Whenever a new acquaintance asks me what I do for a living, I know to expect a follow-up question after I answer that I am a Pastoral Associate: “What does that mean?” It is a very fair question. More than once I’ve been confused for the Associate Pastor, which is not the same thing; I would have to answer to my wife if I were an Associate Pastor. This week, I thought I would take some time to respond to that question: “What is a Pastoral Associate?”
It’s actually a bit multi-layered. There is a general answer for, “What is a Pastoral Associate?” and there is a specific answer for, “What do you do as Pastoral Associate at Saint Anne?” When I started work here, my wife Elizabeth was serving as Pastoral Associate at Saint Benedict in North Center, Chicago, and our job descriptions had some overlap…but overall, even though we held the same position, we served in very distinct areas of ministry and interest.
To start super-broadly, we owe our understanding of the pastoral associate position and lay ecclesial ministry (i.e., lay people ministering to and for the People of God in a Church capacity) to our understanding of what it means to be a baptized and initiated member of the Church. All of the baptized faithful are called to participate in praising God in word and in deed and in the building of the Kingdom. Most of those in the laity have the calling to do so in the context of their lived lives in the world, helping make the Good News known in the way that they engage in professional and personal relationships. Some people in the laity discern a call to serve through parish and church ministry, assisting in sacramental preparation, faith formation, human concerns. In short, they are called to help equip and nourish their brothers and sisters in Christ to be able to live out their vocation as Christians in the world.
The pastoral associate is one of these ministers. The smart-alecky way to answer what a pastoral associate does is that he or she associates pastorally. More specifically, they serve as associates to the pastor in various realms of pastoral leadership in service to the parish’s ministries. How that looks concretely varies depending on the needs of the community, the vision of the pastor, and the gifts of the individual coming to the position.
As I said earlier, Elizabeth and I have both served in this capacity, but our parishes had different needs and we have different gifts. As such, some of our responsibilities were different. Many of her responsibilities pertained to human and social concerns, e.g., overseeing the St. Vincent DePaul Society, liaising with volunteers to put on holiday meals for the impoverished and the parish community, support the Director of Religious Education in the RCIA, and more.
My responsibilities at Saint Anne are a bit different. I have the honor and privilege of directing the RCIA process here and working with some very gifted parishioners who make up the RCIA Team, not to mention our RCIA sponsors. With the tireless and invaluable help of our front office and our priests and deacons, I coordinate formation and preparation for parents seeking to welcome their children into the family of God through baptism. Mary Jane Kurowski and I have been collaborating with several gifted and generous individuals to bring the Beloved Retreat for adults to our community this November. In addition to these roles, I have been tasked with serving as the Staff Animator for several groups, including the Young Marrieds Group and the Women’s Faith Time Committee.
That’s a brief job description for you. My job is to help inform, nourish, and assist you in your faith journey through the groups and programs listed above and in whatever other way I can. Serving in this capacity is a real joy, particularly because there is such energy and enthusiasm here at Saint Anne to engage in community and faith in meaningful ways, and a great deal of competence and knowhow to boot. Please know that you can reach me through any of the contact information listed here on the back page of the Clarion. If you are ever in the area during the week, feel free to stop by the Parish Center and shoot the breeze or throw a question my way. I am here to serve, and I enjoy your company! The same goes for Sundays—I am here and delighted to know you.