Here Comes MAC! Baltimore's Brave New Conference

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If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader—John Quincy Adams

I am psyched. I'm heading to Baltimore in March for a major new Catholic conference that seeks to bring hope to the Church by developing leaders in all areas of Catholic life and ministry.

The MidAtlantic Congress for Pastoral Leadership launches its first annual event March 8-10 at the new Baltimore Hilton, only a few blocks from the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, with the bracing theme, "Witness Hope!"

A joint effort of the Association of Catholic Publishers (ACP) and the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the "MAC," as its visionaries call it, seeks to:

  1. Bring the best of Catholic pastoral ministry, religious education/catechesis, and theology to parish leadership
  2. Provide an opportunity for parish and school leaders to network with each other and meet in peer groups for support and enrichment with possibility of these meetings continuing through informal groups and emerging social media following the conference
  3. Provide an opportunity for parish and school leaders to dialogue with the publishing community to discuss ministry resources and develop best practices
  4. Provide an opportunity for skills development
  5. Celebrate our faith through prayer and worship
  6. Finally, for ACP members, it is hoped that this congress will provide a tangible benefit to its catechetical, liturgical, trade and music publishing members and support for the ACP.
    (Courtesy of Paul Henderson, MAC co-chair, and Director of Operations and Project Management, USCCB Communications)

Recalling the now-defunct East Coast Conference for Religious Education, ACP's Executive Director, Therese Brown, who is also MAC's General Coordinator, explains that in recent years the types of leaders in dioceses, parishes, and Catholic schools has noticeably shifted. "For decades, most ministry leaders were full-time staff, often religious, with master's degrees." But in recent years lay ministers are more likely to be part-time staff. Many are volunteers. "They have different needs," she says.

"Without the ECC," explains conference co-chair, and Baltimore's Executive Director of the Department of Evangelization, Fr. John Hurley, CSP, "there was no catechetical conference on the east coast to provide for those needs." So when the ACP approached the Archdiocese of Baltimore about creating something unique, Archbishop Edwin O'Brien gave his full support.

The location made good sense for several reasons, says Fr. Hurley. "When the ACP came to us, they needed a location that would be accessible to large numbers of people. At that time, many dioceses had begun to restrict travel," he says, so it was unlikely that east coast parishes would be sending their staffs to events in Los Angeles or Dallas.

"With the economy faltering, attendance numbers at all such conferences are down," he says, "and hotel prices north of Philadelphia are too high for an event like this to be feasible." So giving the MAC a permanent home in the more reasonably-priced and centrally-located city of Baltimore made good sense for attendees.

And it's good for Catholic publishing, too. Fr. Hurley explains. "Conferences like this help publishers get their resources out to their markets, but it also helps them to find new authors. We wanted to do this conference in a new way. We didn't want to have the same people keynoting, just recycled from other events. We have a mix of headliners and new authors and theologians."

As inspiration for the new congress, Brown cites the USCCB's Lay Ecclesial Ministry Project (2005) and its signature document.

"Coworkers in the Vineyard of the Lord" is the bishops' pastoral statement on lay ecclesial ministry. It was the outgrowth of a longer process of observation and reflection on the part of the bishops that started many years ago, on the reality of the leadership of the laity in the parish. The MAC builds on the call of the bishops to form lay leaders for their roles in the life of the Church. All of our presentations will come from a leadership perspective," she says. "Hopefully, one of the outcomes is that attendees will feel more strongly and passionately about their call to ministry."