Not too many years ago, when I was a parish priest, I remember listening to (young) people trying to describe the dilemmas they faced in their lives of faith. They wanted to determine what “to do” in the church (in their lives as an expression of their faith — if they did not feel called to be a priest, a deacon or a religious. That same dilemma presented itself for others who believed that the only way to serve in their parish is to become a reader at Mass or an extraordinary minister of holy Communion. These are all noble callings and vocations — but they are not the only ones available. We should not walk away in distress, thinking we are “not needed” or we “are wrong” for any reason when we are not chosen for these particular ministries. There is so much to do in the church and so many ways to offer ourselves for service.
One of the first — and probably one of the most necessary — ways to consider the type of ministry or service to offer in the church is just what you might guess: Pray about it! Talk with God in quiet thought and reflection about your talents and abilities — what you like to do and what you might find challenging or difficult. You might be surprised how God could be calling you to volunteer, perhaps helping clean the church or changing the monthly missalettes. Prayer is always the starting point of our journeys for service in the church — don’t forget that.
While you may not be called to be an extraordinary minister of holy Communion at Mass, you may be an asset to your pastor as a visitor to the sick and homebound. For this action, you will be commissioned as a Communion minister to the sick. You might visit the homebound or those in the hospital, taking time to read the Scripture readings with them, bring them the parish bulletin or simply chat about some things that may cheer them up and help them to feel connected to the larger parish community.
Speaking for your pastor, it’s encouraging to discover someone in a parish community who may be willing to offer their time for assistance in ministry to the youth. This not only means ministry to those in high school (confirmation classes, etc.). You might find out that your pastor could use some assistance with a young adult or a faith study group. The parish may need a prayer group to meet monthly to pray for specific needs of the parish or for those discerning vocations — marriage included.
There are administrative opportunities that present themselves in the deaneries of the diocese — both locally and at the diocesan level. The diocesan Pastoral Council connects the bishop with the laity of the diocese by maintaining contact with the deans, along with their own parish priests. This council meets several times a year with the bishop to discuss various needs, both of the local church and the wider faith community of the state (Wisconsin Catholic Conference) and the country (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops).
These meetings allow for consultation and dialogue with the bishop and members of his staff where everyone is allowed to hear and share ideas. You may even consider responding “yes” if you are invited by your pastor to serve on the parish Pastoral Council or Finance Council.Sometimes, it just may be satisfying for you to offer your talents and gifts in service to the church by simply doing what you may do for a living or what you do as a hobby. Consider volunteering your talent as carpenters, painters, plumbers, accountants or cooks, to name a few; these skills are quite essential and necessary for the church. Every pastor would be really grateful to receive such a gift from his generous parishioners looking to return an offering to God.
These are just some of the areas I have found in my years of priesthood that many of the faithful tell me bring joy and a sense of satisfaction for them in contributing time, talent and treasure in their local communities.
Again, the need for personal prayer and introspection helps all of us learn what we can do to respond to God’s love in our lives. Each of us can offer ourselves in little ways to respond to the many needs in our parishes. In the years following Vatican Council II, we have come to know and understand that the work of the church is not simply done by clergy and religious. All of us must share as workers in the vineyard of the Lord in the work that fulfills the mission of Christ for His church and the entire world.
Please, take your time in considering how to offer yourself in service. Yes, there are many tasks; remember how Jesus spoke to Martha about being anxious about many things? Remember how He said that Mary had chosen the better part? Each of us has a particular way in which to serve the Lord. Take time. Listen; as you do, you will hear God’s voice in your heart and join in the great adventure of the church!