The Eparchy of Edmonton’s Lay Leadership and Diaconate Formation Program.
What is the Lay Leadership and Diaconal Formation Program?
During our Annual Bishop’s Gala, I officially announced the inauguration of our Lay Leadership and Diaconal Formation Program, to start in September 2021!
I specifically mention “Lay Leadership” and “Diaconate” together in the same breath. This is intentional, as I see them as one and the same program, albeit with some formation particular to one path as opposed to the other.
The intention of this initiative is simple: to foster “active disciples” whereby the faithful – laity, consecrated, monastic, and clergy alike – use their God-given gifts and talents to build up the Kingdom of God as active participants, not just spectators, both in their own faith journey as well as in the life of the Church.
Led by the Holy Spirit, the launch of the Lay Leadership and Diaconal Formation Program marks our next steps taken on our path toward the implementation of our 25 Year Eparchial Pastoral Plan and our “Vibrant Parish” worldwide spiritual renewal initiatives.
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Foundational Scripture Passages
Responding to the Needs of the Church
Training and Formation
Applications, Program Costs, and Further Information
Individual On-Going Faith Formation
Foundational Scripture Passages
Two scripture passages form the spiritual foundation of the Lay Leadership and Diaconal Formation Program.
First, just as Jesus entrusted the mission of the Church to the disciples of his day, so are we tasked with spreading the Gospel message and Christ’s teachings throughout the world today. This is our “Great Commissioning:”
The Commissioning of the Disciples (Matthew 28: 16-20)
“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”
Second, Jesus’ mission of proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel and of salvation is the work of all of God’s people – laity, consecrated, monastic, and clergy alike, each according to their particular background and gifts. It is not the work of priests alone to evangelize, but of all of us. Indeed, “priesthood” in the early Church referred not strictly to the ordained, but to all the baptized, who thus comprise the “royal priesthood of the baptized.” This in no way diminishes the ordained priesthood as we know it today, as ordained priests have a specific role in preaching the Word of God and celebrating the Eucharist. Rather, the recovery of the “royal priesthood of the baptized” restores the vocation of each person to be “active disciples,” according to Jesus’ call and will for us.
The Royal Priesthood of the Baptized (1 Peter 2:9)
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
These two scripture passages set the foundation for a renewed effort to engage all the faithful and encourage them to use their gifts and talents in building up the Kingdom of God.
Responding to the Needs of the Church Today
All too often, we forget that many of society’s institutions were established as a result of the Church responding to particular societal needs throughout history. Hospitals, schools, universities, social services, food banks, etc. owe their beginning in large part to the Church’s response in providing care for those in need. Only much later does civil society and the government become involved in the activity and oversight of these ministries.
In this light, it is fair to ask: What are the societal needs that require further attention by the Church today? What new emerging ministries might a lay leadership and diaconal program form and support?
Some areas of ministry in which the laity and deacons can better assist in building up the Church include the following:
Elder care and support. Many of our faithful are elderly, and while some are still able to attend church in person, others are not. COVID-19 has demonstrated that our seniors – the founders and benefactors of our churches – are oftentimes forgotten. We must remind ourselves that those seniors who cannot attend church for whatever reason are all still valued parishioners. A simple phone call by the pastor and others from the parish to check-in and say hello can go a long way in helping them stay connected to their parish community. A visit, praying with and for them, buying groceries, and running errands are also ways that we can remember and honour their contribution to the foundation of our parishes and church organizations. Lay leaders and deacons can initiate and oversee a regular ministry that provided ongoing pastoral care for our elders.
The sick and shut-ins. In like manner, the sick and shut-ins in our parishes can benefit from consistent pastoral ministry from lay leaders and deacons.
Palliative care. As Christians, we are called to journey with those who are dying, along with their families, and provide them both comfort in their time of great need as well as hope in the resurrection. The ministry of palliative care, more than just hospice care, seeks to improve the quality of life of patients who are faced with a life-threatening illness. This ministry seeks to alleviate suffering for patients, offer support for their families, and is key to providing excellence in end-of-life care. Palliative care is a Catholic response to today’s MAID (Medical Assistance in Dying). Lay leaders and deacons can journey with the dying, supporting them and their families, as they prepare to meet Jesus face to face.
Holy Communion. The Divine Eucharist is truly “Food for Life!” Jesus promises us the gift of himself, his body and his blood, in the Divine Eucharist as an assurance of his everlasting love and presence. By our participation in the Divine Liturgy, we are nourished by the Living Word of God (we hear the epistle and Gospel) and by the Living Presence of Christ (we receive Holy Communion). This is our entry into the Kingdom of God, here and now! When we receive the Eucharist, we are in full communion with God, just as it was with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden before the Fall. In the Eparchy of Edmonton, approximately 5000 faithful regularly receive the Divine Eucharist each and every Sunday, others only once a month, and some only once or twice a year at Christmas and Easter. In total, we have some 25,000 faithful throughout the Eparchy. I dream of a day when 10,000 people – twice as many as now – are nourished each and every Sunday by Holy Communion, the “Food for life!” Why can’t we make this a reality? Lay leaders and deacons can be trained as extraordinary eucharist ministers in order to distribute the Divine Eucharist every Sunday to those unable, for whatever reason, to attend Divine Liturgy. We are above all a people of the Eucharist.
Family and life ministry. I first learned about God and my faith as a young boy under the watchful and purposeful love and care of my parents. They taught me to pray, to love God, and to be good and kind to others. Little did I know that this is the “Domestic Church,” the very first church we attend before ever setting foot in a real physical church building. Lay leaders and deacons can help in the catechesis and faith formation of families, especially young families, and parents and children alike. Grandparents, who often spend much time visiting and babysitting their grandchildren, also play an active and vital role in the faith formation of their children’s children. The reverse is also true! Grandchildren, in their love and excitement for God and the world around them, can minister to their grandparents by keeping them young at heart. At the same time, we recognize that couples and families struggle – they argue, they fight, married couples divorce. Lay leaders and deacons also can provide support and ministry to those families when things don’t go according to plan.
Sacramental preparation and post-sacramental care. Our life is a faith journey, from birth to death to eternal life. At particular times, we call upon the Church to punctuate this journey with blessings, moments of comfort, and the bestowal of God’s grace, especially through the holy mysteries (or sacraments). Preparing the faithful for the reception of the seven holy mysteries – baptism, chrismation, Divine Eucharist, marriage, ordination, reconciliation (confession), and anointing of the sick – is an important ministry within the Church, as is post-sacramental care. Lay leaders and deacons can assist in pre-sacramental formation and post-sacramental care. For example, they can lead catechetical and marriage preparation programs and follow-up with individuals, couples, and families who have celebrated baptisms, weddings and funerals, so all can continue to receive Christ’s mercy and be nourished by his love. Not only can lay leaders and deacons assist in the formation of the faithful, they can encourage individuals to continue to grow on their faith journey through increased participation in the life of their parish.
Catechists. Catechists support the parish in the all important ministry of providing faith formation for a variety of ages of our parishioners. While catechism was once focuses on children, we’re never too old to learn about God, creation, the Church, Sacred Scriptures, the sacraments, prayer, and so on. Catechists help journey with us as we strive to grow in our relationship with God and with each other, whether teaching Sunday School, youth, young adults, adults and seniors alike.
Volunteers. Canadians are known for their volunteerism, from community involvement to work with charities, foodbanks, sporting teams, dance groups, and, of course, their activity within the Church. Whether we are young or old, volunteering is in the blood of each of us. It brings out the best in all of us, especially when we are called to share our gifts and talents for the benefit of others. The same it true in the Church. By tapping into the time, talent and treasure of our parish volunteers, including their families, neighbours and friends, we not only build up each other as the people of God, we further Christ’s mission. In one sense, I am grateful that no one individual possesses all of the gifts and talents. If they did, they wouldn’t need the rest of us. They might even think they don’t need God at all. Rather, God in God’s wisdom and providence created us to need each other and to depend upon one another. Where one person has two or three gifts, another has two or more that are different. Working together and using our gifts and talents in concert with those of others, we can accomplish great things for the Church and for God’s glory. Lay leaders and deacons can help us discover our own gifts and talents and help us to cultivate them so they can be used to make the world a better place.
Active disciples. We return to where we started, with Jesus’ “Great Commissioning.” However, it is not just Christ’s contemporaries who are called into service. By virtue of our baptism, each of us is called this very day to active discipleship. We are called to acknowledge and embrace our own “royal priesthood.” God’s work is everyone’s work. He is counting on us to take an active role in building up his Kingdom here and now. Sitting on the sidelines as a spectator and leaving the work of God to someone else is not an option. Truly, we all are called to be active disciples in the restoration of God’s original plan, our return to full communion with him as it was with Adam and Eve in Paradise. Lay leaders and deacons can mentor the faithful and help us to become engaged and invested in the work of God’s Kingdom.
And then some… In addition to all of the above, which is not intended to be an exhaustive list, other possible ministries in which lay leaders and deacons can work include the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Counselling the doubtful. Instructing the ignorant. Admonishing the sinner. Comforting the sorrowful. Forgiving injuries. Bearing wrongs patiently. Praying for the living and the dead. Feeding the hungry. Giving drink to the thirsty. Sheltering the homeless. Visiting the sick and the imprisoned. Burying the dead. Giving alms to the poor. To be sure, there is no shortage of possibilities for lay leaders and deacons to minister to God’s people!
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Training and Formation
Understandably, in order to be successful in these ministries, lay leaders and deacons must be properly trained and formed. To set them up for success, we must provide them with solid spiritual and integrated Christian formation, thereby fostering fruitful ministry and service to the Church. However, not everyone will require the same degree of training and formation.
Lay leaders will benefit from a two-year program of study and formation, comprised of bi-monthly weekend instruction while following a Certificate in Catholic Studies (12 courses, 5 weeks in length each) at Newman Theological College. The first year will be dedicated to an introduction to the Sacred Scriptures, theology, liturgy and spirituality. The second year will focus more specifically on the given area of ministry in which the lay leader is planning to serve within the parish.
Deacons, who dedicate themselves to permanent service in the Church, will require a four-year program, also comprised of bi-monthly weekend instruction (at times together with the lay leaders) while following a Certificate in Eastern Theology (10 courses at the undergraduate level), also at Newman Theological College.
Lay leaders and deacons, in turn, will train and form others in the parish to be active disciples so they too can share their gifts and talents within parish and beyond.
Lay leadership and diaconal formation do not exist in a vacuum. Rather, they exist organically at the parish level and are woven into the fabric of parish life.
Because candidates are at the service of the Church at a particular parish, it is paramount that the parish be involved in the discernment and selection of those candidates, their presentation to the bishop for approval and entry into the program, their financial support, and their on-going formation.
The parish must also provide encouragement and support for the candidate’s continuing commitment to their area of ministry at the parish level.
Applications, Program Costs, and Further Information
The pastor and parish pastoral council members are invited to meet to review the needs of the parish and then to propose suitable candidates for given areas of ministry which will enhance the overall spiritual life of the parish.
A given parish is not limited in the number of lay candidates the parish wishes to propose for the program of formation.
Should a parish wish to propose candidates for the diaconate, in order to provide balance between lay and diaconal ministries, the parish must propose at least one lay candidate for every diaconal candidate.
The parish is responsible for the tuition fees associated with courses offered through Newman Theological College. Currently, each five-week course for the Certificate in Catholic Studies costs some $100, including textbook. Each undergraduate course in the Certificate in Eastern Theology costs some $720, excluding textbooks. If the parish wishes, the formation costs may be shared between the candidate and the parish.
The Eparchy of Edmonton, by way of making an investment in lay leadership and diaconal formation, will cover the administration, oversight, and support of the candidates, as well as costs associated with the weekend formation sessions, excluding lodging.
Completed applications are to be forwarded to the Eparchy of Edmonton by email email@example.com or by regular mail: Lay Leadership and Diaconate Formation Program, Eparchy of Edmonton, 9645 – 108 Avenue, Edmonton, AB, T5H 1A3.
The applications will be reviewed by June 30, 2021 by the Sacred Orders and Ministries Commission, and the candidates notified of their acceptance.
Individual on-going faith formation
Individuals who are not interested in enrolling in the Lay Leadership and Diaconate Formation program can still grow in their own faith journey by enrolling in a course(s) of their interest at Newman Theological College, or even enroll in a complete degree program.
See newman.edu for more information and opportunities.
Transforming the World!
Lay leadership and the diaconate are not at all new to the Church. However, a collective effort on the part of the bishop and the faithful of the Eparchy of Edmonton to foster a lay leadership and diaconate formation program is.
Like all the faithful, lay leaders and deacons are the face of Christ, not only for those whom they serve in their parishes, but also for their families, neighbours, co-workers, friends and strangers, alike.
Together, as the entire Body of Christ, we can inspire and transform the world, one day at a time, through active engagement with one another in faith and in service to God and the Church!
May God bless our Lay Leadership and Diaconate Formation Program.