Catholic schools taught him that Catholicism isn't a spectator sport, but the idea of a baptismal call to lay ministry didn't fully register with Bill Trigg III until recently.

After three decades of service as a leader at Albany Diocese parishes, Mr. Trigg took the next step and went through the diocesan Formation for Ministry Program, which supports lay leaders. He finished the program last fall.

He was inspired to complete FMP by his work during "Called to Be Church," the diocesan pastoral planning process that linked, merged or closed parishes after extensive lay involvement and consultation. Mr. Trigg had participated through the pastoral council at St. Peter the Apostle Church in Stillwater, but concluded he needed a broader perspective.

"I realized I was being called to get more involved," he said. "While I was good at talking the talk, I wasn't so good at walking the walk."

More than 1,000 people in the Diocese completed FMP in the last 30 years, often at the encouragement of Bishop Howard J. Hubbard. Last fall, a new, longer program - the Kateri Institute for Lay Ministry Formation - was formed, allowing Catholics to train for leadership positions and learn more about ecumenical topics.

The launch came five years after the release of the U.S. bishops' pastoral letter, "Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord," which defined the requirements of a lay ecclesial minister and rolled out goals for lay formation nationwide.

"It solidified a real theology behind lay ecclesial ministry," said David Amico, director of the diocesan Office of Ministry Formation.

Bishop Hubbard analyzed the document in a 2008 column in The Evangelist, drawing the distinction between the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial priesthood.

"Lay ministry," the Bishop wrote, "is neither a luxury nor concession brought about by some American desire to democratize the Church or by the current shortage in vocations to the ordained and vowed life.

"Rather, it is the inevitable result of the Second Vatican Council's renewed appreciation of the laity not as mere instruments of the hierarchy, but as the People of God who possess personal gifts and charisms that empower them to contribute their part to the mission of the Church and the transformation of society."

Laypeople can fill some gaps left by the shrinking ranks of priests, but they can't replace clergy, said Mr. Trigg, who is on his parish's pastoral council, prayer and worship committee and Amazing God team, as well as a lector and a eucharistic minister.

"We have our own role to play, though. We're at a time in Church history when the people have got to take more ownership of their faith development" - a life-long process, he added.

His studies helped him appreciate the gift of the Eucharist, the Mass as a place to be in communion with other believers and the call to live the Gospel throughout the week.

"It's not just taking our cue from the pastor," Mr. Trigg asserted. "We're called to be fully engaged in our faith life, and it translates to our daily lives."

Mr. Trigg and Mr. Amico agreed that Bishop Hubbard's guidance has given the Diocese an advantage in forming leaders. The Bishop's 1978 letter on parish leadership, for instance, inspired St. Peter's parish to establish a Christian service committee, which supports a food pantry and fundraises for school supplies and coats. A bereavement program may be in the works, as well.

But more can be done at all parishes. The Diocese plans to form an advisory committee and continue helping Catholics discern whether their vocation involves lay ministry.

This can be tough, Mr. Amico said, because ministry often involves low salaries and fewer professional rewards: "It goes against the tide of our culture."

Ongoing education, especially for parents of young children, may encourage lay vocations, Mr. Trigg said. He suggests working with pastors to offer educational series on Scripture, sacraments and other topics.

"We cannot be elitist about this. Everybody has something important to bring to the community," he said. "My hope is that people will begin to see that it's not just about coming to Mass on Sunday."

Individuals can help out in small ways, too. Mr. Trigg tries to be Christ-like to his colleagues at the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Northeastern New York, where he is CEO.

Said the active Catholic: "It's all about building the kingdom of heaven right now."