Bishop Braxton Introduces ‘Into My Vineyard’ Program

(Editor’s note: This is a portion of the homily Bishop Braxton gave at the Chrism Mass April 11, 2017 at St. Peter Cathedral in Belleville. During this Mass the Sacred Oils are brought forward and blessed before being distributed to diocesan parishes. Later in the article, Bishop Braxton answers questions about the program.)

As we continue to implement The Pastoral Plan for Parish Renewal and Restructuring, we are focusing on our Parish Partnerships, which must work diligently to bring parishes closer together in greater cooperation for the good of the Christian Faithful.
Today, I am asking capable, dedicated parishioners to come forward to serve as Lay Ecclesial Ministers and contribute their time and talent to the renewal of their parishes. These Lay Ministers will assist the Priests and Deacons in the service of God and neighbor, helping fellow parishioners to learn their faith, love their faith, and live their faith.

Please click on the link for a message from Bishop Braxton about the program: Bishop on ‘Into My Vineyard

Are you willing to be a witness to Jesus Christ as a Lay Ecclesial Minister? St. John Paul II teaches us that our parishes need you to encourage your Catholic friends to “walk in joy with Jesus.” An essential part of your ministry must be to help the whole Catholic community find greater certainty about what the Church actually teaches, and greater serenity in confronting the many issues which cause division and polarization among those who should be of one mind and heart.

We have named this important new opportunity for baptized Catholics to exercise greater service and leadership in their parishes, “Into My Vineyard.” This is a two-year program of formation for active Catholic parishioners. It has the potential to make a major contribution to the future of the Church in southern Illinois. The Lord Jesus Christ really does need some of you to give more of yourself to your parish to renew, to revitalize and to strengthen your parishes. The goal of our new pastoral program, “Into My Vineyard” is to increase the number of well- trained Lay Ministers for servant leadership, to renew and rebuild Catholic parish life in our Parish Partnerships according to The Pastoral Plan for Parish Renewal and Restructuring.

Any Catholic with time, energy, deep faith and a genuine love for his or her parish is capable of becoming a Lay Ecclesial Minister. You can serve full time or part time according to your availability and the needs of your parish. If you come forward, you may be taking an important step in your life of faith, allowing you to be a co-worker with the priests, deacons, and religious in the diocese. Our goal at this time is about four (4) participants in the pilot program per Parish Partnership.

The preparation will consist of eight sessions per year, beginning in the fall, on Saturday, September 16, 2017. These times of preparation will continue on the third Saturday of the month, September through May 2017-18 and 2018-19. No session will be held in December.

This two-year seminar on worship, formation and parish outreach will give you the chance to study basic teachings of the church, especially those of Vatican Council II, “The Constitution on the Church” and “The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.” These monthly sessions will be offered in Belleville, Marion or Mt. Vernon.

To be part of this new program for lay ministers, do you have: a spirit of cooperation with laity and clergy and a desire to be a part of genuine renewal in your parish; a love for Sacred Scripture; a deep reverence for the Holy Eucharist; an active prayer life or the desire to grow in prayer; a good reputation for living the teachings of Jesus; an acceptance by members of and an involvement in the life of the community; a strong desire and ability to bring others into the life of the parish; a true awareness of the societal and cultural needs of the parish; a willingness to serve when you can, even with personal and family obligations?
You do not need to be a great student, nor do you need to serve full time, because it is a flexible pastoral plan.

An Interview with Bishop Braxton
on ‘Into My Vineyard,’ the New Lay Ecclesial Ministry Program

What is Lay Ecclesial Ministry?
Lay Ecclesial Ministry basically means helping the laity remember the Church is not the building; the Church is not the priest or the bishop; the Church is the whole people of God. And so for the Church to be vital and vibrant, you can not simply show up on Sunday, come late, sit in the back, put in a couple of dollars in the collection and leave early and expect the Church to be the Church.

You must show up seven days a week in some way with your prayer, with your acts of service and your material support.
So Lay Ecclesial Ministry means you don’t just passively show up at Christmas and Easter and expect the Church to have everything you want — or for baptisms, weddings and funerals — but realize you are the Church. The laity must recognize that deacons, priests and bishops and religious sisters and brothers come from their families. So they must be, as Pope Paul VI said: “Their families must be a domestic or household church.”

Lay Ecclesial Ministry means that the laity exercise their Ecclesial role in the Church in various forms of service. Born from baptism, the Holy Spirit gives vitality to the Church and all the lay people in their baptism, in their first Communion, in their confirmation in the sacrament of Christian marriage — all of them are annointed by the Holy Spirit, which means it is their call to be the Church. And most of our people, I think, tend to have a more passive view: I come to church, and the priests, deacons, bishops and sisters and brothers give us the sacraments. I’m a key member of the church; I make the Church be at work, at school, in my neighborhood, in my home, and sometimes I come forward and say Father I see you have two parishes and now you have a third parish and my spouse and I would like to know what we can do. Can we join this “Into My Vineyard” program and study more about the Catholic faith so we can be involved in our parish, perhaps in leading adult religious education or faith formation or become more involved in acts of justice and peace? How can we, concretely, with our time and energy, help the Catholic Church be the Church?

(The bishop described some of the appointment letters he was writing at the time which indicated a priest with one or two parishes was being appointed to a second or third parish.)

People can’t expect you to do the work of two priests. You’re only one priest. If they don’t come forward and become involved in Lay Ecclesial Ministry, many of the things they would like to see happen in their parishes, will not happen.

How is Lay Ecclesial Ministry different from ministry of deacons in parishes?
Deacons go through full formation in theology and extensive formation of several years and pastoral training. It’s much more intensive, and deacons are ordained so they are part of the hierarchy of the Church as ordained ministers who can celebrate baptisms and who can preach at the Sunday liturgy so theirs is an ordained ministry. This is a ministry of the priesthood of the faithful, a priesthood of the baptized. It’s not an ordained ministry; it’s simply an activation of the potens, the power that is given to them in baptism, so it should be distinguished in a very real way from the ordained ministry. It is a collaboration; the ministry of the ordained and the ministry of all the baptized are not in competition but they are collaborating ministries.

But many of the lay people who will come forward, almost all of them for this Into My Vineyard program will be busy husbands and wives, parents of children with many social engagements so they may be only able to give two evenings a week or one afternoon a week or one Sunday evening or one evening every other week, depending on their lifestyle and their commitments. So in terms of time, it’s probably part time, but in terms of focus, it’s full time. In terms of focus they’re always looking out for the Church how are we being the church here in the town of Smithton; how are we being the Church here in the town of O’Fallon; how are we being the Church in the town of Cairo or wherever we are.

How will you interact with the program as it moves forward?
We’re asking for three or four people from every parish to come forward. Certainly, it’s an opportunity to speak with them, support them and encourage them and perhaps provide them with a more theological understanding of what they are doing. I will not be the primary engine in terms of presentations.

How did the need for this kind of program emerge?
I was talking about the situation (at a meeting of diocesan leaders) that we have a diocese where in almost every parish, those who are giving the most of their time talent and treasure are a very small number. If there are 100 families, maybe only 10-12 families are bearing the burden, and many of them are the older parishioners. And those who are the generation after them may not always be visible as those who will come next.

We must find ways to urge the people of God who are in church on Sunday to share in, not the burden, but in the great Christian service of ministry. If we don’t the future of the diocese will be bleak because we can’t assume there will be a great upsurge in religious sisters, deacons or ordained priests.

It was mentioned that we once had these programs of lay ministry, and I said that’s exactly what we need to revive so that’s how the discussion was initiated.

For more information and a list of topics that will be discussed, please go to

(In “The Vicariate Letters: The Bishop’s Reflections on the Strategic Pastoral Models of the Parish Partnerships,” Bishop Braxton wrote letters to parish leaders throughout the diocese about partnerships. In those letters, he repeatedly described the need for “well trained Lay Ecclesial Ministers.” To find the complete text of the letters, please go to