By Jim Gauger
Special to The CS&T

PHILADELPHIA – At St. Anselm Parish in Northeast Philadelphia, the goal to develop lay leadership emerged from its 2009 pastoral plan. Father Tom Dunleavy, St. Anselm’s pastor, is working with the archdiocesan Office for Formation of the Laity to do just that.

“One of the goals of the 2009 Pastoral Plan is to encourage more parishioners to become involved in service to the Church,” Father Dunleavy said. “The way to do this is to offer leadership-training seminars.”

The third in a series of six assemblies on lay leadership training will be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 15, at St. Anselm.

An average of 110 people in the parish of 8,000 (2,900 families) attended the first two assemblies in November and in January. Father Dunleavy is encouraged by that turnout.

“We are trying to ensure the future of St. Anselm in light of changing demographics,” he said. “We have a decline in the number of priests, but the work of the Church will continue. For example, if we would lose an assistant pastor, we would need lay people to take over some of the duties – catechists, sacramental preparation.

“We’ve seen increased enrollment in CCD and a decline in school enrollment. We need more CCD catechists. We have an increase in parish programs, but we need laity to be trained and developed to take charge.”

Another need is to replace parish council members who retire.

Father Dunleavy, in his eighth year as pastor, said St. Anselm is vibrant and strong, and “we would like to keep it that way.”

The Archdiocese conducts lay training seminars at several high schools through the Church Ministry Institute, which supplies speakers for the assemblies.

“The Church Ministry Institute is a three-year certificate program that forms the laity for ministry,” explained Maryanne Harrington, the director of the Office for Formation of the Laity. “They take courses on theological, spiritual and pastoral formation to better serve the Church. Right now we have 200 people in the program in various sites.”

Harrington worked with Marti Harrington, archdiocesan coordinator of parish pastoral councils, to develop St. Anselm’s unique approach.

“The process of educating the laity came from the Second Vatican Council,” said Marti Harrington, who is no relation to Maryanne Harrington. “It called for fuller participation of the laity in the life of the Church. It meant increased lay leadership of many parish responsibilities.”

Today’s Church involves the laity in financial councils, parish pastoral councils and as extraordinary ministers of holy Communion, lectors and CCD instructors, for example. The program’s goal is to continue parish life and parish activities despite the decline in the number of priests.

“When Father Dunleavy called, I was excited to hear he was encouraging lay leadership and giving them the support they needed,” Maryanne Harrington said. “If you call someone to help and then train them, they are going to be successful.”

St. Anselm’s upcoming assembly will focus on “models of the Church.”

“We need to model the Church in ways that are highly visible – in ways that respect the human condition and emphasize our need for the grace of the sacraments,” Father Dunleavy said. “We seek to model the Church in a Christ-like way to serve and care for others.”

Marge McCabe, a member of the St. Anselm pastoral council since 2001, said the assemblies help parishioners understand the needs of the parish.

“These assemblies promote a community spirit; they touch more people,” she said. “There was a time in history when the Church was everything – worship, socialization. The community was much smaller. We’re trying to draw people back in. I really think it sets the pace for the future.”

Father Dunleavy said the assemblies are already paying spanidends.

“We have seen an affirmation, a recognition about the good they are doing,” he said. “Leaders need to be trained. These assemblies are a means to that end.”

Jim Gauger is a freelance writer and a member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish, Glenside.