Position Statement: Working in the . . .
Join the discussion about this statement Dear Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord,
With this letter the National Association for Lay Ministry (NALM) is issuing its first position statement on employment practices for lay ecclesial ministers. The history of this document began in February of 2006 when the NALM Board of Directors appointed an Advocacy Committee. Among the Committee charges was the statement: “Identify issues of concern to lay ministers and advocate for a response at the local, regional, or national level.” With this in mind, NALM members were asked to participate in an on-line survey in order to identify issues of concern.
Three areas of concern were identified by the survey participants, with the most common area being workplace issues. The issues that were identified are ones that could be addressed by Human Resource departments, diocesan policies and procedures, diocesan lay ecclesial ministry offices and bishops. Among the specific issues were salaries, benefits, pension, retirement, job security, termination, pastor change, and authority/accountability.
The 2005 document Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord, issued by the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, contains the wisdom and guidance that is needed to address the concerns raised in the NALM survey. In the section entitled “The Ministerial Workplace” the document states: “Thus, in the ministerial workplace, one finds the special challenge of establishing policies and practices that integrate Gospel values and best organizational practices. … They imply respect for persons, justice, integrity, efficient use of resources, successful accomplishment of mission and goals, and an environment in which committed and skilled workers are treated fairly” (Co-Workers, 61).
Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord also invites continued reflection and feedback on the development of lay ecclesial ministry. The NALM Board of Directors has accepted the invitation to reflect on some of the topics covered in Co-Workers in “ways that are faithful to the Church’s theological and doctrinal tradition and that respond to contemporary pastoral needs and situations” (Co-Workers, 6).
As NALM issues “Working in the Vineyard: A Position Statement on Employment Practices for Lay Ecclesial Ministers,” we offer our assistance to bishops and their dioceses, pastors and their staffs, and lay ecclesial ministers in developing policies and procedures that ensure fair treatment for all the co-workers in the vineyard of the Lord. The NALM Board of Directors would also like to recognize the outstanding efforts of many dioceses and national organizations in the area of human resources and express its gratitude for their work toward the just treatment of Church employees.
NALM will continue its mission of advocating for lay ministry and lay ministers. The Board of Directors is committed to listen, survey, identify, examine, select, and then issue additional position statements surfaced from our membership. NALM is undertaking this work to contribute to the development of lay ecclesial ministry by accepting the challenges articulated in Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord.
NALM Board of Directors
Working in the Vineyard:
National Association for Lay Ministry (NALM)
The ministerial face of the Catholic Church in the United States today reveals many thousands of lay women and men serving in ministerial roles in dioceses, parishes, schools, and other institutions. The National Association for Lay Ministry (NALM) applauds the bishops of the United States for their 2005 document on lay ecclesial ministry, Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord. The bishops, having reflected on this new reality, affirmed lay ecclesial ministry and called for its continued development. The document challenges "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, 6)
Gospel Values in the Workplace
The local Church, as an institution rooted in Gospel values, is a witness to justice when it insures that its employees benefit from comprehensive personnel policies and practices. As the Church continues to identify, call forth and empower lay ecclesial ministers, each diocese should explore the establishment of lay personnel boards, opportunities for lay ecclesial ministers to participate in the Church's consultative and planning processes, and the designation of an office within the diocesan structure to be responsible for the ongoing formation of lay ecclesial ministers and the development of lay ecclesial ministry.
Our bishops have rightly affirmed the need for comprehensive personnel systems to be implemented within dioceses, parishes, and other recognized ministerial workplaces (i.e. hospitals, campuses, and other ministry sites). Such personnel systems would involve strategies for recruitment and selection, orientation and support, evaluation and feedback, compensation, transitions and terminations, and grievance procedures (Co-Workers, 61-65). Given the needs of lay ecclesial ministers and the realities facing the Church today, NALM recommends the following workplace practices:
1. Expectations: All full time and part time positions need clear and realistic written position descriptions which define responsibilities, relationships, and expected work hours each week, including availability during evenings and weekends. Part-time positions require even greater clarity since excessive demands are too often placed on part-time employees.
2. Compensation and Benefits: Salary scales for lay ecclesial ministers should be comparable to the salaries of other professionals with similar education, experience, and responsibility. The availability of adequate health insurance for lay ecclesial ministers and their families is an expected part of benefits packages. Lay ecclesial ministers need secure and portable retirement plans. Ideally, these plans would vest employees within five years. It is recommended that dioceses also establish plans to which the employees could contribute. In addition, monies need to be made available for ongoing spiritual, theological, and pastoral formation of lay ecclesial ministers. Such efforts respect both the dignity of the worker and the Church’s need for well-formed lay ecclesial ministers.
3. Orientation and Support: Lay ecclesial ministers and all employees benefit from well organized orientation programs which explain employment policies and procedures, and review the mission and plans of the diocese. Lay ecclesial ministers and pastors need to be updated regularly on diocesan policy and notified of any changes. Regular gatherings of lay ecclesial ministers, together with their pastors, key members of the parish staff, diocesan staff, and the bishop(s) of the diocese, for prayer, appropriate consultation, professional enrichment, and facilitation of ministerial networking foster communion and collaboration.
4. Supervision and Evaluation: All employee supervisors, including both the ordained and non-ordained, need to receive training in employee supervision and evaluation. All lay ecclesial ministers need to take part in an annual performance review based on their position descriptions. Reflective and respectful supervision and evaluation should include a written evaluation of the employee's service, review and adjustment of the position description in light of actual work, assessment of progress on work related and professional goals, and development of a plan for continued formation.
5. Transitions and Terminations: The change of pastors is a sensitive time for all involved—the departing pastor, the new pastor, the parish staff, and the whole parish community. Special orientation of pastors and staffs to the issues involved in the change of pastors can provide guidance and support for all involved, build collaborative relationships, and foster a healthy transition. At times, outside assistance may be helpful for parishes in transitions. While some staff changes may occur during transitions, a change of pastor in itself is not sufficient cause or reason for the dismissal of a staff member. (The U.S. Catholic Bishops have addressed the need for security against arbitrary dismissal in Economic Justice for All, 103.) Likewise, since the work of lay ecclesial ministers is essential to the life of the Church, they need to submit ample notification of retirement or resignation.
6. Grievance Procedures: Processes that identify and address any problem areas that arise in the relationship between pastor and staff or among staff members are beneficial to all. Often these issues can be addressed successfully through conflict resolution, professional development, or outside assistance. Clear grievance procedures are needed for all involved when unresolved conflicts arise. An impartial due process board will assure a fair and balanced hearing of grievances.
NALM offers its assistance to bishops and their dioceses, pastors and their staffs, and lay ecclesial ministers in their efforts to develop personnel policies and procedures which integrate "lay ecclesial ministers within the ministerial life and structures of our dioceses" (Co-Workers, 6). “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” (1 Corinthians 4-7). We pray that this paper, NALM’s contribution to the conversation on workplace issues, will assist all lay ecclesial ministers as we strive to use our gifts for the good of the Church.