Ministerial Identity Crisis

Fr. Z has an interesting post today on the distinction between ministry and apostolate. Fr. Z. makes the traditional distinction between ministers (read: the ordained) and the lay apostolate (which is lived “in the world”), and warns against over-extending the use of the word “ministry.” All good.

A couple of commenters press the issue: What do we call those of us who work for the Church in parish or diocesan positions? We are not “ministers” under the formal definition of the Church, yet neither are we strictly working in the lay apostolate. What are we? And what is it we do?

Lots of people smarter than me have wrestled with this question, but I’ll add my own answers to theirs.

Personally I’m ¬†ambivalent ¬†about the title “lay ecclesial minister.” It’s too bulky, too theological, and too contradictory. (If I’m a lay person, how can I be a minister under the Church’s definition?) On the other hand I don’t have a better term to offer, so I continue to use LEM as a shorthand, even while recognizing its ¬†deficiencies. (Most of the time I just describe myself as a diocesan staff member.)

At the same time I readily identify my work as “ministry,” in so far as it cooperates with the work of my bishop. My role serves to further the teaching office of the bishop (and, to a lesser extent, his sanctifying and governing office); I am, in a way, a tool of the bishop’s ministry. The same could be said for those who work under a pastor in a parish.

I’d be interested to hear how others describe themselves and their work on behalf of the Church. Do you use the phrase Lay Ecclesial Minister in polite company? Do you think you do ministry?