By Maureen Smith
LOUISVILLE – Lay Ecclesial Ministers (LEM) from across the Diocese of Jackson met Wednesday and Thursday, Dec. 2-3, with Bishop Joseph Kopacz, Father Kevin Slattery, Vicar General; Father Mike O’Brien, Vicar for Clergy and Fran Lavelle, director of Faith Formation.
The informal meeting, held at Lake Tia O’Kahta, was the first of many planned gatherings for the group. There are currently 13 LEMs in the diocese who care of the pastoral needs in parishes where there may not be a full-time priest. In 2005, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) wrote a document called ‘Co-Workers in the Vineyard,’ as a resource for bishops and those in pastoral ministry.
Bishop Kopacz went through some key points of the documents with those gathered and asked them to share their stories of how they got into ministry. Next year, the diocese will offer them a formation program called ‘Tending the Talents.’
The LEMs appreciated the gathering and learning more about one another. “As a whole, we all got into this ministry because we felt a call to become a lay minister,” said Deborah Holmes, Lay Ecclesial Minister for Bruce St. Luke the Evangelist. She said that up until now, she did not know the stories behind her fellow LEMs’ vocations. She also said she is very excited about the opportunity to gather with them again for formation. “The opportunity for growth for us is very important,” she said. Sometimes, a pastor or an LEM can feel isolated, so the chance to exchange ideas and learn together is welcome. “It makes us feel like we are unified,” said Holmes.
James Tomek, LEM for Rosedale Sacred Heart agrees. “Just being alone and working, I don’t know what everyone else is doing and I don’t know if I am in tune with what else is going on,” he said. He said he sees his role as keeping his community together. He encourages lay participation on all levels in his parish.
Tomek, a retired professor for Delta State, said he is glad the bishop plans to make the gathering a regular one. “It’s vital. We’ve got emails and all that stuff, but every now and again, real presence is what’s needed,” he said.
At the closing Mass for the event, Bishop Kopacz noted that it was the feast of St. Francis Xavier, one of history’s most successful evangelizers. He read from a letter the saint wrote in India about how hungry people were to learn about the Christian faith, its prayers, rituals, scripture. Saint Francis said he could hardly rest or eat thanks to all the work he had before him. Bishop Kopacz thanked the LEMs for all of their work and dedication to the people of God in Mississippi.