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June 19, 2017

Over the last ten years, Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary hosted national symposiums on Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord published by the United States Catholic Conference of Bishop’s (USCCB) in 2005.  Those events took to heart the bishops’ invitation to advance the national will towards the certification and authorization of lay ecclesial ministers.  Theologians, researchers, canon lawyers, pastoral ministers, bishops, diocesan staff, and representatives from the USCCB itself engaged in the exhilarating work of thinking together about what it would take to in fact foster a deep sense of being co-workers in service to a common mission. There are currently about 39,000 lay ecclesial ministers whose roles and voices enrich what the Church can accomplish for the glory of God and renewal of the world.

The tenth year anniversary of the publication of Co-Workers provided the occasion for the School of Theology to explore both the achievements and remaining challenges ofCo-Workers since its promulgation.  We also wanted to celebrate the service of people whose lives are the focus of Co-Workers – lay ecclesial ministers.

One of our goals for this anniversary celebration was to expand beyond a theoretical and pastoral examination of lay ecclesial ministry by tapping into its creative dimension. Art is a unique language for expressing the movement of God in our lives, and it privileges the experiential wisdom that co-workers gain in the daily commitment to work together in the vineyard.

In August, 2015 twelve lay ecclesial ministers and one pastor gathered in Collegeville to participate in a week-long retreat shaped by word and image. They brought with them richly diverse experiences of ministry and different generational perspectives.  Each day found its anchor in visio divina on one of the illuminations in The Saint John’s Bible.  With that grounding, participants set out to create individual collages that sought to capture how the Word gave them fresh insight into their ministry experience.  Working under the direction of an expert guide, they used the collage as a medium for showing how ministry formed them and gave them insight into their vocational call.

As they built their images, they listened to their souls to find words to describe poetically the testimony the collages conveyed visually. From the outside it looked simple—pictures, scissors and glue.  And yet a deep knowing of self and journey emerged as Word and Image came creatively together.  These soul collages and their poems are filled with creative intuition, hope, discerning spirit, lament, and vocational joy.

The retreat was a unique response to Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord.  The images participants created and the words they found construct a theology that examines the vocation and practice of lay ecclesial ministers.  It is a theology from “below”– with a distinct emphasis on the organic and dynamic deepening of vocation that infuses with energy the careful analysis of a church document.

The Word and Image exhibit is a welcome reminder that as each minister interprets their experience, they contribute to a larger process of understanding within the Church. The contributions of this small group of pastoral ministers remind us of the power of mystery to help us glimpse what might be possible for the church.  The collages and the poems they have evoked are a visible form of Benedictine hospitality welcoming viewers into symbols and words that shape the experience of this sampling of lay ecclesial ministry.

With this booklet, enter into this Word and Image exhibit with the same contemplative spirit that the ministerial leaders did in August, 2015.  Open your own seeing and knowing as you contemplate the images and read the related poems.  Be open to where you might be led as you consider what it means to be co-workers in the vineyard of the Lord.

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