Non Solum: Scheduling Ministers

Anyone who has had to schedule ministers for a liturgy knows how difficult it can be. First, you have to find people willing to minister. Then, you have to get them to show up for their ministry!

A reader recently wrote to me opining about how forgetful people can be. The reader had a few questions for the Pray Tell community:

How do parishes notify liturgical ministers of their schedule? Just publish it in the bulletin? Or do email reminders go out to everyone? Or a text message?

Here at the School of Theology, we have begun using Ministry Scheduler Pro. The functionality is very good, but the interface can be a bit difficult. It automatically schedules people, allows for ministers to request substitutions, sends out reminders or text messages to them, and much more. It has made my life a lot easier. Before Ministry Scheduler Pro, I would manually compile our list of ministers in excel and send out email reminders the day before our liturgies.

I am curious to hear how other communities handle scheduling and reminders. Scheduling ministers is one of the most challenging and significant parts of any liturgist’s job. Any “life hacks” you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

Please comment below.

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48 comments

  1. We’ve been using MSP for years at St Anne in Barrington, and it keeps getting better. The latest improvements include a smartphone app for ministers, and custom fields for profiles. Imports info from other dbases. I understand that the latest rollout from Parishsoft has scheduling functions, but it would be hard pressed to equal this feature set. Best of all, it makes the minister responsible for setting no-dates and changing personal data, freeing up time in the office. To me, it’s been all upside. YMMV of course. Regards.

  2. MSP is great. It can be tricky once people start entering all their “restrictions,” but you need to remind ministers that this is a ministry and not a job. However, the features are great and it is definitely worth the time and money. We recently got a volunteer to take over the program which takes the burden off of one of the parish secretaries.

  3. I agree with the above poster. You can view their website and see the features, but for me, the program is amazing, and they are continually improving it from feedback they receive. I’d point out a few things – the minister inputs their availability. The minister receives a reminder email the week before serving (they set exactly which day they want it). The schedule interfaces with popular calendars (google, iCal…) Text reminders can be added at a slight cost. The minister simply requests a sub if they can’t make it or they may swap with another date. The scheduler can send out emails to everyone or just particular ministries. On the user terminal page there are links to the USCCB readings and more recently a reflection on the Sunday from LTP. You can share files with ministers as well. I don’t find the terminal hard to operate at all. I’d consider us an “average” parish with plenty of older folks, but out of 164 ministers, only 9 are without internet/email access. The ministers themselves compliment how easy and friendly the program is. This is a spectacular program.

  4. In my last parish, I worked on Excel spreadsheets and could tailor schedules pretty well. Before I left, I was asked to set up scheduling software and I think people went back to doing it by hand. The learning curve was high and the data input very time consuming.

    Two of my current parishioners developed a system about 15 years ago. In my judgment it topped what was available in 2008, when I moved there. We would like the capability of online interface, minister initiative on getting subs and filling in empty spots on the schedule. But I have a good team of three people working on schedules and reminders, and who are willing to tweak things as needed.

    I leave it in their hands as to when it might be time to go to a product like this.

  5. We don’t have a whole lot of trouble here, it’s really just lectors and ushers who get scheduled, and that’s manually by the secretary. We don’t use any EMHCs, and in the sanctuary, we have any willing boys serve Mass every Sunday, leaving us with 5-10 servers most Mass acting as thurifer, torches, Master of ceremonies, etc. They organize themselves, under the direction of the MC. It’s an excellent method, and not only does it remove the worry of server scheduling, but it also encourages vocations, builds fraternity among the altar boys, and allows us to use torches, incense, etc, every week.

    1. @Ben Yanke – comment #5:
      This might be a topic for a separate Non solum, but I wonder about the practice of having servers vest and sit/stand in the sanctuary when they have no function (except a decorative one). I know some places do it, but it seems to run counter to the idea of lay ministry in the liturgy. It could seem to plant the idea that the key thing about being an altar server is dressing up, not ministry. If that were the case, I’d hate to think about what sort of vocations that would foster.

  6. hey ben…..can i assume that your parish have no female servers? mea culpa if i am wrong. Yes, male servers can promote vocations but so does having the girls up there with the boys. Vocations, in all its flavors and options, are for everyone.
    Anyway, at my last parish, we had to schedule 6 lectors, 6 sacristans, 18 servers, 24 ushers and 48 communion ministers each weekend….all done via emails! I have not used MSP but i am sure it works better than what i had to use. schedules went out mid month for following month and ministers were responsible to find subs, etc. All non scheduled ministers were trained to “check in” upon arrival to see if they were needed. I was blessed with great people and it worked pretty well.

  7. We tried two other scheduling programs before choosing MSPro in 2008 and it has been hassle free since then. The major issues of the past, which included families not being scheduled together, a fair distribution of assignments, and poor attendance because ministers forgot their schedules have been eliminated.

    The biggest benefit to our ministers is the email reminders about service and ease of arranging a substitute (so our attendance rate is now nearly 100%) . The biggest benefit to me is the time saved. The last schedule run on a competing program took 27 hours between two people with spreadsheets filling all the “holes” left by what was supposed to be an automatic scheduler. Now, with MSPro, I create a four month schedule in about an hour, and spend only a few minutes a day in the two weeks leading up to a schedule checking to make sure ministers have submitted their “Can’t Serve” dates correctly.

    Like Rory (#1 above) we have ministers submit their own “Can’t Serve” dates, which takes the middle man (me) out of that function. Out of nearly 525 ministers, only 11 don’t have internet access to do that themselves.

    The problem at first was getting ministry heads who had been doing the scheduling to give up their control. But once the ministers began experiencing the communication benefits. they quickly got on board. The usual problems we experience now are people clicking a wrong setting for their profile, but MSPro lets you set limits on what they can change and what needs your approval.

    Another parish in the area experienced problems with MSPro by trying to be too specific in their ministry titles, creating roles like “Cup Minister # 4” because their people would only serve in certain spots, which to my mind points to a problem of catechesis on ministry than a problem with the scheduling program.

    Bottom line from my viewpoint – it’s pricey (monthly maintenance fees on top of the license) but very beneficial for both ministers and schedulers.

  8. Deacon,

    No, they actually all have duties, in almost every case (probably 95% of Masses). As you may know, during the consecretation, at least 12 servers are required if you use the full ceremonies of torches, thurifer + boat, bells, and Master of Ceremonies next to the celebrant.

    Obviously, we strip that down if we have less, only using 4 torches, but you get the idea. It’s rather rare that servers come and don’t have a role. They are just not determined until 5-10 minutes before Mass (and no training is typically needed, because they are all well trained and know how to do everything, except the role of MC)

    And as for seminarians sitting in choir, that does often happen when they are in town (easter morning we had 6 come iirc), but that’s completely different.

  9. Also, interestingly, this is the same model that my bishop, Bishop Robert Morlino, uses at the cathedral, except that full ceremonies require even more servers there, such as the miter and crosier bearers in the vimpae and a second MC (the principal MC handles the bishop’s pontificals alone, and the second MC guides servers where needed, I’ve done both 🙂 )

    1. @Ben Yanke – comment #10:
      It’s always interesting to see how different places handle these things. My parish employs no servers at all, and when he visited, the archbishop was perfectly comfortable with the situation. He brought a small stand for crosier and miter. I rather liked the simplicity of him handling things all by himself. I suspect that in most American parishes, there would be appreciation for a streamlined approach, and a focus on the essence of the Mass rather than what many would see as peripherals.

  10. We use MSP at my workplace, and it seems to work very well for everyone.

    At my worship parish Lectors are scheduled by the person coordinating the ministry. Altar servers are handled similarly, which, FWIW, consist of male and female servers, both children and adults.

    We do not schedule EMEs, people sign in if they wish to assist, when they arrive at mass. I did not like this at all when I first got there, especially when I was the liturgical coordinator at the 4pm mass, running around at 3:55 trying to find 3 more EMEs. More people have been trained over time, so it is not typically a problem.

      1. @Scott Smith – comment #15:
        Too many words, and even letters to describe a simple role. I find CM best and use it in long form: Communion Minister.

        And for people who insist on following RS 156 to the letter, not even acronyms are acceptable. Though if a person insists on the shortened rendition, one would have to get the caps right: emoHC.

      2. @Scott Smith – comment #17:
        You mean emE.

        I think the whole discussion is silly. Names, labels, what-have-you are meaningless without reverence for people and for God. RS often fails the sniff test in both regards.

      3. @Todd Flowerday – comment #18:

        Todd,

        You are being disingenuous. If you thought it was silly, you would just do as the Church directs, because it would not be worth the effort to do otherwise.

      4. @Scott Smith – comment #20:
        Hi Scott,

        Not at all. I came to a parish with an existing lingo, and truthfully: it’s not worth the effort to change it. My parishioners honor the ministry of the ordained priest, as do I. CM’s I know have full awareness of their role and by and large, are grateful for it, and honor the opportunity to serve.

        I suspect my lack of respect for the intent behind RS rankles. But that such a document leaves open the opportunity for folks like Ben who indeed really know what EME means, but who use the designation as a wedge to drive Catholics camp from camp, rather reinforces my argument that RS hurts rather than helps the Church.

      5. @Todd Flowerday – comment #30:

        Todd,

        Oh, that I can understand, and as I said above CM seems less of an issue to me than EME. I am Australian – We shorten everything.

        But yes, the lack of respect does rankle, and those ignoring it seem more guilty of driving wedges. It really is harder to dissent than follow, so when people insist it is no big deal while dissenting, I tend to smell a rat.

  11. “Names, labels, what-have-you are meaningless without reverence for people and for God.”

    A very silly argument. Are you really trying to say that it’s more difficult to be reverent when you use the term EMHC instead of EME?

  12. No. Ben was being disingenuous.

    I have little doubt that he knew exactly what “EME” referred to. And that he used a phony question simply to stir up another “trads vs progs” argument, on a topic that has nothing whatever to do with this.

    Enough already. Please, take the righteous indignation back to the Chant Cafe, or Fr Z’s site, or Rorate Caeli, or anywhere but here.

    I speak only for myself — I have no moderating authority here. But the constant bickering is getting very tiresome.

    1. @Jonathan Day – comment #21:

      Jonathan,

      I don’t know. I had never heard of it before this thread, or the fact its use is not allowed, and had to look it up.

      Further, if it is such a non-issue, why do people use that terminology? If it is making a point, it is fair to call people up on it. And if its not making a point, why use it?

    2. @Jonathan Day – comment #21:
      I agree with you, Jonathan. The bickering is getting very tiresome.

      Lets get this thread back on topic instead of getting bogged down in a pointless and fruitless discussion on acronyms and titles which has no bearing on the topic at hand. How this post has turned into another OF vs. EF argument is beyond me. If you want to engage in an OF vs. EF discussion do it on a post which calls for such a discussion. This is not one of those posts.

  13. “Trads vs progs argument”

    Considering how clear the church is on the matter, I don’t think it’s a trad vs progressive issue, it’s an issue of obedience.

    1. @Ben Yanke – comment #22:
      To shibboleth it in this manner is an offense against charity and is not a service to Truth, in case you didn’t realize that. It turns truth into a game. It’s playing petty.

    2. @Ben Yanke – comment #22:
      Considering how clear the church is on the matter, I don’t think it’s a trad vs progressive issue, it’s an issue of obedience.’

      Fair point I guess; can I see your badge Officer Fife? (With apologies to overseas persons not familiar with The Andy Griffith Show)

      @ Scott #24:
      I don’t know. I had never heard of it before this thread, or the fact its use is not allowed, and had to look it up.’

      I think you just answered the question before you asked it. In my world, Jesus asks us to believe, to be faithful and to be charitable with one another. Nit-picking arcane points few know about fosters none of those things.

      1. @Charles Day – comment #25:

        No, it really does not answer my question. Someone is using these terms intentionally. Why? If it does not matter, why not just do what the Church suggests?

        Sure, it is not world ending. And I am no ones idea of the Temple Police.

        But just out of interest, I would like to understand. Is that too much to ask?

  14. But nit-picking is such a fun substitute, isn’t it. I write that fully acknowledging how powerfully tempting it is.

  15. For what it’s worth, the official title in my former diocese was “Lay Minister of Holy Communion”, which makes it very clear that such ministers are in no way clerics, which is presumably what those who insist on the (absurd) use of the word “extraordinary” are concerned about.

    In England and Wales as a whole, the official title is “Commissioned Minister of Holy Communion” which makes it clear (a) that they are not clerics because they are commissioned, not ordained, and (b) that they have an official status precisely because they have been commissioned.

  16. Just love it – thought only Rev. MacDonald and I foisted this stuff on the readers of PTB.
    Yep, it really is a waste of time and Jonathan nailed it in #21.
    Sorry, Ben, agree – go back to wherever – oh yeah, Morlino….and this description says it all: “…..during the consecretation (SP?),at least 12 servers are required if you use the full ceremonies of torches, thurifer + boat, bells, and Master of Ceremonies next to the celebrant.”

    Ah, yes – nothing but a *Clerical Opera* with little boys. (but, yes, per SP you are obedient (at least to one Pope’s motu propio…not sure that includes what the council fathers did during VII)

    We use EMCs – seems to work for most folks just fine and are both overjoyed and very supportive/thankful when folks volunteer and come prepared when they are scheduled.

    Todd – RS created quite a stink in some of our parishes specifically with some women. RS reminds me of the new missal – same approach, attitude, ignoring SC and VII, an over-reach and backwards movement to satisfy the Temple Police (who, obviously, are very obedient).

  17. I find MSP very helpful. Previously we did scheduling by hand, with copious post-it notes, phone calls back and forth, etc. Since we adopted MSP last year it’s helped us to recruit a number of new ministers because of how well it handles their availability, family schedules, service preferences, etc.

    It’s a challenge to communicate with parishioners given their wide range of communication habits. Many older people don’t do email, so mail and phone is best for them. Middle-aged adults prefer email, though some get emails almost instantly while others may take several days to read or reply. Many college and high school students think email is for dinosaurs and only use text messages and social media. MSP does a good job of integrating all of these different channels of communication.

  18. Nathan,

    How you think this is EF vs OF here is beyond me, considering the scope of EMHCs only being used in the OF. It’s simply a discussion of incorrect terminology, a terminology that RS is clear we should be using correctly.

    1. @Ben Yanke – comment #35:
      I removed a few comments last night that were about the EF. So yes, the thread was moving towards an EF vs. OF discussion. You are correct that the thread which remains is not EF vs. OF. I should have been more specific in my comment. I am also aware that the use of EMs is particular to only the OF.

      The fact remains that it is absolutely silly that we are discussing the proper name for EMs. The Church is faced with much bigger problems than whether we are referring to EMs according to RS. Kevin Seasoltz has some words of wisdom in this regard:

      “A responsible approach to liturgy and law is never fostered by an anxious, suspicious, fearful, or rigid attitude that inhibits both a true and fruitful development of Christian faith…The most profound change has to be that of the heart, which takes place through the power of the spirit who comes to us in the celebration of the liturgy as well as in other ways. Both liturgy and law must promote fullness of life in preparation for the day when the Lord will come again to make all things new.” [Kevin Seasoltz, “Liturgy and Ecclesiastical Law,” in A Commentary on the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, eds. Edward Foley, Nathan Mitchell, and Joanne Pierce (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 2007), 45.]

      His article on how to interpret rubrics and Canon Law is extremely good. I highly recommend it.

      Thanks for allowing me to clarify my comment. I knew it would cause some confusion.

      1. @Nathan Chase – comment #39:
        Let’s keep this in mind next time someone says that it’s wrong to remove a free standing altar and revert to using the high altar in an older church.

  19. I regret that we keep getting off topic, but I’ll throw out one comment. In an effort to elevate the role of the priest as an Ordinary minister, and diminish the role of the lay person as an Extraordinary minister, the churchy folks have effectively done the opposite. For everyone but Latin scholars, the word “ordinary” means “with no special or distinctive features, average”
    while the word “extraordinary” means “remarkable, unusually great, of the highest quality.”

    Who would settle for an Ordinary Minister of Holy Communion if he could have an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion? You deserve the very best!

  20. I started to write this comment earlier, and stopped, but after some prayer, and I hope with charity, I will offer my thoughts.

    Once again, a post has gotten bogged down and veered off topic, due to the intense focus on minutiae that is related to (perhaps) the post. The minutiae is further bogged down when we start (and I say we, because I am guilty of this at times myself) driving down stakes into our our little liturgical corners – who knows more, who is liturgically correct, who is pastoral, who is this or that.

    I appreciate PT blog for so many things – great community, a wonderful resource for so many topics, liturgical and ecclesial, not to mention prayer! However, these are the kind of thread that have caused me to have meltdowns in the past. Today I prayed for moderation, may it be so. And FWIW, others will email me and say, “I feel the same way, but I don’t say anything.” My loud mouth it appears is both gift and burden.

    But do we feel so much better if we follow each rubric to nth degree? Where does the dynamism of holding living rubrics and pastoral practice and need meet? Both things matter, but…

    With that I say peace to all, and despite the challenges, the gifts of Pray Tell Blog are far more abundant, thus I gratefully remain.

  21. Hello, all. Been circling at the outer marker for a while now, but never felt too qualified to land. However, I feel more qualified to write about this topic, so here goes…

    Compared to many other scheduling programs that our parish has tried (and they have been legion), MSP has been by far the best. The company who programmed our previous one went belly-up, only after their tech support department stopped answering my numerous bug reports. For nearly a year, I did all my own tech support, so it’s a good thing I have some troubleshooting experience (and friends in IT departments).

    The biggest bonus for us with MSP was the new custom fields. We have to track just about anything you can imagine, so I recently had to create about 25 custom fields. Since then, I have been entering data like crazy. Once I enter all the data, I’ll be able to discontinue using 2-3 Excel spreadsheets and at least 1-2 databases, so this is pretty keen stuff for us.

    BTW, if anyone has any questions or thoughts about MSP customizing or tweaking, I’d be game to trade notes (separate thread or off-line).

    (P.S. – With regards to the whole acronym / RS debate, for the record, we started using “EMHC” and “Reader” (moved from “EM” and “Lector”) a few years ago after some discussions amongst the worship commission.)

    1. @Paul Fell – comment #44:
      Paul, I’m curious how you’re using the custom fields. 25? wow. We may start tracking ministry training in a custom field, but what else are you doing?

      1. @Scott Pluff – comment #45:

        Hi, Scott. Didn’t I see somewhere that you were working in Illinois? We may have to talk about that separately–I may have connections around those parts.

        Well, as far as custom fields go, we’re tracking CPR / AED training, general ministry training / commissioning / promotion (for certain ministries), school / grade (for Servers), child protection certifications, some Holy Day serving prefs., wedding / funeral availability…the list goes on. The main reason for this level of granularity is to allow greater flexibility with report generation and list filtering. I have a huge number of custom reports and email templates that are based on search criteria, so I’m using the custom fields to sort, report on, and email different sets of ministers. Quite a time-saver. In some cases, I had to split one field into multiple fields to insure that reports and filtering are possible in the manner that is required.

        Almost as soon as I installed MSP, I contacted the company about custom fields. One benefit of our last program was that we could export everything into MS Access and program our own reports. Since MSP doesn’t have that export capability, the alternative was to move the data INTO MSP, but that required custom fields. So I’ve been waiting, as patiently as I can, for this feature.

    2. @Paul Fell – comment #44:

      In my own parish they are rarely referred to (ie the newletter might occasionally say “Readers / EMHCs please pick up your schedule from the back of the church” or “volunteers needed” but mostly they walk up to the altar at the appointed time without being called up) – so the most common descriptor is “ministers to the sick and housebound”, who are the only EMHCs actually called up (after the post communion and announcements, before the final blessing).

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