Covered by a big umbrella
Parish ministry requires a lot of conversation and a team approach
Seventh in a series on the Bishop's Appeal
By Jeff Kurowski
Compass Assistant Editor
|Fr. Paul Demuth
When Bp. David Zubik appointed Fr. Paul Demuth diocesan Vicar for Ministers in October of 2004, he described the position as a "bridge between ministers and the diocese."
To build that bridge, Fr. Demuth, has implemented a team approach.
"Parish leadership today falls under a tremendous umbrella," said Fr. Demuth. "It includes the priests, deacons, parish directors, pastoral associates and commissioned ministers. As part of the beginning stages of reorganization, there was a lot of conversation among diocesan leaders about a coordinated approach to parish leaders. I'm beginning to form a team, which meets monthly to take a unified approach to recruitment, training, placement and crisis management."
The team consists of Tony Pichler, director of Parish Ministers; Dcn. Paul Grimm, director of the Diaconate; Sr. Mary Jo Kirt, OSF, representative for Religious; Fr. Doug LeCaptain, formation director for Vocations; and Fr. Mark Vander Steeg, recruitment director for Vocations.
Training, assigning system
"Fr. Paul has worked with the five of us in trying to form a system in which people are trained and assigned to parishes based on the needs of the parish," said Pichler. "In conjunction with Pastoral Services and Education, our goal is to make sure the needs of the
parish are met. We are trying to get the voices of the people in the parishes heard. For example, if a parish sees the need for a deacon, we will discuss if there is a deacon already trained who can serve in that parish. If not, is there a person in the parish we can call on to pursue the diaconate? What are our options?"
The challenge of providing leadership at the parish level continues to grow. The need for more lay ecclesial leaders is increasing, not only due to the decreasing number of priests, but retirements of parish ministers.
"For years, we had many sisters and former religious who were a source of ministry leadership personnel," said Fr. Demuth. "Today, we all need to raise up leaders from the people in the pew. We find a great eagerness, but we also realize that many have not had the opportunity for formation study as the religious did. We need to recruit and encourage these folks to seek formation. It's important, necessary and vital for our leaders to be well trained in the traditions of the church."
As of March 22, $3,275,891 had been received from 27,203 donors -- 68% of the target
Accepting baptismal call
The Commissioned Ministry Leadership Formation Program, offered by the diocese in conjunction with Silver Lake College in Manitowoc, continues to support people in accepting the baptismal call to service and leadership. Program participants may be commissioned in pastoral ministry, liturgy, religious education, youth or business.
"In the past, we only took people who were going to go through the entire program and be commissioned at the end," said Pichler, who directs the program. "We are opening it up to people who may want a class or two. We just completed our third business class. We had nine people who took the class. While they are not at a point where they are seeking formation, they felt the need to get more training in that area."
"Someone who leads a Bible study at a parish is another example," he continued. "That person may not be ready for formation, but will be able to take a class on the Old Testament to help with their area of ministry."
Classes are offered on Monday evenings and Saturdays. The program is designed to be completed in three to four years, but participants may set their own pace. Commissioned Ministry has also served as a springboard to the Masters program in Theological Studies at St. Norbert College.
"I would describe the program as steadily growing," said Pichler. "We broke the 100 mark four or five years ago. One intangible is the relationships that people build with other people in the diocese. There are strong relationships formed and a network of people out they're doing the same kind of ministry. They can call on one another."
Future goals for the Commissioned Ministry Program include Hispanic, Hmong and Native American ministry formation, and expansion of the program.
"We need to move outside the Fox Valley," said Pichler. "We have people in the program from Sturgeon Bay, Antigo, Manitowoc and Wautoma, but we need to move further beyond those regions to better meet the ministry needs of parishes."
Long-term planning is a major focus for Fr. Demuth, but his position also has its share of day-to-day operations.
"I look at my agenda, but after one phone call, it changes," he said. "There is a balance of addressing immediate needs and looking at the long-term. Arlene Anderson helps with providing priests for parishes on the weekends. I work with the Priest Personnel Board in terms of assignments. We make recommendations, and Bp. Zubik makes the assignments. I also answer many concerns and complaints regarding parish personnel and staff."
Most complaints center on changes of parish leadership, he said.
"It's very hard for many people when they learn that a leader in the parish is leaving," he said. "They need to express their frustrations. We also get letters expressing the good
(that) someone in the parish has done for them, and requests for that person to stay."
"Bp. Zubik often makes the point to all of us that we are part of a bigger church," he added. "The decisions that are made, which result in changes, are made in the best interest
of the diocesan church, not at the parish level."
Fr. Demuth began serving as Vicar for Ministers in January. He said the past couple months have been reaffirming.
"Lately, I've had the opportunity to visit with priests on a one-to-one level," he said. "A number say, 'I really love the priesthood and I really love the church.' It's rewarding to hear those personal witnesses. I also look forward to visiting with our parish directors."
"Over the past 17 years, I worked with a wonderful parish team at Resurrection Parish," he added. "I've been able to step away from that ministry and see how it is evolving in the
same way in many of the parishes throughout the diocese. It's given me a real appreciation for the talented people we have serving in our parishes."