Ecclesiology and a Theology of Ministries

Allow me first of all to apologize for not having written more frequently. My return from the workshop with the Little Sisters of Nazaret in Drongen, was immediately followed by exams in the faculty of theology in Leuven. There are several theological ideas that I would like to share with you, both on the workshop and as arising within the exams. I will have to limit myself to one idea. I’ll make sure more follow in the coming days.

Today, a Latin American friend and an African student whom I was examining reminded me of the fact that, certainly in Flanders, when we work on ecclesiology, we tend to forget a theology of ministries. The Roman Catholic Church in Flanders has been so powerful – in the number of vocations as well as in public influence – that Flemish people still find it difficult to conceive of the church outside of this power. A part of Flemish Christians – some of them clergy, but certainly not all – still have to learn that the times of a service church are over, and that they themselves have to take responsibility for the ecclesial communities – a sense of co-ownership, very practically, is needed. More than ever before, Flemish Catholics cannot count anymore with a powerfull and organising clergy on which they could rely for all church matters. It is not easy, not even for theologians, to make the jump from this clerical service church, to a church in which people take on various ministries (e.g. visiting the sick and the elderly, taking care of the material aspects of the church buildings, organising liturgies, etc.) for which they are also recognized and mandated, for which they are ecclesialy sent. I find it remarkable, indeed, that, while I have been teaching ecclesiology, very often my reflections on ministry have been focused on the clerical side of it, even when paying some tribute to a larger and more encompassing idea of ministry. Our setup of mind seems to be mainly the priestly and hierarchical perspectives – and although these perspectives remain very important, at the same time they may also represent a block for a creative mind that is looking for novel ways of organising and structuring our ecclesial communities. They also narrow down the tension between clergy and lay people, and do not allow for the creative approaches that could originate from this tension. I was touched by the fact that an African and a Latin American reminded me of this, and considered this to be a sign of a lack of vitality in the Flemish RCC.

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