Reflecting on Pope Francis’ call for every Christian to be a missionary disciple, Deacon Phil Lawson acknowledged, “We need more workers in the vineyard.”

Deacon Lawson, who serves as diocesan executive director of pastoral ministries, pointed out that the diocesan Lay Formation Leadership Program is a program bearing fruit.

A new cycle for the program, which comes under the umbrella of the Institute for Missionary Discipleship, began in August. Seventeen students, including 10 women and seven men, have been accepted.

Begun initially in 1996, the program was reformulated and restarted in 2017, with some 170 graduates to date. “It is designed to equip and inspire lay men and women to serve their parishes, enhance their vibrancy and further the Church’s mission of evangelization in our state,” Deacon Lawson said.

Elizabeth Stuart, parish secretary in Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Randolph and Our Lady of the Valley Parish in Bethel, is among those participating in the next cycle. Reflecting on her decision to apply, she said it presented “an opportunity for me to grow spiritually, to connect with like-minded people and to develop pastoral skills that I currently lack. I believe I will come away from this program better able to meet people where they are and help them move forward into a deeper appreciation for the richness of the Catholic faith and with a greater connection to the Church, the community and with Jesus.”

For Joe Myers, a member of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Williston, the foundation of his desire for formation comes from “the Holy Spirit calling me to become a deacon in the Catholic Church. I love Jesus Christ and His Church. I want to more fully know our Catholic faith, and I believe the Lay Formation Leadership Program will help lead me down this path. The more I learn of our faith, the more the scriptures come alive, and Jesus’ words jump off the page.”

Participants in the program meet one Saturday per month from September-May over a 2-year period. Subjects for the program follow the guidance of the U.S. bishops, focusing on the four pillars of formation, including the human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral dimensions.

Prayer and worship with fellow participants are important features of the program, as is an annual retreat in August.

Classes take place at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Stowe with a variety of priests, deacons, laity and college professors among the facilitators.

A key part of the program, noted Deacon Lawson, “is the participant’s final project in which they take what they have learned and concretely apply that in their parish.  Examples have included faith formation, RCIA, marriage enrichment, evangelization and outreach in their local communities.”

Meyers hopes to “share what I learn with our faith community and our parishes … allowing the Holy Spirit to confirm and strengthen our Catholic faith by leading us to the Eucharist,” including weekday Mass and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. “It gives us time to listen to God and allows us to see the beauty of the Catholic faith.”

For Stuart, the seed was planted years ago. She recalled, “In 2008, Scott Hahn was speaking at our parish.  At a ‘meet and greet’ he was asked, ‘How do we engage the periphery?’ He replied, ‘Catch the center on fire.’ That’s what I want to do with this formation opportunity.  I want to stir the pot, re-engage the faithful, catch the center on fire. I have no concrete vision, no well thought out plan … All I currently hope is to follow St. Catherine of Siena’s advice to ‘be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.’”

For more information, email plawson@vermontcatholic.org or visit vermontcatholic.org/ministries-programs/evangelization-catechesis/lay-formationhttp://vermontcatholic.org/ministries-programs/evangelization-catechesis/lay-formation for an overview, brochure and application.

 Originally published in the Fall 2021 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.