Ministry in the Church – a career pathway?

Sometimes, when people hear of difficult professional experiences she has faced, friends ask Lisa Bright why she doesn’t leave the Church. But it is where she finds “life to the full”. It is where she journeys with and accompanies others to live life to the full. It is where she feels God’s presence and helps others to be the hands and feet of Christ. She could not dream of leaving!

Lisa has been involved in formal ministry positions since she was 23 years old. She started with voluntary positions in her local parish. She went to World Youth Days and even thought of joining Religious Life. From her secretarial and administration church experience, her parish priest encouraged her to start a youth group. She soon became more involved in diocesan youth ministry. Her parish work was “the highlight of my life” and she had a wonderful team around her.

At this young age, Lisa couldn’t volunteer forever and started work in the HR field that she had studied. But she didn’t like the atmosphere and ethics of the corporate world into which she was flung. She felt called to service and to the margins, both the obvious physical margins and the existential ones. At this point she got a job in Youth Ministry in the St Vincent de Paul Society.

Over the following years, Lisa worked not only with Vinnies at the diocesan and state level, but in mission and identity for the Vincentians and the Daughters of Charity, in many parish roles, in pastoral planning, and has studied theology. She also learnt practical skills, running a small business with her husband. Now, at 45, with three young children and a mortgage, her call to ministry is no less strong. Lisa works with the Pastoral Ministry Network and has two small businesses accompanying families in funeral preparation and empowering groups in community development. She loves to journey with people as they are most vulnerable, helping them to have a positive experience and to encounter Christ.

In fact, these have been themes over her years in ministry – journey and encounter. Lisa is passionate about lay people in the church and accompanying them. She recognises that she doesn’t have all the answers. Rather, she wants to enable and connect people, so they can “find their place with God.” She meets regularly with friends and parishioners to discuss life and faith, to understand the scriptures better and to find ways to offer service in today’s world. She is there for others who love their God and faith, but have struggles and difficult questions, and may not feel welcome in the church.

Yet there has been no easy career pathway for someone with Lisa’s call and skills. She sees a big difference between work and ministry, which she exemplifies using her charity work. There are those who see it as a job and those who volunteer to express their faith in their actions. She hopes that people can get paid a fair wage for their ministries as well, to encourage them to be able to live their calling by working for the Church. Lisa points to Australia’s national pastoral ministry guidelines as offering best practice for professional standards.

Finally, Lisa reflects on the experiences of liturgy that have stood out for her in her journey so far. In smaller groups, such as youth or Vinnies retreats, Lisa values the personal relationships that unite everyone. Where there is real community, prayer becomes intentional and God fills the space. She remembers a Mass on top of a mountain in Canada during World Youth Day. As the priest held up the host, an eagle flew past above them. It was a real “Ah ha!” moment: God is truly present with us. So in her call to accompany others in faith, Lisa’s life witnesses to the true presence and the love of God.

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