“Lay” Ministry

As I sat in my grandma’s kitchen over a game of cards, she and I talked about various issues of prudence and pleasantries, her favorite topics. Inevitably the subject of Catholicism came up and my grandma, the good dutiful convert she is, always wants to know the “right” answer to all things Catholic. I had just finished my Master of Divinity degree and I was thrilled to think she might be accepting me as an authority on such issues! So, although I don’t remember the question, I knew the answer and told it to her.  Then she said, “Well, I’ll have to ask my priest about that”.  UGHGH!!! I wanted to shout at her and get on my high horse to tell her I was right and my education was more current than her priest’s anyhow!

I struggled for a few years with thinking I was not being accepted as an ‘authority’ in my ministry work because I was not ordained, even though I had the education, had extra training in hospital chaplaincy, and gosh darnitt, I knew my stuff. This was not a power struggle for me, as many opponents to women’s ordination point out. It was about being able to share the skills and gifts God had given me for the people of God in the way God wanted me to! I thought I needed a ‘label’ to make me qualified in other’s eyes. 

Then I began my position in a hospital with a great reputation around the world for heart care.  Because of that, many people were far from home with often very complicated and scary health issues.  So, chaplains were widely utilized and I felt very fulfilled. I felt like a pastor.  


It helped me to see that it was me who needed to recognize my authority. I had been fighting for people to recognize in me what I needed to recognize in myself.  I had to proceed from there with confidence in hand; confidence that I had skills, could help people in need, and was (am) a vessel of the Holy Spirit. Rather than give me a big head, it gave me the strength to pull my light out from under the bushel basket.  This is the flip side to humility as it’s not always about a big ego.  Sometimes it is about God urging you to recognize the dignity and gifts you have as a child of God.  “….not playing small…” as Marianne Williamson reminds us of in “Our Deepest Fear”. 

I began to take on the confidence to do my job without pause, to minister without hesitancy. And for this I am very thankful. It has meant the world to me in terms of my work but also, the rest of my life as a young person coming into her own.  My work has been my salvation (don’t read into that, I don’t mean literally). As a daughter once told me about her experience when her father was dying under Hospice care, “I didn’t know I’d need Hospice as much as he did”. Thanks be to God, my coworkers, patients and families who have allowed me to search these hospital halls for the healing graces left by God for me to find.  



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About Lauren Ivory

Lauren Ivory is a hospital chaplain working on Chicago's diverse north side. After receiving her Master of Divinity degree at Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis, MO she went on for further hospital ministry training at the Cleveland Clinic of Ohio. On the side, she enjoys helping couples plan wedding/commitment ceremonies and works with couples as a certified premarital guidance counselor.

6 thoughts on ““Lay” Ministry

  1. “it gave me the strength to pull my light out from under the bushel basket.” That reminds me of that quote “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate . . . ” It can be nerve-wracking to let your light shine, huh? Good for you for being open to the Spirit and to the needs of your community.

  2. “Amen, Amen, I say to you!” Your story parallels my own; rather than being upset, I minister and do what I am called to be doing in my own way. It is still a challenge even after two wonderful years working as a “Lay Ecclesial Leader” in a parish. I once heard us called the “platypuses of the Church” because we are neither ordained/vowed religious nor are we inactive laity there to ‘pay, pray and obey.’ We are still developing and recognizing our own leadership and authority as a group, but we haven’t been accepted by most as equals to those ordained.

    A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with some parishioners that would once have upset me. They made a comment to the effect “Won’t it be great one day when women like you will be priests.” I agreed, but said that I can’t wait for that to happen to be a minister because I am here now. They then said, “Just be a sister then.” To them, without a title, they saw me as accepting less authority than I could or should have. I can’t change what people think or believe about my authority on things related to God, for who really has authority on God anyway, but I can help people build a relationship with God and live my own life with the Spirit.

    Thanks for your story!


    As I sat in my grandma’s kitchen over a game of cards, we talked about various issues of prudence, patience, and pleasantries. Inevitably the topic of Catholicism came up and my grandma, the good convert she is, always tries to be a dutiful Catholic and wants to know the “right” answer to many things. And so, she asked me a question about something, I have no idea what now, and I told her the answer. I had just finished my Master’s of Divinity and felt quite confident that I was right on the answer. I was thrilled to think she might even be accepting of me as an authority on such issues. Then she hit me square in the head and said she’d have to ask her priest “about that”. UGHGH. I wanted to shout at her and get on my high horse to tell her that my MDiv is newer than his and furthermore, I was right!

    The moment passed but the experience has stayed with me.

  4. This really got me wondering about ministry generally within the Catholic Church. Clearly, many lay ministers are now taking on more pastoral-type duties as priests have to cover more parishes, often becoming little more than roaming sacrament-providers. I wonder how (or if) this growing trend will change the way people consider the call to priesthood and/or lay ministry…?

  5. Thanks for sharing your wonderful story! My work with NALM, the National Association for Lay Ministry (www.nalm.org) has highlighted some of the issues you have raised. How can lay ministers become more confident in the work they are doing and how can they be helped in their discernment of ministries and ways of ministry. A lot of it revolves, I think, around the notion of “vocation” being expanded — not just talking about it as priesthood, religious life, married life, single (which are really “states of life” not vocations) — but of recognizing that God’s call is always coming to us in our lives, wherever we are, and that we are invited to listen for it and respond to it. Your story reminds me how important it is to always be attentive to the voice of God and the may ways it comes to us. Thanks again for sharing.

  6. Lauren, thank you for sharing your story.
    I was particularly struck by the word “right” in your previously deleted paragraph about your grandmother. The idea of what is the “right” way to believe or pray or practice our faith has never even entered my mind until recently. I’m in a new community of young adults in my parish and this seems to be the focus of our conversations.
    I also related to the idea that the “right” answers only come from a priest. It is frustrating for me because I don’t have the experience that priests have the “right” answers…shockingly, sometimes priests don’t have answers at all! (which, of course, is okay by me!)

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