Commemorating the 10th Anniversary of Co-Workers in the Vineyard

November 18, 2015

Those of us engaged in the preparation of seminarians for ordination to the ministerial priesthood are very familiar with the document entitled Program of Priestly Formation (PPF). Now in its fifth edition, the PPF, provides the norms and expectations that guide the life, activities, curricula, and processes of Roman Catholic seminaries throughout this country. A less well-known, but equally important document for the mission of The Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity, is Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord. First published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in December of 2005, we mark the tenth anniversary of this text that is described in its subtitle as “a resource for guiding the development of lay ecclesial ministry.”

Co-Workers uses “lay ecclesial minister” as a generic term to encompass all of the many “men and women of every race and culture who serve in parishes, schools, diocesan agencies, and Church institutions” (5). In today’s Church and world, we increasingly find laity responsible for particular areas of ministry in which they collaborate with and support the ministry of the ordained. Although it does not dictate specific norms or particular law, Co-Workers provides concepts, goals, and strategies for the formation and development of those lay ecclesial ministers who “in distinct, but complementary ways, continue in the Church the saving mission of Christ for the world, his vineyard” (6).

The formation of the laity to do the work of the Lord is a vital undertaking. Although one needs a big heart and a generous spirit to tackle the many roles assumed by today’s laity, these traits alone are not sufficient for truly effective lay ministry. Theological competence, pastoral sensitivity, a fervent spiritual life, along with an openness to others and the ability to serve people of diverse backgrounds in a variety of situations are among the qualities developed through an intentional and holistic formation process. It is telling that Co-Workers in the Vineyard divides this process of formation into four distinct areas, elaborating on the need for human formation, spiritual formation, intellectual formation, and pastoral formation. Not so ironically, these four areas mirror the frequently enunciated “pillars of priestly formation” found in the PPF and in the 1992 Apostolic Exhortation of Pope John Paul II, Pastores dabo vobis. This is not to suggest that the roles of the priest and the lay ecclesial minister are interchangeable, or even that their respective formation processes should be identical. Nevertheless, Co-Workers’ insistence that lay ecclesial ministry requires a thorough, multi-faceted formation indicates that those who serve in this capacity need to develop a host of competencies, skills, and personal attributes through the nurturing of head and heart, body and soul.

As indicated above, Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord, much like the Program of Priestly Formation, invigorates the mission of The Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity. In addition to the formation of men for the priesthood, the SPSSOD prepares laity and religious for service in the Church through a variety of master’s degree programs, institutes and seminars, and many other opportunities that attend to each of the areas of formation as articulated in Co-Workers. As we commemorate its 10th Anniversary, let us look anew at the recommendations it makes to prepare us thoroughly for the work that lies ahead in the vineyard of the Lord.