Collaboration is the practical dimension of the spirituality of communion. It is a way of relating and working together in the life of the Church. In simpler terms, collaboration is communion in mission. The term collaboration has generally been associated with ministry – as in “collaborative ministry” or in terms of preparing minister to indulge in collaborative ministry – “formation for collaborative ministry.” This connotation has flown from the assertion of Vatican II that the Church has many ministries, which are needed for the building up of the body of Christ; and that through Baptism everyone shares in the common priesthood of Christ. Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation, Christifideles Laici took these principles as a starting point, and developed them further. Founded in the sacraments of baptism and confirmation, lay ministries are tasks, roles and gifts of the Spirit that are given for building up the body of Christ. The Holy Spirit: 'lavishes diverse hierarchical and charismatic gifts on all the baptized, calling them to be, each in an individual way, active and co-responsible.’ The ministries laypeople exercise 'exist in communion and on behalf of communion' and should be acknowledged and fostered by pastors.
The first is with regard to the notion of collaboration for ministry. While there is an acceptance of the different roles that the laity can play in the church, the underlying structure still continues to be the hierarchical model of the church. Call it collaboration, but in reality laity are now being asked to be “helpers” in the church. If to be an agent of communion requires that we are called to challenge structures of injustice, then we need to question the underlying assumption that power still lies with the hierarchy. To emphasize this point, I would like the reader to ponder whether it is possible for a lay person to initiate any attempt of collaboration. It does sound pretty improbable. What collaborative ministry really implies is that because the power lies with the hierarchy – the Bishop, pastor or priest, the initiative for collaborative ministry must originate from them.
It must be clarified that I am not against organizational structures. They have a role and a purpose in the life of an institution. But when the structure continues to perpetuate an imbalance of power, then one must fulfill the prophetic calling of baptism and challenge the ‘sinful’ structure. If as Capuchins we ascribe to fraternal economy, it is important to examine whether we actually learn to collaborate on equal terms with all.
The second question pertains specifically to the process of organized formation. In order to gain the skills of collaboration, it is suggested that these skills not be taught solely in the abstract. They should be:
While collaboration is a sine qua non of the exercise of ministry in he Church, the ability to collaborate with others is nonetheless a skill – or better, involves a set of skills–that cannot be taught solely in the abstract, but must also be “caught” through involvement in the dynamic interactions of situated learning, conflict management, and group problem-solving. In developing the skills for ordained and lay ministers to work together respectfully as colleagues, there is no substitute for their beginning actually to collaborate with each other in as many settings and in as broad a scope of ministerial activities as possible.
Once again there is no disputing the logic of this assertion. In order to learn the skills of collaboration we need to include in our curriculum not just the working with lay people – men and women, but also be open to being taught by them. The question that I would like to raise, however, is with regard to the formational community itself. Do the staff members of the formation community model collaboration among themselves? What about collaboration between the formators and those being formed? As formators do we dare to involve them as partners in our own ongoing formation? There is an element of mutuality in collaboration. We touch others and help them to grow; and they in turn touch us and help us to grow. If as formators, we think that we are the imparters of knowledge; that we are the ones to give, then we block out the possibility of grace flowing into our lives from our own brothers. Therefore, I believe that formators must learn to make it a principle that during the period of formation they are teacher-learners, while their students are learner-teachers.