Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington



From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302


What is parish ministry? Many forms, many ministers, many answers

by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the Sept. 11, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

To count the people who minister in the Catholic Church in Eastern Washington would be no simple task. Before the ministers can be counted, perhaps ministry needs to be defined. Exactly what is ministry?

“Ministering” to others takes myriad forms. Youth ministry; ministry to the homeless; women’s ministry, prison ministry; ministry to single Catholics; to divorced Catholics; to married couples; to the elderly are just a few to be found in the diocese. There are ministries of music, evangelization and maintenance. There is the whole gamut of Catholic school ministry.

There is priestly ministry and lay ministry. Ministry can be paid or volunteer, part or full-time. Ministry is someone, whether a full staff of people at a parish or one person who lives next door and mows the church lawn, giving witness to their faith, whatever form that service might take.

The face of ministry has changed through the church’s centuries. What began as mostly lay ministry with the Apostles and disciples evolved into clerical ministry and is now evolving back again.

The following facts are from a study called Parishes and Parish Ministers: A Study of Parish Lay Ministers, Msgr. Philip J. Murnion and David DeLambo, National Pastoral Life Center, 1999. They can be also be found on the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops’ website.

In 1997 lay ministers were in 63 percent of the nation’s parishes.

In 1997, 29,146 parish lay ministers were being paid for at least 20 hours of work per week. That represented an incresae of 35 percent since 1992.

In 1997, 82 percent of lay parish ministers were women.

In 1997 more than 90 percent of lay parish ministers agreed that their ministry has been affirming and that their work is recognized and affirmed by the parishioners they serve.

Between 1992 and 1997, the percentage of Religious men and women working in parish ministry fell from 42 percent to 29 percent.

Who are the ministers in this diocese? Read through the parishes’ section in the diocesan directory and find their names. Pastors, parochial vicars, pastoral administrators, directors of religious education, music directors ... that’s only part of the picture. The other part includes the many people, including a good number of retired individuals, who work so diligently and faithfully in their churches who do not have their names in the directory.

A random and non-scientific sampling of people who minister in the diocese brought a wide range of thought on ministry in the diocesan church.

Bishop William Skylstad: “In the past 40 years there has been an explosion of ministry in the United States,” the bishop said, “people using their gifts in service to the community. It typifies the vitality of the church, even though we have a long way to go. There’s a continued need for evangelism and for good stewards, not only of money, but of time and talent.”

The bishop sees his own role as that of pastor, whose gifts are important to serve the church. But his gifts are not all that’s needed. “No person, no bishop, no Holy Father, has all the gifts needed by the Church for her mission.”

Erin Kinney of Metaline Falls, a youth minister in her town and that of Ione to the south: Kinney “gets a lot of satisfaction working with the kids.” She grew up Catholic and has always been involved in some kind of ministry in the church. “My parents instilled the value of service and everywhere we’ve lived, I’ve always gotten involved. I wanted my kids to know that there’s a community (of people) trying to live our faith and values.”

Kinney also helps with the music at St. Joseph Parish in Metaline Falls. She doesn’t think of her ministry in terms of reward, but because it “gives me joy. To be the person I’m meant to be and to do what I am meant to do, that’s what keeps me going.”

Bob Mayse, Dayton: Mayse is a convert to Catholicism. He joined the church after his daughters were born. Even before then, he said, “I was always helping with something.”

He defines ministry as “helping other people, even if it’s just to sit and listen.” Mayse served on the parish council at St. Joseph Church and also helps with church maintenance.

He also got involved with Project Timothy, an ecumenical venture in Dayton to help the needy with emergency expenses. Partly through his efforts, Project Tim-othy’s operating costs dropped almost 50 percent, leaving a greater portion of funds for those in need. Mayse takes no credit, saying only that Project Timothy “really helps a lot of people.”

Mayse has a personal ministry of his own: he repairs the machines of senior citizens at no charge. “Their appreciation is my thanks,” he said.

Juan Pedroza, Hispanic minister at St. Patrick Parish, Walla Walla: Pedroza started out at St. Patrick as a part-time secretary. He started the job “more as a service, but after three months, I went full time.” Now he is the Hispanic minister and works mostly with the high school youth group, which numbers from 20-25. He coordinates the activities and arranges the guest speakers during the school year.

Pedroza does other ministry in his church. He has assisted with sacramental preparation, primarily baptism but also marriage “when we’re needed.” His wife joins in that ministry, too. He has assisted the religious education director in the Hispanic program. He is also a bookkeeper and has helped with parish finances.

To Pedroza, those who minister in the church should “be visible and be present” to those they serve and that’s the main reason, and the reward, too, for his ministry. He said he has “always felt a need to be of use to the Hispanic community,” a need that would most likely not get met in the secular world.

He also finds reward in the parents who appreciate what they learn in the classes he gives.

He says he will work in the church “as long as I’m allowed.”

Anna Cammack, religious education director at St. Paschal Parish in Spokane: Cammack approaches each new school year with prayer, “to see what the Lord wants. It’s not my ministry; it’s his ministry,” she said. She takes a team approach, gathering those who work in the parish’s religious education program for a discernment process. “We try to be aware of what the church is saying in choosing a theme each year,” she said.

Cammack called her service a “ministry of flexibility, and I try to keep it as simple and as personal as possible.” She laughed to say the ministry changes the minister and it’s as much learning for her as for the teachers and students in the program.

Seeing the families “come together and get excited” is where she finds her reward. She is also blessed, she said, in having really good teachers and willing parents “who hardly ever refuse to help. They’re wonderful that way.” She also likes seeing the “different gifts coming together out of the body. It’s mutual encouragement and pure grace.”

Father Victor Blazovich, pastor at St. Gall Parish in Colton and St. Boniface Parish in Uniontown: Father Blazovich was ordained in 2000. He sees ministry as “putting our individual gifts at the service of others.” His goal in serving the Church’s people is to “help lead people to the Lord through the gifts God has given me ... especially in being a welcoming presence to them. I try to take advantage of the present moment and bring the good news of Jesus Christ to others.” He does that best, he said, when he is “in touch with the people I serve and know their needs.”

The Church has “made incredible strides in recent years,” he said, in empowering the laity and developing opportunities for people to get involved. That will continue, especially as the Church works to develop “joyful, collaborative models of service.

“One thing about ministry,” Father Blazovich said, “there is such rich diversity in things that can be done, and there are so many opportunities to make a difference in people’s lives ... Everyone in ministry can find ways to be creative, turning problems and crosses into new growth.”

Joan Leeds, pastoral associate at Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Spokane: Leeds may have a better understanding than some of diocesan ministry since she is a member and current president of the Association of Pastoral Ministers.

The association was formed “at least 20 years ago,” she said, “to foster professional ministry in the church.” That is done in several ways: through spiritual growth, moral support, professional inservice, and social interaction. “I joined,” Leeds said, “because I wanted to find out what other people were doing.”

The Association has about 50 members. She has been a member of the group for 14 years.

Leeds said people are finally recognizing that “lay ministers are not going to go away.” She praised the staff of Our Lady of Fatima Parish for calling out her gifts. She recalled how she had started out in religious education and now she is on the pastoral staff. She completed a master’s degree in pastoral ministry in 1999. She still helps with religious education but does other work, too.

Even though hers is a paid ministry, Leeds confesses that her service is where her heart is. The appreciation she receives from parishioners and others she serves is a bonus. “I like to think we’re living the Gospel,” she said.

Ramona Garza, secretary at Sacred Heart Parish in Othello: Garza has “been helping people for a long time.” In her busy parish office, people come in and “sometimes they need help. I talk to them and try to help them out. Whatever they need, I try make them feel loved.” She has done, and still does, many kinds of ministry in her parish, from youth coordinator to teacher to volunteer at the local food bank. She loves her work. She recognizes that she “couldn’t live any other way.”

Deacon Walt Weid at Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Spokane: Deacon Weid serves his parish and also does volunteer work at a local prison. His view of ministry is one of empowerment.

“There was a time in our parish when we had interim pastors. Since people were used to 8 a.m. Mass, I started doing a Communion service. I had my business and wasn’t always able to be there. So as a homily one time, I said that other people were perfectly capable of doing the service (and asked for help). Six people came forward.”

In another example, Deacon Weid coordinates taking Communion to those in the parish who are sick. “I’m just a substitute. We have lay people lined up to do it, and they get more out of it than the people who receive communion.”

As pastors frequently serve more than one parish, said Deacon Weid, “lay people are seeing they need to take part, like in evangelization, for instance. They’re stepping forward” as they are needed.

One of Deacon Weid’s greatest rewards comes from his prison ministry. “They are so appreciative of anything you do,” he said.

Jenny Ann Edgren, pastoral administrator at St. Michael Parish in Inchelium: To Edgren, ministry is “being with the people, like with a family when someone dies, visiting people” and being present at other church community events. St. Michael Parish has a strong ecumenical relationship with the town’s other churches. “We’re really here for all the community,” she said.

Edgren makes a connection between the Real Presence in Eucharist and real presence among the people. “People see how you live,” she said. “We become the embodiment of Christ in what we say and do. All together we make up God’s people.”

Jim Tevenan, director of music at St. Augustine Parish in Spokane: Tevenan has been involved with church ministry in one form or another and at one level or another since he 13 years old. He sees ministry as “answering a call to give loving service.”

How Tevenan does that is in his music. He works to “empower (the congregation) in their worship. I get a kick out of playing and of having the choir do well. But when I hear the congregation singing, that’s my reward.”

Betty Newstrom, director of Parish Services at the Catholic Pastoral Center in Spokane and Bishop’s Secretary for Evangelization: Newstrom has been working for the church in one way or another for 25 years. She was director of religious education at St. Mary Parish in the Spokane Valley before she become director of the Parish Services Office 14 years ago.

Her ministry as PSO director is to support and train others for ministry. The office primarily trains catechists – there are 700-800 in the diocese – but it also provides informationand support for those who work in liturgy, bereavement or leadership. “We’re always getting calls from people wanting information about different ones,” she said.

One of the changes Newstrom noted was in that of the catechists. “They used to be stay-at-home moms,” she said, “but now they all work. It used to be we could have meetings and training in the daytime and that would work. Now we have to do them in the evenings.”

One thing that hasn’t changed is the willingness of the volunteers to serve. Even though catechists or other volunteers work outside the home, Newstrom said, “They still want to do it. Their faith is very strong.”

Newstrom’s office sponsors the Catholic Conference every fall, to provide a means of continuing education to ministers and all people in the diocese. This year’s conference is scheduled Saturday, Oct. 25, with a theme on the “Real Presence in the Real Present.”

Her office also coordinates “Fundamentals of the Faith,” an adult study based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The four-week series begins Wednesday, Oct. 8 (“‘Fundamentals of the Faith’ returns for adult education in October,” IR 8/21/03).

Bishop Skylstad summed it up: “People like to work for the Church; they’re very dedicated and generous.” He sees a tremendous wisdom and dedication in the people who serve. “Lay ministry will continue to grow and develop. No pastor can do it all, nor should he. Lay ministry has a rightful place.”


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