By BISHOP ROBERT J. BAKER
The Convocation of Priests, Jan. 15-17, and of leaders of various parish and diocesan programs of education and service on Jan. 18 was a great opportunity for priests, deacons, religious men and women, and lay leaders to discuss ways of better collaboration in ministry here in the Diocese of Charleston.
I am grateful to Sister Carroll Juliano, SHCJ, and Brother Loughlan Sofield, ST, for facilitating the discussions that helped us unite our gifts in ministry. A better understanding of our common call to service of the Lord through baptism and confirmation emerged, as well as an appreciation for the unique and special character of each person’s vocational call to service, including the call to priesthood and the religious life.
Collaboration in ministry is not a new concept. St. Paul describes it well in his first letter to the Corinthians (12:4-7, 11): “There are different gifts but the same Spirit; there are different ministries but the same Lord; there are different works but the same God who accomplishes all of them in everyone. To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good … But it is one and the same Spirit who produces all these gifts, distributing them to each as he wills.”
Brother Sofield and Sister Juliano define collaboration as “the identification, release, and union of all the gifts in ministry for the sake of mission” (Brother Loughlan Sofield and Sister Carroll Juliano Collaboration: Uniting Our Gifts in Ministry, p. 171). They point out that the essence of collaboration in ministry is gift; collaboration is never an end in itself, but always a vehicle for ministry; and the goal of collaborative ministry is always the mission of Jesus Christ.
My own observation about collaboration in ministry is that all effective ministry is ministry done in a close working relationship with others — it is always collaborative. The starting point for all ministry is prayer, which means we begin by seeing ourselves as collaborators, i.e. co-workers, with God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
We, as co-workers, act in an ecclesial setting. We are part of a wider community that is the Church, founded by Jesus Christ upon the Apostles, with Peter and his successors and the successors of the Apostles, forming the teaching magisterium of our Church, with whom our priests, deacons, religious men and women, and lay people are co-workers for the Lord.
As co-workers we are given the privilege of sharing the message of the Gospel collaboratively according to the unique calling and with the special gifts provided us by God.
There are levels of collaboration, according to Brother Sofield and Sister Juliano, which begin with co-existence, moving to communication, then to cooperation, and finally to true collaboration, where “turf” and “competition” give way to a spirit of mutuality and partnership.
The clarification of roles is important in this process. The delineation of roles will help avoid unnecessary tension and conflict.
In the Diocese of Charleston we are making every effort possible to clarify the roles and responsibilities of all engaged in areas of ministry so that co-existence in service will give way to true collaboration for the sake of the Gospel.
We plan to have a Pastoral Policies Handbook compiled that will indicate the roles and responsibilities of all engaged in ministry in our diocese.
The responsibility of every Catholic is to help translate the person and message of Christ into concrete action and visible presence according to the unique vocation each person has received by God.
As our Holy Father Pope John Paul II has taught so clearly, “It is essential for us to understand that Jesus has a specific task in life for each and every one of us. Each one of us is handpicked, called by name, called by Jesus. There is no one among us who does not have divine vocation” (Homily, Glasgow, Scotland, June 1, 1992).
Once we discern that specific task and vocation, we are called to share that gift with the living, Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, in a collaborative way.
I invite all parishes and organizations of service in our diocese to take time out to reflect on the theme of collaboration in ministry and the other monthly themes for reflection for the Year of Reconciliation, published in The New Catholic Miscellany.
Let us pray for all in the Diocese of Charleston that we use the gifts the Holy Spirit has given us to help build up collaboratively the Body of Christ.