A GUIDE FOR CREATING A PARISH VOICE IN YOUR OWN PARISH

Taken from "Parish Voices, A Guide For Creating A Parish Voice In Your Own Parish," May 23, 2002, Copyright © 2002 by Voice of the Faithful, Wellesley, Massachusetts and October 2002 instructions issued by Steve Krueger-Voice of the Faithful-Boston

Adaptation by VOTF - Long Island Membership Committee.  Please send comments and corrections to Joan Bedosky at JBedosky10@aol.com.


Our Mission Statement

To provide a prayerful voice, attentive to the Spirit, through which the Faithful can actively participate in the governance and guidance of the Catholic Church.

Our Goals
  • To support those who have been abused
  • To support priests of integrity
  • To support structural change within Church

From VOTF - Boston

Parish Voice (PV) is the means by which lay Catholics across the country and the world experience the mission and goals of Voice of the Faithful in their own unique community setting.  Each Parish Voice affiliate is an independent group of lay Catholics, generally associated with a specific parish, which live the mission statement and goals of VOTF in a manner they develop.  In this way each PV feels connected to a greater cause while maintaining its own autonomy and independence.

The relationship between Voice of the Faithful, Inc. and the Parish Voice groups in local parishes are that of an independent affiliate.  VOTF, Inc. has adopted a policy for the formation of PV affiliates as well as their right to use the VOTF name and trademarks.  A group of Catholics can form a PV affiliate if a two-thirds majority votes to form a PV affiliate.  There is no restriction as to the type of organization - informal association, corporation, etc - an affiliate can be.  Subsequently, the group must contact their Regional VOTF Coordinator and notify them they have taken such action.  To date VOTF has accepted all affiliates requesting this status.  VOTF grants its affiliates the right to use its name and marks as long as the affiliate agrees to abide by the mission statement, goals and policies of VOTF.

VOTF, Inc.  supports the formation of affiliates in several ways.  Through our Regional Coordinators we facilitate the organization of interested persons within specific geographic areas.  As part of this process we convey the model by which the organization was originally formed, which serves to provide a process for creating organizational identity and cultural integrity throughout VOTF.

Every PV affiliate is entitled to provide a representative to VOTF's Representative Council.  This council has no legal authority, but has been established by the Board of Trustees to provide VOTF with the means for a collective vision of the future of the Catholic Church.  The Representative Council meets on a monthly basis.       

The Parish Voice Affiliate Representative to Council is elected by a 2/3rds majority from a slate presented by the nominating committee of its own PV. Those voting must be registered, participating members of VOTF. Sufficient notice of the time and place of this election must be provided to the affiliate members by the Leader of the affiliate. Each affiliate must have a designated alternate who would be available to attend the council meeting to vote in lieu of the rep if necessary. The responsibilities of the Council Member are:     

1.      to attend all council meetings (in person or by teleconferencing when that is made available; if possible.)

2.      to take an active role in some council committee if possible;

3.      to act as liaison between the Council and the Parish Voice Affiliate;

4.      to gather suggestions for motions to be presented to the Council and to vote in accordance with the affiliates' input; this can be facilitated by PV reps communicating on the Council

      message board on motions to be raised at the Council. These issues

                  could be viewed by all members of the affiliates and Council  members.

5.      to provide feedback information to contact person for distribution to affiliate members;

Long Island VOTF 

Catholics from all over the Rockville Centre Diocese in Long Island are beginning to participate regularly at the VOTF Long Island Regional meetings and become members through our web site.  Now parishioners are starting Voice Affiliates in their own parishes, so that Catholics all over Long Island can begin working on the Voice mission and goals at the local level, with family and friends.  It's in our parishes that we will foster basic lay involvement in the guidance and governance of the church.  And it's in our communities that we can most immediately help the survivors of sexual abuse by priests, support priests of integrity, and work for structural change.

An Asset to the Parish

Priests and parishioners alike are finding that a Voice Affiliate is an asset in the parish community.  The Affiliate offers the pastor another way to reach parishioners and to understand their concerns, and parishioners have found it a healing experience to work with their pastors in meeting the crisis that we face.  The Voice also offers parish staff and pastoral council members an additional way to collaborate. 

In this way, Affiliates of the Voice can help parishes re-think their approach to lay involvement.  These local improvements have an especially empowering effect within a parish because the changes are also part of the larger Voice movement.  At long last, parishioners can feel a sense of involvement that transcends their own parishes, and Catholic laity from different parishes are working together, often for the first time.  Affiliates vote to support Voice of the Faithful mission statement and goals, but they also have the independence needed for them to work freely at the parish level. 

Guidance for Starting a Voice Affiliate

The following suggestions will help you start a Voice Affiliate in your parish.  Every parish is different, and the various steps we suggest will be more or less relevant to your own situation.  You might choose a different order, skip some steps, or come up with your own strategy.  Please let us know about approaches we haven't mentioned, and tell us what your experience is.  We can help you with the process, put you in touch with people who have tried various methods, and speak to your group or help you find other speakers.

1.      Join Voice of the Faithful. Attend VOTF Long Island Regional meetings or a local parish affiliate meeting to see how the format works.  Web site: votf-li.org lists all details.

2.      Talk with your pastor about Voice of the Faithful, and about your interest in starting a Voice Affiliate in the parish.  Invite him to visit the web sites: votf-li.org (Long Island) and votf.org (Boston-National).

Currently Bishop Murphy has banned VOTF from meeting on church property in the Rockville Centre Diocese.  Let your pastor know that he is welcomed to any location where you will be meeting.

Some pastors are very receptive, and you will be able to work together with your pastor on an announcement for the upcoming meeting being placed in the weekly bulletin. If your pastor is willing to mention the meeting at Mass, ask him to do that as well.

Other pastors will be neutral or negative about the idea of a Voice Affiliate.  If an announcement isn't possible, you can have a first meeting to form the Affiliate and plan for a membership drive, or you can publicize the first meeting in other ways (see point#4).  In any case, emphasize to your pastor that the Affiliate will be a constructive group, which will keep him in the loop, and that supporting him in his parish work is one of Voice's main goals.

In the worst case scenario if your pastor is opposed and says he doesn't want an Affiliate in his parish, gently remind him that civil and canon law, and the documents of Vatican II, permit or even urge the faithful to meet.  Assure him that the Affiliate will be constructive and supportive, and promise to keep him in the loop.  If you think it will help, begin as an unaffiliated group of concerned parishioners, and tell your pastor that you'll be considering a transition to Affiliate status in a few months.

3.      Gather a start-up group.  You've already talked with family and friends about the crisis.  Make a list of the ones you think would be interested in an Affiliate-your core group-and ask them each to make their own lists.  The core members can ask their contacts whether they'd be interested in coming to a start-up meeting.  Invite everyone to visit the VOTF Long Island web site: www.votf-li.org.  Keep connected to each other through the email if possible as this is the best way to share information quickly.

4.      Contact committee members or other parish voice affiliates if you need additional help and to inform them you are starting a parish voice.  Information is on the web site: www.votf-li.org

5.      Publicize your first meeting.  As the crisis continues to unfold, more and more parish staff and pastoral council members are becoming sympathetic to Voice of the Faithful.  Ask the people on your master list to talk with any friends they have on the staff or pastoral council or in the various ministries.  If you are a staff or pastoral council member yourself, or are involved in a ministry, talk with your colleagues about the Affiliate.  Word of mouth is very effective.

Advertising in the local papers or flyers is helpful in publicizing your first meeting. 

6.      Help listening sessions evolve into Affiliates.Many parish groups have first held listening sessions on the current crisis, and some listening sessions, or the groups that evolved from them, have voted to become Voice Affiliates.  If the group doesn't have a voting protocol, we recommend a two-thirds vote.

If your group is concerned about retaining full independence, please consider affiliating with the Voice.  In affiliation, your group offers individual membership in the Voice as an option, and at least two members of your group may act as Voice contacts. [Conditions of membership, Affiliate status, and affiliation are still being finalized by the Voice leadership. November 2002]

7.      Emphasize open discussion in your first meetings.  Even if your parish has had listening sessions already, leave plenty of room on the agenda for free and respectful discussion in the early stages.  As the Affiliate finds its identity, keep this feature as an agenda item up-front, so that new members can introduce themselves and talk about their reasons for coming.

8.      Be prayerful in your meetings.In opening ourselves to the Spirit in prayer, we acknowledge our dependence on the movement of the Spirit as we discern our direction as the Voice of the Faithful.  We suggest that you start each gathering with a prayer, followed by hellos to the neighbors sitting around you.  We like to begin with Voice's own "Together We Pray," read antiphonally with several members leading (Attachment A).  Close the meeting with a prayer too.

9.      Be organized at your meetings.Designate someone to prepare a sign-in sheet for every meeting and to maintain an attendance and membership list (including address, phone numbers,  email addresses and parish affiliations).

Designate someone else to take minutes and to distribute them within a day to all members.  Make a commitment to send the minutes via first-class mail to members without email accounts, but also identify a member who can help colleagues get on-line.  The Affiliate person who keeps your minutes should also maintain a binder and a computer folder with all Affiliate materials-minutes, letters to the pastor, flyers, invitations, and the like.

Designate another person to facilitate the meetings.  The facilitator should establish and distribute an agenda before the meeting, and make sure that everyone is comfortable speaking and has the time they need.  A sample agenda is attached (Attachment B).  In the early stages, you'll probably want to spend more time on people's stories.

After a few sessions, vote for officers (such as discussion leader, co-discussion leader, secretary for minutes and documents, membership coordinator, treasurer, and/or computer guru, etc.) and decide on a way to raise funds (passing the hat may be all you need).  Keep the terms of office short, especially in the early stages (three months works well).

10. Be mindful of members' emotions and best ways of working. 

It is imperative that you keep your meetings well-publicized and open to all who want to attend.  You never want an impression left that your group is "taking over."  Every opportunity should be used to publicize your meetings (bulletins, word of mouth, flyers, announcements, etc.).  Always be patient, always listen, and above all, always be compassionate.  Try to obtain a consensus of the group when discussions become somewhat overwhelming. This will help you move the meeting forward.

11.  Identify needs and actions.  After a few meetings, the Affiliate will begin to define its concerns and its plans.  These will vary by parish, but within the range set by the Voice mission and goals. Parishes that have experienced abuse directly might make the survivors in the parish their top priority, and also concentrate on recommending policies to guard against abuse in the future.

Other parishes might emphasize structural reform, and develop a program of readings and speakers to help them understand the issues.  But reform-minded Affiliates are expected to stay very committed to the victims of abuse, and every Voice Affiliate, whatever the parish situation, is expected to reach out to priests of integrity. 

12.  Plan your growth.  An Affiliate in a medium-sized and positive parish might have hundreds at its listening sessions, 30 to 50 members attending initial Affiliate meetings, and 120 members after a year, with 75 coming regularly to meetings.    Plan to use events and other outreach to attract new members.  Keeping the pastor and the pastoral council in the loop will also help you achieve your membership goals.  New members will keep the Affiliate young, and as more parishioners join, the Affiliate's influence in parish life will grow.

13.  Connect with other Affiliates in your diocese.  As Affiliates grow more numerous parishioners are meeting people from other parishes and finding common ground.

14. Work for your Affiliate's goals within Voice's general mission.  Voice of the Faithful was founded to provide the laity with the voice that Vatican II promised us.  Ours is a broad movement that can include the voices of all who sincerely subscribe to our mission statement and goals.  The issues are difficult, and Voice members will often disagree about specific solutions.  When your Affiliate takes a position on an issue, we ask that you state the vote that defines your position (how many Yes, No, Abstained), and that you only take action that has been approved by a two-thirds vote.  Voice of the Faithful is not bound by local Affiliate positions on the issues, but Affiliates are encouraged to send two-thirds resolutions to the Voice steering committee for the entire membership to consider.


Attachment A

Voice of the Faithful Opening Prayer

Leader: VOICE OF THE FAITHFUL, together we pray

1-       For all victims of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests;

We pray always for you.

We mean to be agents of your healing.

Response: We are the Church; we are the Body of Christ.

Hear us, Christ our Strength and Salvation,

Help us all.

2-       For all our brothers and sisters in Faith

as together we struggle to become the Spirit-filled Church we are called to be,

Move us to accept the challenges of reform that are demanded by today's injustices.

Response: We are the Church; we are the Body of Christ.

Hear us, Christ our Truth and Salvation,

Help us all.

3-       For all Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church,

That their hearts and minds be opened to the Church's call to genuine holiness and truth;

A call to inclusion and collaboration with the Faithful.

Response: We are the Church; we are the Body of Christ.

Hear us, Christ our Hope and Salvation,

Help us all.

4-       For all who minister in the name of Jesus Christ and especially for our

Roman Catholic priests.

We pray for your continued faithfulness to the Gospel and to the voice of the Faithful.

Response: We are the Church; we are the Body of Christ.

Hear us, Christ our Strength and Salvation,

Help us all.

5-       We are the Church; we are the Body of Christ.

Strengthen us, fill us with Wisdom,

Lead us to holy action in building up your reign.

Help us to respect our Voice and the voices of all the Faithful.

Response: We are your Church; we are the Body of Christ.

Hear us, Christ our True Life and Salvation.  AMEN


Attachment B

Sample Agenda


7:00      New member gathering and sharing

7:30      Opening prayer and song           

7:45      Discussion

·         Welcome and brief history of Voice of the Faithful

·         Mission and goals of Voice of the Faithful

·         Growth of Voice of the Faithful

·         Personal witness - Brief remarks of attendees

·         Coming events

·         Finances/Collection (if needed)

·         Invited speaker

·         Recruit volunteers

§         Treasurer

§         Secretary

§         Liaison to Regional Voice

§         Discussion Leader

9:00      Closing prayer


Attachment C

Sign Up Sheet

Name _________________________________________________

Address _______________________________________________

______________________________________________________

______________________________________________________

Tel.# _________________________________________________

Email:_________________________________________________

Parish:________________________________________________

I would like to volunteer for: ________________________________

______________________________________________________ 

______________________________________________________

                        Add my name/email address to VOTF-LI Regional Database       

                        I can receive updates and information       


Attachment D

Abbreviated Details For Forming A Parish Voice

What?

  • A parish Voice - a group of loyal Catholics who want to implement the Goals and Mission of the VOTF, bringing to life the Spirit of the Second Vatican Council.
  • We do this on the Parish level.
  • We are a prayerful group.
  • We are a group that provides a place of support where people can share their pain, their hurts and express their anger.

Why?

  • VOTF is a "grass roots" organization.  Parish Voices are a smaller group of local people who get to know one another more deeply so as to effect changes in decision-making on the Parish level, prayerfully working with their Parish priests.
  • This effort is consistent with the rights of the Laity as expressed in Canon Law.

Who?

  • If not you, who?  But you will have the help of the Long Island Regional Voice.  See below *

When?

  • If not now, when?

Where?

  • In local library or fire department meeting rooms, various Veteran's or K of C halls, restaurant facilities, etc.  You may be able to obtain space on religious properties which are not under the control of the Diocese of RVC.  If your group is small, you may be able to meet in homes.

How?

1.       Seek advice from the LI Regional Voice.  See below *

2.       Speak with your pastor, parish priests and staff.  Seek their support.

3.       Publicize by word of mouth and email.  Where permitted, use the Parish Bulletin and make announcements and post flyers.  Most pastors allow this.

4.       Pray. Pray before you meet, and at the start and close of your meetings.  Distribute VOTF materials, as available.  For example, use and encourage our noon day prayer.

5.       Focus on VOTF's Goals and Mission Statement.  Keep the group focused and don't allow unrelated ideas to divert the group's attention.

6.       At the initial meetings, allow plenty of time for sharing. Ask: "Why did you come?"  Permit people to share their pain and emotion.

7.       Elect or appoint temporary leadership, as needed.  You may need co-chairs, a secretary, a treasurer, etc. Spread the work; get volunteers for tasks that arise.

8.       Do not be concerned about "getting things done" at the first meeting.  Listen to people. Be aware that you may need more than one "first meeting" if many first-timers attend your second or even your third meetings.

9.       Collect contributions, if necessary, for rent, printing, etc.

10.   Set a date, place and time for your next meeting.

11.   Urge people to log on to www.votf-li.org and sign up as a member of LI Regional Voice.

12.   Likewise, encourage people to visit www.votf.org and do the same for the National organization.

13.   Collect names, addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses, and parish affiliations.  Forward these to our Membership Coordinator, Sue Baer at 1700 Phillips Drive, Medford NY 11763 (Email: suebaer@optonline.net )

14.    * Regional Voice Membership Committee members that can assist you:

·         Patricia Zirkel, 472 Village Oaks Lane, Babylon Village LI NY 11702-3123

             Tel. 631-669-0273        Email: pzirkel@optonline.net

·         Anne Kerrigan, 20 Boulevard Avenue, West Islip NY 11795

Tel. 631-587-1832        Email: martker@aol.com