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Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord is a resource for diocesan bishops and for all others who are responsible for guiding the development of lay ecclesial ministry in the United States. For several decades and in growing numbers, lay men and women have been undertaking a wide variety of roles in Church ministries. Many of these roles presume a significant degree of preparation, formation, and professional competence. They require authorization of the hierarchy in order for the person to serve publicly in the local church. They entrust to laity responsibilities for leadership in particular areas of ministry and thereby draw certain lay persons into a close mutual collaboration with the pastoral ministry of bishops, priests, and deacons.
These men and women of every race and culture who serve in parishes, schools, diocesan agencies, and Church institutions are identified by many different position titles. In Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord they are identified in a generic way as "lay ecclesial ministers." This reflects on what they have in common and to propose some understandings of lay ecclesial ministry situated within our social and ecclesial environment and within the framework of the Church's belief, teaching, and pastoral practice.
The bishops write that "We provide this document as a pastoral and theological reflection on the reality of lay ecclesial ministry, as an affirmation of those who serve in this way, and as a synthesis of best thinking and practice." The following components provide the structure of the document:
Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord is a common frame of reference for ensuring that the development of lay ecclesial ministry continues in ways that are faithful to the Church's theological and doctrinal tradition and that respond to contemporary pastoral needs and situations. Unlike the USCCB documents Program of Priestly Formation and the National Directory for the Formation, Ministry, and Life of Permanent Deacons, Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord does not propose norms or establish particular law. It expresses at this point in history what the bishops have learned from the experience of lay ecclesial ministry in the United States. It suggests concepts, goals, strategies, resources, and ideas to consider. It invites local adaptation, application, and implementation to achieve consistency where possible and to encourage diversity where appropriate. It calls Church leaders, ordained and lay, to become more intentional and effective in ordering and integrating lay ecclesial ministers within the ministerial life and structures of our dioceses.
Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord expresses the bishops' strong desire for the fruitful collaboration of ordained and lay ministers who, in distinct but complementary ways, continue in the Church the saving mission of Christ for the world, his vineyard.
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