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Lay Ministers’ formation enters 52nd year


According to a Catholic Standard report, an initiative to introduce Lay Ministry in the diocese was taken by Bishop Benedict Singh (dec) as a response to the lack of priestly vocations and to foster greater Lay participation in the mission of the Church.

Prior to the launch of the programme, a committee was set up to study this idea and after three months, its findings were presented to the clergy who readily accepted them.

To avoid classifying lay ministers as “mini priests” the name Parish Lay Minister (PLA) was given to the persons trained to conduct this function. “The PLAs were women and men from the parish communities and recommended by the parish councils, who would undergo a three-year period of formation and who would then assist the priest with non-sacramental functions,” the diocesan weekly reported.

The document describes the PLA as a “fully responsible co-worker with the priest”. The document foresaw two types of PLAs: The ‘Priest Replacer’, who would conduct Services of the Word, distribute Communion at Mass, take Holy Communion to the sick and housebound, teach catechism to children, instruct adults interested in the faith, conduct funerals, and give marriage preparation instructions.

The next is the ‘Priest Auxiliary’, whose main task was to assist the parish priest with administrative matters e.g. ensure baptism and marriage registers were up to date etc.

The PLA Ministry worked well and still works in the Interior communities where one priest is responsible for several communities separated by great distances and rough terrain.

In the city and coastland, where priests were more available, the role of the Lay Minister was mostly limited to helping with the distribution of Communion at Mass and with catechetics.

The PLA formation programme was done in the Interior regions, as well as in Berbice where 14 persons participated. In Georgetown, the formation programme was conducted by priests and biblical theology by the Guyana Council of Churches.

With the restructuring of the diocese some years ago, especially in the city and coastland, many of the roles given in the 1972 document are now done by Lay Ministers e.g. leading Sunday Services in the absence of a priest.

In 1997, a new Diocesan policy regarding Lay Ministry was officially put in place. This document separates ministries and gives encouragement for the creation of others—as the parish sees the need.

It moves away from an ‘hierarchical structure’ and opens the way for the involvement of more properly trained lay people who understand the collaborative nature of Lay Ministry. The policy document also lays down prescriptions about eligibility, functioning, training etc.

“Sometimes we get confused about who is a Lay Minister. Lay Ministry is not confined only to the person who leads the Service or distributes Communion,” the article stated.

Lay Ministry also involves lectors, altar servers, musicians, choir members, decorators; it also involves those engaged in parish outreach programmes, the Society of St Vincent de Paul and the Ladies of Charity, hospital, and housebound visitors.