New diocesan position focuses on forming lay leaders

The Diocese of St. Cloud has created a new position to help form parish leaders. The new role, titled associate director of lay leadership, is part of the office of Catholic Education Ministries.

Kristi Bivens, a former Catholic school teacher and most recently pastoral associate in Breckenridge and Kent, was hired for the new role and began July 2.

For a long time, the church as a whole has recognized the need for well-formed lay leaders in parishes, schools and Catholic organizations, but that need has not always been met.

“When I participated in the Convocation for Catholic Leaders in Orlando last year, it became evident that this need is not just here in our diocese but around the country,” Bishop Donald Kettler said.

Following the four-day gathering of 3,100 people, Bishop Kettler convened a follow-up discussion with the 10 delegates from the Diocese of St. Cloud who joined him at the event as well as a cross section of parish leaders. Lay formation was at the top of the priority list among the data collected from the dialogue.

The topic also has surfaced as part of the diocesan pastoral planning process, which encouraged feedback from people through listening sessions across the diocese. Workshops at Diocesan Ministry Day and the diocesan Encuentro event last fall also shed light on the desire for more formation opportunities for lay people.

“Especially in the last year, there has been a series of events and activities that has sharpened our focus, to really see that this is something the people of the diocese are asking for,” Bishop Kettler said. “If you take all those things together, it really underscored in our minds that this is where we needed to put some of our resources and energy.”

The timing was right, he said, to create a new position to meet current needs.

Linda Kaiser, diocesan director of Catholic Education Ministries, said the idea blossomed when her office had a vacancy on the staff. Brenda Kresky, the former consultant for adult faith formation, accepted the new position of director of planning for the diocese, leaving an open position.

“It didn’t make sense to just fill a position that ‘was,’” Kaiser said. “It was an opportunity for us to look at what kinds of things we could do to equip our parishes for leadership for the future.

“It fit where I think we need to be as a diocese,” she added. “We see so many people with the love and the desire to serve the church and community. Kristi’s role will be to take that passion and form it.”

Equipping leaders

Bivens, originally from the Diocese of Crookston, began her ministry as a Catholic school teacher, working in Staples and Elk River. While teaching, she felt a call to minister in a different way.

“I knew I still wanted to do something with teaching — that’s where my passion lies,” Bivens said. “Someone planted the seed in my mind about parish ministry. The more I looked into it, the more I knew that is where I belonged.”

Kristi Bivens, associate director of lay leadership in the office of Catholic Education Ministries for the Diocese of St. Cloud, is pictured in her office at the Pastoral Center in St. Cloud July 23. (Dianne Towalski / The Visitor)

Bivens continued her education, receiving a master of divinity degree from St. John’s School of Theology and Seminary in Collegeville. She was then hired as a pastoral associate at St. Mary of the Presentation Parish in Breckenridge and St. Thomas Parish in Kent, where she had served for the last 10 years.

“I love what I did in those parishes but when this position was created, I knew it was the right position for me,” she said.

“Many, if not most, parishes don’t have the funding to support lay ministry. And so to be in a position where we can really start to vision, equipping the people of the parishes for leadership roles and helping them to revision how they are called to be ‘church,’ is really exciting. Parishes are going to need to look at how to support lay ministry when they don’t have full-time priests anymore. Equipping people who have a real love and passion for the church to do the ministry of the church is exciting.”

Bivens said her first task will be relationship building and getting to know the people serving in parishes and schools in the diocese.

“My goal is to help those serving in the church to truly see themselves as lay ministers. They often recognize that they have the skills to perform their jobs but they also need to be formed in the faith to perform their job well,” she said.

“Helping people to understand that what they do is ministry is going to be an important part of what this position will do.”

Anyone interested in learning more about lay leadership formation opportunities is encouraged to contact Bivens at or 320-251-0111.

Author: Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is the editor of The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine for the Diocese of St. Cloud.

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