By Fran Lavelle
I was fortunate enough to participate in the Catholic Leadership Institute’s (CLI) program Tending the Talents, which is a program for lay leaders. The program began in May and just completed its work earlier this month. The cohort consisted of Lay Ecclesial Ministers, youth ministers, directors/coordinators of religious education programs, pastoral council leaders and diocesan staff. We represented nearly every deanery in the diocese and included diversity of ethnicity, age, parish size and background. The group met five times over the course of these eight months.
Our time together varied, but usually included two or three days. When Bishop Joseph Kopacz introduced the idea of CLI bringing Tending the Talents to the diocese, I was very excited. I knew it would be an opportunity to strengthen some existing friendships and develop new ones. Being someone who values interpersonal relationships I knew this was right up my alley. What I did not expect was how quickly the cohort would come to feel like family. Our scheduled meetings began to feel like mini-family reunions in addition to being awesome learning opportunities. If a member of the cohort was not in attendance his/her absence was immediately felt.
As the end grew closer in sight I started to ask myself those deeper reflection questions about the experience. I thought about how accustomed I had become to visiting with these folks every six weeks or so. I thought about how much I would miss our late night discussions on the deck where robust conversation mixed seamlessly with laughter and sometimes even tears. I thought to myself, “This is Church.” Our cohort truly reflected the Body of Christ. We prayed together, broke bread together (boy howdy, did we eat well), shared stories of frustration, affirmed one another’s successes and encouraged one another to remain faithful to our vocational call to serve Christ and his church. I am certain that some of you have had a similar experience going through a master’s degree program, a parish faith formation program or certification of some kind. We create ties that truly bind us to one another.
These experiences are good, no they are great because they can lift us up out of the status quo and ask us to look at ministry with fresh eyes, a renewed spirit or a less judgmental attitude toward those we serve. Most importantly, they keep us grounded in relationship with others. I cannot serve the church if I work out of my own agenda, my own needs and my own ego.
Growing, learning, praying, discerning with others allows one to take on the perspective of another person. I can better see the challenges and opportunities that I face when I see how others respond to similar challenges and opportunities. I am grateful for every member of our cohort. They reminded me of the good men and women who selflessly serve God’s people. I will miss our time together.
The completion of this program happened the week after many members of our formational ministry teams met in Kenner, La., for the Gulf Coast Faith Formation Conference. Looking back on both of these opportunities I am reminded of the value of a change in venue. In contrast to Tending the Talents, the conference lasts only three days. However, those three days can be effective in getting us out of our regularly scheduled lives and opening ourselves up to hearing, seeing and experiencing something new and/or different. It’s a new year. If you have been in full-time ministry or a volunteer for several years and have not taken the opportunity to do continuing education/formation or you have not gone to a conference, what are you waiting for? Go! It is in the practical day to day living of our faith that we express it best.
Taking time out to go on a personal retreat, conference, enrichment opportunity is one of the best ways you can ensure that you have the inspiration and energy to continue to serve God’s people. Proclaim your faith from your abundance. It is hard to give what you do not have. So the next time you see an opportunity to renew and refresh your ministry-take it!
I am relishing the time I had with conference attendees and cohort members of Tending the Talents. The ultimate gift in all of it is knowing that we are all a phone call or email away from a friendly response. If you would like ideas on possible professional development, retreat or educational opportunities shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Fran Lavelle is the director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)