Manual for Parish Pastoral Councils
Overview Formation Models Membership Resources Help

Steps for Forming a Parish Pastoral Council

Once a pastor recognizes the value of a council, he inquires how to form one. "Communion and Consultation" the Los Angeles Parish Councils guideline already points him toward the principal documents of the Church and toward popular literature about councils. However, a pastor wants to consult with those who have experience in councils. The staff of the archdiocesan Pastoral Councils of the Synod Implementation Office provides personal consultation as well as seminars and training sessions for parish staff and volunteers. It is ready to share its experience about councils, to assist in establishing them, and to help form new members.

The Parish Staff

When a pastor decides to establish a council, he should involve the parish staff. Staff members will want to know the pastor's motive for consulting a council. They will need to understand the relationship between the expertise they provide and the practical wisdom which non-experts can offer. Councils of non-experts, they should know, give pastoral matters the benefit of practical investigation and analysis. Councils seek to discern, from among the many things, which experts judge to be possible and desirable, the wise and prudent course for the particular parish. The work of the council is time-consuming, but well spent when meetings are planned and orderly. Councils have a perspective and gifts, which complement the work of parish staffs. Pastors will want to inform and consult their staff members about the content and form of council meetings. What, for example, are the areas in which the parish's pastoral program could benefit from investigation and analysis? What aspects of parish life (such as the Pastoral Initiatives, Priorities and Strategies established through the Synod of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, worship, education, charity, and evangelization) need attention? Parish staffs can help pastors define the topics which councils can then explore.

The Steering Committee

Once the pastor has decided that he wants a council, and once the staff understands its relation to that future council, then the pastor will want to establish a Steering Committee. The task of the committee is to steer the process leading to the formation of the council. The committee recommends to the pastor its practical conclusions about the council. For this committee, the pastor will want to choose parishioners and staff members who are dedicated to the council idea. The pastor also wants to engage a competent facilitator. The tasks of the Steering Committee are as follows:

  1. To define the purpose of the proposed pastoral council
  2. To educate parishioners about that purpose
  3. To invite parishioners to participate in the council;
  4. To oversee the selection of council members; and
  5. To draft a constitution, operational guidelines or foundational document for the council.

To achieve its first task, the Steering Committee must develop a statement of the council's purpose. This will form the basis of a constitution or foundational document about the council. It should state the purpose of councils in general, as expressed in the teachings of the Church. Moreover, it should define when the council meets, the duration of council meetings, and how members are to be chosen. Here an experienced facilitator can ensure that the Steering Committee understands the role and function of the pastoral council. The facilitator can clarify the various ways in which councils are structured, and help the Steering Committee reach practical conclusions to be recommended to the pastor. Deciding these matters is the Steering Committee's first task.

The second and third tasks of the Steering Committee are to educate parishioners about the proposed council and invite their participation. There are many ways to accomplish these tasks, but the most effective is to invite all interested parishioners to a series of open meetings. In the meetings, the pastor and the Steering Committee state the motive for a pastoral council. They explain why the pastor wants to establish a council. They also ask parishioners to suggest topics for the future council's study and reflection. In this way, the Steering Committee members educate parishioners and invite their participation.

The fourth task of the Steering Committee is to oversee the selection of new council members. In the last chapter we identified the general principles which underlie councilor selection. These were the general principles about the need for gifts to serve effectively on a council, for clearly stated expectations from the pastor, and for allowing parishioners to share in the discernment of council members. Each one is important. If a pastor gives parishioners a clear introduction to the importance of consulting, tells them about the kind of people he is trying to recruit for the council, and creates opportunities for them to get to know potential members, then parishioners are well able to help select a new council.

Pastoral councils can have a big impact on the parish staff and on the congregation. Pastors who want to establish a council need to plan for it. Such planning should begin with the Church's vision of councils and should draw upon the wisdom of experienced practitioners. Pastors should also consult their staff members. When the parish staff understands the role of the council, staff members can help identify the pastoral matters which the council will study and the way in which the council will approach them. The nuts and bolts of establishing the council, however, belong to a Steering Committee. Such a committee clarifies the operation of the council, educates parishioners and invites their participation, and oversees councilor selection.

We have shown how to cultivate a new council. The steps are somewhat laborious but worth the effort. The pastor who plants his council in well-tilled soil will reap a harvest of careful investigation, thorough reflection, and sound advice. The members of such a council will have the satisfaction of putting their gifts at the service of the parish--gifts of patient study, careful consideration, and practical recommendations. Pastoral councils cannot take the place of a parish staff and dedicated volunteers. But they can help ensure that the parish mission is well thought out and carefully planned.