Column | Clergy, lay, religious laboring together in the vineyard of the Lord

Bishop Bonnar


Bishop of Youngstown

Nearly 34 years ago, following my ordination to the priesthood of Jesus Christ in my home parish, I received from the bishop my first letter of appointment assigning me to associate pastor of St. Vitus Parish in New Castle. What struck me about the letter was a reference made by the bishop to “this portion of the Lord’s vineyard.” Essentially, the bishop was acknowledging that the parish to which I was assigned was just a part of the larger diocese.

The faithful in Ashtabula County, no doubt, are familiar with the image of the vineyard, as there are several vineyards sprinkled throughout the county. A vineyard is a place where grapes grow. While much of the growth occurs naturally, there is always a need for workers to prune the vines and to gather the grapes.

My first encounter with a vineyard came during a retreat in the hills of Rome as a seminarian. It was the fall, and the workers were gathering the grapes. What I remember most about that moment was the joy of the workers as they labored together. They sang together and laughed as they gathered the grapes.

The Diocese of Youngstown is a large vineyard – from Ashtabula County and the Lake Erie shore in the northeast, to Stark County and the Tuscarawas River in the southwest, from the headwaters of the Mahoning River in Columbiana County with its eastern border on the Ohio River, and along the Mahoning River’s path in Mahoning and Trumbull counties, with Portage County and its portion of the Cuyahoga River nestled in the middle. Each parish and faith community comprises a portion of the Lord’s vineyard.

It is the responsibility of the bishop to ordain clergy, priests and deacons, and send them out into a portion of the Lord’s vineyard but the clergy cannot do this important work alone. They need helpers who are not ordained, to be co-workers in the vineyard.

In December 2005, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops published “Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord.” The document is a resource for developing lay ecclesial ministers in the Church.

What is a lay ecclesial minister? Lay ecclesial ministers are lay men and women who cooperate with the bishop and pastors to serve the Church community in a myriad of ways such as pastoral associate, pastoral minister, director of religious education, director of adult faith formation, youth minister, young adult minister, director of liturgy and worship, director of sacred music, campus minister, director of social media, and director of social concerns, just to name a few.

As a pastor, I was at my best when I was able to collaborate with these professional people in the parish. Together we worked as a team in the parish to proclaim the joy of the Gospel and to foster unity. In my new role as bishop, I am just as committed to working with these dedicated lay men and women who have so much to give to the Church. In fact, it is hard for me to imagine doing ministry without them. They are a gift to the Church.

As you know, we are living in a time of diminishing clergy resources as well as a dearth of vocations to the priesthood. What is more, so many of our priests are being asked to do more by serving in multiple parish ministries. I worry about our priests becoming overworked and experiencing burnout.

In order to offer greater support and encouragement to our priests, many of whom are working so hard, I am establishing an Office of Lay Ecclesial Ministry. What was formerly known as the Office of Religious Education/Evangelization is now to be known as the Office of Faith Formation and Lay Ecclesial Ministry.

Barbara Walko, Joan Lawson, and Margie Hynes are now charged with the task of recruiting, training, and supporting lay ecclesial ministers in the diocese. I am grateful to these dedicated women for accepting this charge in addition to their other responsibilities. And I am grateful for all they have already been doing to support our lay ecclesial ministers, and for all the dedicated lay ecclesial ministers serving in our diocese. The new name and focus for this office is an important step forward in supporting our lay ecclesial ministers and adding to their numbers.

This office will not only assist pastors in identifying competent professionals for ministry but also keep this ministry front and center in the Church. Just as we are experiencing a shortage of available clergy for ministry, it should be noted that the same could be said about lay ecclesial ministers. This office will promote this ministry for the good of the Church and ensure that there will be co-workers in the vineyard of the Lord.

For more information, contact the Office of Faith Formation and Lay Ecclesial Ministry at 330-744-5251 or And please pray for all co-workers in the vineyard of the Lord as well as an increase of priestly vocations and lay ecclesial ministers.

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