – The U.S. Catholic bishops’ new document on lay ecclesial ministry will be warmly embraced by the Institute in Pastoral Ministries, says Gregory Sobolewski, PhD, director of the graduate programs in lay ministry and pastoral administration at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.

“We’ll need to grow our imagination of ministry, just as the bishops have," he says. “With the bishops and all pastors, we’ll need to study, to design, and to implement new delivery systems for ways of educating Catholics called to ministerial service.”

Some 30,000 Catholic lay ecclesial ministers aren’t the only ones who have cause to celebrate the U.S. Catholic bishops’ new document on lay ecclesial ministry. Lay ministers are likely to welcome the bishops’ affirmation that the Holy Spirit calls the laity to Catholic leadership. But the document will benefit pastors, too, by providing them with specific ways to draw on the talents of the laity at a time when ordained ministers face increasingly large workloads. And for the scandal-weary people in the pews, the document shows a way for Catholics to live their faith through creative collaboration and openness to the Holy Spirit, rather than crisis and conflict.

Professor Sobolewski has a broad, national perspective on the new document, “Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord: A Resource for Guiding the Development of Lay Ecclesial Ministry.” He was an invited participant in the bishops’ national consultations on the document, as well as a contributing writer for the “Proposed Foundational Document on Lay Ecclesial Ministry” that informed “Co-Workers.” As director of the Institute in Pastoral Ministries at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota since 1996, Sobolewski has participated in the formation of hundreds of lay ecclesial ministers from across the country. In addition, he served on the executive committee of the Association for Graduate Programs in Ministry from 2001-2003. He replies below to frequently-asked questions about "Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord."

Frequently Asked Questions
Do the bishops say anything new in "Co-Workers," compared to what they have said in previous documents?
Several developments are particularly striking.
What is the documentary context of "Co-Workers?"
This "guidance" enlarges an evolving body of documents from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) on lay ministry:
Do you expect that the document's specific recommendations regarding the formation of lay ministers will affect programs such as the Institute in Pastoral Ministries?
Why did the bishops prepare this document?
They write a pastoral and theological reflection on lay ecclesial ministry to affirm lay ecclesial ministers and to synthesize best thinking and practices.
What are the document's most important insights or suggestions?
First, this guidance takes a place alongside USCCB's "Program of Priestly Formation" and "National Directory for the Formation, Life and Ministry of Permanent Deacons in the United States" ...
How does "Co-Workers" address the most pressing needs and concerns of those involved in lay ministry?
The guidance is inspiring and workable.
How might lay ministry in the United States be different in the future as a result of "Co-Workers?"
It will be more Catholic, more collaborative, and more mission-driven.