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New theology professor authors book on lay ministry

Edward Hahnenberg’s book examines issue from church-going community view

09/04/03

This fall, a new theology professor at the University is hitting the classrooms, while his new book is hitting the shelves. Edward P. Hahnenberg’s “Ministries: A Relational Approach” studies the evolution of the church-going community’s views on lay ministry—defined in the author’s own words as “service done by ordinary, baptized members of the Christian community that helps further the church’s mission of worship and service.”

Written with the academic setting in mind, the book may seem like a good fit with the University's Jesuit tradition of service—but the even better fit might be its author.

“It really began in the course of my doctoral studies at the University of Notre Dame,” Hahnenberg says. “I had long-standing interest in questions of ministry and church structure.” He wrote his dissertation on recent theologies of lay ministry, but he didn’t stop with the doctorate—the idea for “Ministries” had been born.

Accepting a position as a visiting assistant professor at Notre Dame, he continued to research and write, spending hours in the library reading contemporary Roman Catholic theologies of ministry. His work earned him a few research grants that funded fact-finding missions to the U.S. Bishops Conference in Washington, D.C., as well as to Italy, Germany and France, where he interviewed people involved in European lay ministry formation. He brought his ideas into the classroom, and there, he learned from his students, recognizing their feedback as the valuable research that it was.

His two years of research yielded five chapters of unique viewpoints that challenge the separation between clergy and laity. “My approach is to think of [lay ministry] not as people who are not ordained, but as members of the community who are contributing to the church’s mission,” Hahnenberg says. “Lay seems to imply unqualified … and I want to affirm that everyone by virtue of their baptism is qualified for ministry.”

Hahnenberg was familiar with books published by Crossroad Publishing, and sent the publisher a proposal on his book. With its timely connection to current issues within the Catholic Church, the book was quickly accepted and rushed into production, and in August it hit stores.

“So much negativity is in the air,” he says. “The shortage of priests and the disappearance of sisters and nuns, the sex-abuse scandals, you name it. I chose to underline the positive. The explosion of lay ministry over the past 40 years means that more people are engaged in more kinds of service than ever before in the history of the Catholic Church.”

The book—which includes discussion questions, summaries and suggestions for further reading—is tailor-made for theology questions. But Hahnenberg says he hopes his message will have broader appeal to youth ministers, Bible study leaders and others who are active in their churches. “Everyone can serve,” he says. “And everyone in the Christian community is called to serve in some way. At some time and in some capacity, every baptized believer is called to carry forward with Christ’s mission.”

This fall, Hahneneberg is teaching two sections of Theological Foundations and an upper-level course called Why a Church? While he doesn’t plan to use his own book in class just yet, he does see more overlap between careers as a teacher and an author in his future.

“I’d love to keep writing and teaching and drawing on that experience of the teaching supporting the writing, and the writing feeding the teaching.”