In an article today in the National Catholic Reporter regarding Pastoral Councils, Tom Gallagher highlights seven recommendations from Leadership Roundtable Council member Chuck Zech's book Best Practices in Catholic Pastoral and Finance Councils:

  • Leadership should be shared. While the pastor is to preside over the council (Canon 536), shared leadership could include sharing the agenda-setting responsibility or naming a layperson to chair the council.
  • Establish group norms, such as council bylaws. Rules are needed to regulate the behavior of all the council members.
  • Provide parish-based education/formation programs for council members. These programs help the council achieve a level of cohesion, trust and open communication required to be effective.
  • Include a member of the parish finance council on the parish pastoral council. To support communication between these councils, at least one member of the finance council, in addition to the pastor, should be on the parish pastoral council.
  • Communicate with the parish at large. Parishioners need to receive regular communications from the pastor concerning the activities of the parish pastoral council.
  • Match decision-making procedures with the situation. Parish pastoral councils that rely on the discernment/consensus model of decision-making tend to be associated with more effective group processes. But other times, a simple vote works best. The counsel should work at creating a consensus on how it should proceed.
  • Include prayer and faith-sharing as part of the agenda at every meeting. As a faith-based consultative body, the importance of prayer and faith-sharing cannot be overemphasized.

Which of these have you implemented so far and what effect has it had in the parish?  Or what would you add to this list?

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In the Diocese of Metuchen, we recommend 30 minutes of prayer at the beginning of each parish pastoral council meeting. It gets the group into a state of discernment before they take on the business items, and I swear they get more done in the next hour than if they said an Our Father and got down to business for 90 minutes.

Tom Gallagher's article about parish pastoral councils (PPCs) called them a "work in progress."  One reason is a fundamental disagreement about whose apostolate or mission the PPCs serve.  According to one school of thought, the PPC serves the apostolate of the pastor.  The basic evidence for this viewpoint is that pastoral councils were first recommended in Vatican II's "Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops."  That document called for the establishment of pastoral councils, consulted by bishops, which would investigate, consider, and recommend conclusions about church matters.  The recommendation for pastoral councils at the diocesan level was extended to parishes in 1973.  According to this viewpoint, PPCs serve the pastor's apostolate by helping him to make wise decisions by means of the council's research and reflection.
A second point of view, however, conflicts with this one.  According to the second point of view, the basic charter for parish councils was not the Vatican II Decree on Bishops but the Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People.  The evidence for this is that the Laity Decree mentioned councils at the parish level, while the Bishops' Decree did not.  Parish councils for the lay apostolate (as described in the Laity Decree) have the capacity for "coordinating" lay associations, which many people took to mean parish committees and commissions.  According to this viewpoint, parish councils coordinate lay activities in the parish.  The Laity Decree did not, however, describe these councils as "pastoral."
In my view, pastoral councils serve the pastor's apostolate.  That does not mean, however, that such councils are "clerical."  The Church envisions a communion between all members of the Church, and the pastor is seen as the one who strives for that communion.  He does so by consulting his people, asking  them to investigate carefully, to reflect thoroughly, and to recommend wisely.

One of the best faith formation experiences I have been gifted with was a Pastor who provided the Parish Pastoral Council with a current "hot Catholic topic" each month with printed articles from across the wide spectrum of viewpoints within the Church. After an opening period of 10 - 15 minutes of prayer, we would enter into a facilitated and deep discussion on the issue of the month...usually for 45 - 60 minutes. Then the visioning, strategic and consultative work of the Pastoral Council would commence for another 60 minutes. Never boring, always engaging, and learning and faith have been everlasting!

Thanks to Fr. Roger Pierre, a quiet and effective leader!



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