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Matt Surdyke addressed the men’s Scripture study he hosts at his home in Festus. Surdyke, who was in the second cohort of the Lay Formation Program, started the study group after practicing Lectio Divina at Lay Formation Program meetings.
Matt Surdyke addressed the men’s Scripture study he hosts at his home in Festus. Surdyke, who was in the second cohort of the Lay Formation Program, started the study group after practicing Lectio Divina at Lay Formation Program meetings.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

Lay Formation Program gives lay leaders the tools, confidence to become modern missionary disciples for the Church

With the commissioning of its second cohort, the Lay Formation Program is seeing the fruits of its efforts

On a recent Tuesday evening, a small group of men met in Matt Surdyke’s basement. Sitting around a table with a few cold beers, at first glance once might assume they were there to play a few hands of poker.

But not this group. These men were about to break open the word of God in preparation for Sunday Mass. The readings, followed by a robust discussion among the men, has been a weekly ritual at Surdyke’s home in Festus for the past several years.

“We like to discuss our thoughts about the readings and how it may have moved somebody,” said Surdyke, a parishioner at Our Lady in Festus.

If you’d have asked Surdyke if he would have done something like this many years ago, the resounding answer would’ve been “no.” But through his involvement with the archdiocesan Lay Formation Program, he’s gained a new confidence and understanding of what it means to be a missionary disciple for the Church in which he’s been a member his entire life.

“This is the first time in my adult life that I’ve sat around and talked about the faith with others,” he said. “It gave me the confidence to start up this group at my home and get involved in the Church in other ways.”

Lay Formation

From left, Matt Surdyke, Brent Abrams, Tim Johanns, Jack Rothweiler, Dennis Holdmann, Caleb Ten Eyck, Jim Adams and Brandon Short talked in a men’s Scripture study at Surdyke’s home. Surdyke began the Scripture study as he was learning about Lectio Divina in his meetings for the Lay Formation Program.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston
Surdyke was among 124 people in the second cohort of the Lay Formation Program who were commissioned at a Mass April 13 at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis. The three-year program is designed to offer lay men and women an opportunity to deepen their union with Christ and develop a greater ability to participate in the Church’s mission of evangelization as missionary disciples.

The program, offered through the archdiocesan Department of Catholic Education and Formation, includes the intellectual, spiritual and pastoral aspects of formation. Participants are given instruction in basic Catholic doctrine, the sacraments and moral theology, and participate in eucharistic adoration, praying with Scripture, the Liturgy of the Hours, daily Examen, the sacraments and moral theology, among others.

Participants are recommended by their pastors, and upon their commissioning, they make a promise to serve their parishes, working in partnership with their pastor, for at least three years.

Sister Mary Kathleen Ronan, RSM, Lay Formation Program director, said that participants experience new depths of integrating faith in their lives, which has a profound impact upon how they serve the Church. Many lay formation participants already are active in their parishes in some way, she noted. So in a sense, this brings their service to a new level.

“Each person has separate and individually unique gifts,” she said. “But everyone, please God, through their union with Christ, will come to a greater awareness of their true identity as beloved children of the Father,” she said. It’s reminiscent of the words of St. Paul about being configured to Christ. In his letter to the Galatians, he said: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

Sister Mary Kathleen added: “To grow in understanding of the effects of our baptism is life changing. Once we get it, we are never the same. We are actually given a share in the very life of the divinity,” the Triune God.

Ed Hogan, former director of the Pontifical Paul VI Institute who helped develop the Lay Formation Program, shared his enthusiasm for the evident fruits of the first cohort. Some participants have chosen to go on to serve the Church in new ways, such as one woman who went on to become a pastoral associate at her parish and then became certified to offer spiritual direction.

“I’m always excited to meet new people and find out where they are and take them to the next step,” said Hogan, who now serves as academic dean and associate professor of systematic theology at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary. “The Holy Spirit has been doing these things throughout history. We find these people in a new place and are seeing what the Holy Spirit has been preparing for them and will unleash through them. It’s exciting to see the constellation of gifts the Holy Spirit has prepared this time.”

‘I feel it in my heart’

Gillian “Cookie” Killingsworth was attending a meeting at St. Augustine Parish when her pastor, Msgr. Bob Gettinger, approached her and another woman from the parish. Would you consider attending the Lay Formation Program, he asked.

“Well, we never turn Father Bob down,” Killingsworth said with a laugh. “He said it would be a way to assist him in doing things at the parish.”

Killingsworth and two other parishioners, Eleanor Hickerson and Linda Hancock-Ross, joined the second cohort. One Saturday a month, they attended sessions at the Cardinal Rigali Center, where they spent time in prayer and adoration and participated in conferences on a variety of topics.

Gillian (Cookie) Killingsworth, right, a member of the second cohort of the Lay Formation Program, helped Sharon Johnson with a bill. Killingsworth joined the Lay Formation Program at the request of her pastor, Msgr. Robert (Father Bob) Gettinger, at St. Augustine Parish. She said of the program, “All of this has been focused on showing the love of Christ to others.”
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston
Prior to the Lay Formation Program, Killingsworth was involved at St. Augustine, bringing Communion to the homebound, ushering and lectoring at Masses, and participating in the choir. The time spent in formation has given her a new outlook on serving the parish. Just recently, Killingsworth began helping with a parish ministry that provides utility assistance to people in need. She’s also considering bringing back a door-to-door ministry to invite people from the neighborhood to visit St. Augustine.

Killingsworth said she’s spiritually grown in the last three years and now has a new way of seeing Jesus in others. “Jesus showed a lot of hospitality to others and didn’t shun anyone,” she said. “All of this has been focused on showing the love of Christ to others. We’ve all been soaked in the knowledge. I feel it in my heart.”

The sign

Matt Surdyke went to Mass one morning, where he’d been praying about the direction of his faith life. His then-pastor, Father Jeff Maassen, stopped Surdyke after Mass. “He said, ‘You look like you’re looking for something more,’” Surdyke recalled. “I looked around like, ‘Was I praying out loud or something?’” Father Maassen told him about the Lay Formation Program and asked if he’d consider it.

Initially he was concerned he couldn’t make a three-year commitment because of his work schedule. As owner of Surdyke Motorsports in Festus, Saturday is his busiest. But when he looked at the cohort’s schedule of meetings, he discovered he wouldn’t have a single conflict.

“I took it as a sign,” he said.

The program opened Surdyke’s eyes to reading the word of God through the practice of Lectio Divina, a Benedictine practice of praying with the Scriptures, which helps a person enter into dialogue with the Lord and come in closer communion with Him. The practice led him to start a weekly men’s group at his home, in which they delve into the readings for Sunday Mass. He and his wife, Jennifer, started a similar faith sharing group for couples.

Surdyke also is involved in the Community of Transcendent Men, a ministry formed by men of several parishes in the area that helps them strengthen their relationship with God and His Church and build a community in which they can express their faith with one another.

He described the Lay Formation Program as “a great way to get a little taste of a lot of things” related to the faith. “It was like going to a restaurant where I was able to try something new and then wanting to try it some more.”

While Surdyke has been active in his parish, Our Lady in Festus, since he was a child, the formation has given him the tools to share the faith with others in new ways. “We Catholics tend to keep our faith to ourselves sometimes,” he said. “This has given me the confidence to share my faith with others.”

Lay Formation Program

The Lay Formation Program is a three-year program designed to offer lay men and women an opportunity to deepen their union with Christ and develop an ability to participate in the Church’s mission of evangelization as missionary disciples. The program includes intellectual, spiritual and pastoral formation.

The program fosters a deepened awareness of and openness to the action of God’s grace. They also develop skills to speak to others about the Catholic faith and promotes greater consciousness of the intimate relationship between the love of God and love of neighbor.

Candidates must be recommended by their pastor. They are expected to finish the program eager to serve their parish communities and work in partnership with their pastor. They also agree to offer three years of service to the parish.

The program is offered through the archdiocesan Department of Catholic Education and Formation. There is no charge to attend the program, although participants will need to purchase books. The program is funded by the Annual Catholic Appeal.

Contact your pastor for more information about applying for the next cohort, which begins in the fall. For questions about the program, contact Sister Mary Kathleen Ronan, RSM, at [email protected]

Lay Formation Program stats

First cohort: Began in September 2013; One hundred and nine people were commissioned in May 2016

Second cohort: Began in September 2016; One hundred and twenty four people were commissioned in April 2019

There are 87 archdiocesan parishes that were represented at one or both cohorts. The first cohort had 57 parishes represented, and the second cohort had 62 parishes represented.

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