Thoughts on the History of the Professionalization of Ministry in “Transforming Catholicism”

As part of trying to dig a little deeper into what sociologists can teach me about ministry, I’ve been reading David R. Maines and Michael J. McCallion’s Transforming Catholicism: Liturgical Change in the Vatican II Church (2007).

Sociologists and scholars of liturgical studies would probably find this quite interesting, as it captures and describes the life (and controversy) of parish liturgy in the Archdiocese of Detroit in the post-Vatican II era. But for me, the greatest insights in reading this book were about ministerial leadership
and how to change and evolve in parish ministry without–to put it bluntly–making the whole parish despise the ministerial staff. There are some great case studies in here for that topic…

Here are some things that struck me:

History. I’m an older member of the Millennial generation. I don’t remember what parish leadership was like in the 1970s or 80s.  According to Maines and McCallion, here’s what went on then:

  • Vatican II’s legitimization of more lay involvement due to baptismal theology meant that training was necessary for volunteers and staffs.
  •  The Archdiocese needed to staff their departments with lay and religious professionals in order to be able to support parishes with this training…”what many of the lay and religious diocesan professionals worked on in the early stages of the 1970s was how to teach the theology of Vatican II to parish volunteers and staff in order to help them understand how to organize and operate their parish in a post-Vatican II environment” (p. 25)
  • By the 1980s the diocesan downtown central service agency had grown from 25 employees in 1969 to almost 200
  • Many parishes started employing several paid professional lay ministers (i.e. DREs, Worship Coordinator, Director of Music, Youth Minister, Christian Service Coordinator, etc.)
  • Since the 1990s, diocesan offices have downsized and parishes have stabilized in hiring
  • The processes of structural differentiation created “a greater bureaucratic, rational, professional cultural style” (p. 26)

The authors note:

“Clearly professionalization and bureaucratization are not new realities to the organization of Roman Catholicism. But the proliferation of bureaucracies and increasing professionalism within the diocese, especially of lay ministry, since Vatican II are recent and rather ironic developments, considering Vatican II’s emphasis on greater ecclesial democratization.”  (p. 26)

My personal thoughts on this history…wow…such a difference compared to how I perceive the Second Vatican Council. The idea that someone would need to be “trained” seems so foreign, so bureaucratic. To me it should all start with relationship with Jesus Christ. From there, one’s response as a follower would then flower into an appropriation of many characteristics of a disciple and Christian life named in key documents of Vatican II. I think there’s something wrong with approaching Church teaching as training, it has to start from inside, from the heart of a disciple seeking to live an authentically Christian life. This is a reminder to avoid treating the New Evangelization the same way today–as if it’s training–rather than an authentic response of a Catholic Christian to the grace given to us in Jesus Christ. 

Secondly, I’m not quite sure if it’s “ironic” that there would be more “professional” (which I interpret as ministerially formed and paid) ministers who are not ordained in the Vatican II era. “Ecclesial democratization” and an increase in ministers who are not ordained are not trends that directly oppose or contradict one another. If ministry is more than just sacerdotal tasks (which Vatican II definitely implies) then, of course, there should be a good number of people performing ministry in this broader sense.

Bureaucracy is a different story. Again, I don’t think professionalization of ministers and bureaucracy need to go hand in hand. I mean, just read the Harvard Business Review–plenty of people in business, management, and leadership strive to avoid bureaucracy with more dynamic, creative, and effective organizational styles.

Again, it’s great to be reading this as a spur to reflect on my own identity and style of ministerial leadership. 

Note: In Part 2 of this post I’ll comment on one other passage from the book.


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