Church beckons after careers in business
Commissioned Ministry provides training for parish work
Seventh in a Bishop's Appeal series
By Joanne Flemming
Two years ago Carrie Miller of Green Bay, then 27, decided to stop climbing the corporate ladder "as fast as I could" and find a career where she could "give back and help others." She is now youth minister for Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, De Pere.
Jane Vanden Boogard, 51, Little Chute, is looking ahead five to 10 years when she retires as a business systems analyst at Thrivent in Appleton. A member of Holy Cross Parish, Kaukauna, she wants to become a parish business administrator or youth minister.
"I want to give back to the parish," Vanden Boogard said. "I don't want to see parishes die because we don't have enough people available to keep them moving. That is kind of a
passion for me. We need to make (the parishes) strong and vibrant and keep attracting people."
Both women have found help in preparing for their career changes through the Green Bay Diocese's commissioned lay ministry program. Both are in their second year in that program.
Tony Pichler, diocesan director for lay ministry formation, said in the last 10-15 years more people have seen "different possibilities in ministries in terms of parishes. They come out of the program and are able to do ministries."
The commissioned ministry program, which takes three to four years to complete, has five tracks: religious education, youth ministry, pastoral ministry, liturgy, and parish business administration. Participants can choose one track or a combination of tracks. Six core courses in spirituality, Scripture and theology provide the foundation for the tracks. A person doesn't have to be enrolled in the commissioned ministry program to take courses, Pichler said.
Miller worked four years for Kohler Co. She was an associate product manager for the shower door division's marketing department leading teams that brought new products to market when she quit two years ago.
Miller has a business degree from St. Norbert College, De Pere, and a master's in business from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
Her situation had become "extremely stressful," Miller said. Besides commuting one hour each way between Green Bay and Kohler, she worked 12-plus hour days. Her job "was taking away
from time that I should have been spending with my husband and other family and friends."
She and her husband, Paul, have been married four years and are expecting their first child in August.
"I stepped back and did a lot of contemplation, praying and evaluation about what was ultimately important in my life," Miller said. "I further wanted to strengthen my relationship with God, my faith and the church."
After quitting at Kohler, she took two months off "to re-focus and re-balance from the corporate world." During that time she enrolled in the lay ministry program.
Miller said that she and Paul had served as catechists for high school students at Our Lady of Lourdes since they married. As they became more involved with the parish, they realized they wanted to do more.
The parish decided her request to work with youth was a way to get the youth ministry program "back up and running." Miller used her business marketing skills to promote the ministry. Nine young people showed up for the first meeting a year ago.
Today, 40 middle school and 15 high school students are involved in youth ministry. Miller has divided them into three groups: grades 6-8, 9-10 and 11-12, which meet for discussions and service projects. Once a month they plan and assume all roles from ushers to lectors at Mass.
She said she emphasizes the middle school program because its participants will help the high school group grow.
So far, she and Paul have conducted the youth ministry meetings. However, she is working to develop a leadership team of eight or nine adults who will work with the ministry as it grows.
Courses in the commissioned ministry program "have grounded me in Scripture, history and tradition and given me the background to do the job with the kids," Miller said. They have helped her analyze her "spiritual journey" and introduced her to spiritual direction. She has been working with a spiritual director for about a year.
This summer Miller plans to take courses in the youth ministry track.
Vanden Boogard has worked at Thrivent for 33 years, beginning right out of high school as a keypunch operator when it was known as Aid Association for Lutherans. Since then it has
provided her with "good mentors" and helped her develop management and leadership skills that have allowed her to advance.
As a business systems analyst she helps "people define the requirements for the systems (such as software applications) they use" and then help develop the systems.
"I feel like I want to use the gifts God gave me for parishes," Vanden Boogard said. "I think there is a lot of opportunity in business administration in parishes, something definitely lay people can do because of all their experience in business. They can free up our ordained to focus on the spiritual aspect."
Since retirement is several years off, she hopes to ease into parish business administration by volunteering and learning systems. She will begin the commissioned ministry business track later this year.
Vanden Boogard volunteers with the youth ministry program at Holy Cross. She has led small groups in the confirmation program for 16 years. Recently she took over directing the
biennial youth retreat in Colorado. All that has made youth ministry a retirement option, she said.
The commissioned ministry program has "helped me grow personally in my own faith journey," she said. "I understand what my faith is all about and where I want to take it in the future."