Diocesan Guidelines for Pastoral Councils
'A vision without a task is but a dream.
A task without a vision is drudgery.
A vision and a task is the hope of the world.'
- Mission and Vision
- The wisdom of the above quotation serves as the context
in which these Guidelines for Pastoral Councils are being
offered. We hope to assist parish leaders to shift their focus
from the programmatic and finance-driven concerns that tend
to take precedence in motivating parish planning, to the creation
of a greater awareness of the centrality that zeal for the
mission of Christ Jesus must play in the life of the parish.
Without denying the importance of activity and fiscal responsibility,
when a parish is more keenly aware of the 'larger vision'
proposed by the Gospels and taught by the Church, it will
find itself energized by a sense of mission and directed to
matters that do more than fill the annual calendar.
- 'The parish is a privileged place where the faithful concretely
experience the Church.' Although one′s family of
origin generally offers the most intimate and basic formation
in faith, the parish is the place where a person first experiences
a community of faith and where one is formed and sustained
in that faith.
- The essential mission of every parish is evangelization,
that is, proclaiming and witnessing to the Good News of the
Gospel. Although all parishes hold that in common, each parish,
as a definite community of the Christian Faithful, has a unique
mission. So, each parish must prayerfully discern and articulate
the Gospel call in its own way.
- The specific mission of a parish, articulated in the parish
mission statement, is determined by the gifts and charisms
of the local Church, the needs of the people of God, and the
means by which the community can respond to those needs in
a spirit of Christian stewardship.
- The parish mission, then, is a unique and particular way
in which each parish places its gifts and talents at the service
of the Diocese and the universal Church.
- Role of the Pastoral Council
- The term 'pastoral' applied to the Council, reflects its
unique role in collaborating with the pastor, and where applicable,
with the associate pastors and pastoral ministers, and is
a visioning body. The role of the Pastoral Council in this
model, as opposed to the political model, is, through ongoing
long range pastoral planning, to maintain the integrity of
the parish mission and the objectives and goals related to
it, not to run the day-to-day activities of the parish. Within
this model, the events and programs that take place in the
course of a year through the efforts of many dedicated parishioners
and pastoral staff, continue, but always in the context of
the parish mission and its pastoral plan.
- The Council serves as a forum of consultation for the pastor
and members, primarily by engaging them in ongoing dialogue
about the needs, feelings, hopes and reactions of parishioners.
The purpose of this interaction is to foster the process of
pastoral planning and decisions, in the light of the parish
mission and vision.
- Pastoral planning begins with and is sustained by a process
of discernment and assessment. Through prayer, study and listening,
the pastor and Council begin to identify and prioritize the
ways in which the parish is being called to live out its specific
- A Council must develop a relationship of trust among its
members which reflects the ideal and responsibilities of our
faith. This relationship is very important to honest dialogue
and earnest care for the parish.
- The Council has a special responsibility to provide information
and advice for long-range planning in the parish. Council
members should seek to know the people of the parish well.
Consequently, Councils are encouraged to develop ways of formally
and informally surveying the parish-at-large in order to find
out the peoples′ needs, hopes and dreams and how the
parishioners feel about different areas of the parish. Likewise,
parishioners should know who the Pastoral Council members
are and contact should be facilitated by the parish. Listing
Council members′ names in the parish bulletin, posting
them on web sites are two advisable examples.
- The Pastoral Council is made up of the pastor, (administrator)
and eight to twelve parishioners. Smaller parishes
may choose to have fewer members, but a minimum of five parishioners
is required. Each Council member must have a sense of responsibility
for all parishioners not just for a particular group.
- Length of Service: There is no set term
that must be applied always. However, for practical reasons,
it is recommended that the length of service for Council members
be no less than three years (excluding the need for a member
to resign), and no more than six years. When making decisions
about length of service, it is important to keep in mind continuity
and stability, so it is advisable for terms to be staggered.
- Criteria for selection:
- Every Council member should be an active, believing
- Each member should be a participant in the ongoing life
of the parish, especially Sunday Eucharist.
- Members should see their work on the Council as their
major contribution to the life of the parish during their
term of office. Members ought not to be so overly involved
in the day-to-day parish work that it would interfere
with their Council work.
- Each member should accept the responsibility to attend
diocesan and parish training programs to enable new members
to come to the Council with some orientation and background.
- The Council′s nominating and selection procedures
should provide a practical way of ensuring a diversity
of voices, but it is not necessarily to be done by geographical
area or by parish groups.
- Additional characteristics to look for in selecting
- 'a desire for spiritual growth in oneself and in the
- enthusiasm about the future directions of the parish
- willingness to listen, to speak honestly, and work toward
- the ability to inspire and empower others and to delegate
- flexibility and openness with people and ideas'
- Process of Selection: The process used
for identifying and selecting members for the Parish Pastoral
Council will vary from parish to parish. There is an advantage
to be gained by providing some opportunity for the entire
parish to be included in some way. This may occur by having
parishioners identify potential parish leaders through communal
prayer and a planned discernment process. As a suggestion,
the process may include some or all of the following:
- 'public and private prayer throughout the entire time
of discerning new members
- education and formation of parishioners on the role
of the parish Pastoral Council
- explanation of particular qualities and gifts necessary
for this leadership ministry
- an open invitation to parishioners to identify potential
parish leaders, either self or others
- an information session for those who have been identified
- a discernment session to select new members'
- The Pastoral Council and Parish Leadership
- The Pastor and the Pastoral Council
- The Pastor has the important task of incorporating a
sense of real consultation in the way he leads the parish.
To do this well he must establish a good relationship
of collaboration with his associate pastors, other pastoral
ministers, religious serving in the parish, and his people.
- One of the most important ways that the pastor shows
respect for the talents and abilities of parishioners
is by involving them in the activities and planning of
- By convening a Pastoral Council a pastor is committing
himself to the task of including his parishioners in the
long-range planning for the future of the parish and the
fulfillment of its mission. Their faith, gifts, and wisdom,
and their intimate knowledge of the parish and its people,
can bring enormous rewards to his ministry and to that
of his associates. A Council of Ministries could be recognized
as the equivalent of a Pastoral Council.
- The pastor should help develop a truly Christian process
for selecting Council members, that is, a process developed
consultatively and based upon the principles of the Church.
The process should involve in some way the pastor′s
approval of those who are selected to serve on the Council.
If a serious pastoral need arises he must be able to ask
a member to leave the Council, but he should discuss with
that member the reason why this is necessary.
- The pastor should provide opportunities for the Council
to grow spiritually. He is encouraged to provide leadership
in prayer and avenues for development of the faith of
the Council members.
- The pastor may have to provide outside help for the
continued training of members or for the better facilitation
of Council meetings. In this way the Council members can
grow more proficient in their ministry.
- The Ministry Staff and the Pastoral Council
- By 'staff' is meant those who provide leadership in
the day-to-day running of the parish. What constitutes
'staff' may vary from parish to parish.
- The staff generally has its own unique role apart from
the Council, and its own relationship to the pastor and
his decisions. By virtue of their specialized training
and job-responsibilities, staffs execute the professional,
practical, and administrative tasks that implement the
goals, policies, and programs established by parish. While
the staff has its own regular meetings with the pastor,
a staff member may be invited by the pastor to participate
in a Pastoral Council meeting even when he or she is not
an actual Council member.
- It is also advisable for the entire staff to meet with
the entire Pastoral Council at least once each year (preferably
for a whole day) to discuss areas and concerns of mutual
importance. This kind of meeting could be useful for establishing
parish goals that focus the agenda of both groups for
- Staff members may themselves ask to be invited to a
Pastoral Council meeting whenever they need the Council′s
help or have something to discuss which is of importance
to the Council.
- Leaders of Parish Ministries and the Pastoral Council
- The diverse and often numerous ministries in a parish
present a particular challenge to coordination of effort
around a parish′s mission and goals. Thus some forum
involving the pastor, Pastoral Council, parish staff,
and leaders of ministries for conversation about pastoral
goals and issues should be established in a form suitable
to the character, size, and complexity of the parish.
- The particular concerns of the Pastoral Council in its
dealings with parish ministries should be to affirm the
gifts and generosity of those who lead and serve in the
ministries, and to encourage common and coordinated effort
in accord with the parish′s mission and goals.
- The Planning Cycle and the Pastoral Council
- The Pastoral Council should be involved in an appropriate
way in the setting of long-term parish goals. The report
prepared by the pastor for the visitation of the Episcopal
Vicar is an especially suitable instrument for this collaboration.
- The Council should collaborate in the preparation of
the report (at the pastor′s direction), along with
other parish leadership.
- The meeting of the Vicar with the Pastoral Council should
be considered a major part of his visitation, and suitable
time should be set aside for a significant conversation
about the parish′s mission and goals, and about
its experience in seeking to meet those goals.
- Under normal circumstances the report prepared by the
Vicar after his visitation should be presented by the
pastor to the Pastoral Council to help it in its evaluation
of the parish′s activities and in its own long-term
planning and goal setting in collaboration with the pastor.
- A review among pastor, staff, and Council of the parish′s
progress in meeting its goals and addressing the Vicar′s
concerns should take place at least annually.
- An annual summary of this review and of any modifications
to goals can be a helpful resource in evaluation and planning.
Pastors, Councils, and staffs may usefully consider preparing
such a document each year.
- The Pastoral Council and Parish Transition
- While the pastor′s leadership exerts an undeniable
and necessary influence on the life of a parish, a parish′s
mission and long-term goals, if well-designed, can ordinarily
be expected to remain relatively stable from the administration
of one pastor to another. When a pastor dies, is transferred,
or resigns, it is up to the incoming pastor to appoint
a Pastoral Council. In the interest of continuity in the
parish′s work and mission, the new pastor is strongly
urged to ratify the existing Council membership for at
least one year.
- Thus the Pastoral Council, having had a significant
role in the fostering of the parish′s mission and
establishment of long-term goals, can be a valuable resource
in a time of leadership transition.
- When a change of pastor can be expected, and possibly
even at other times, a pastor can usefully invite the
Pastoral Council to reflect on and describe the qualities
sought in any successor-pastor. This information could
be forwarded to the Vicar, Director of Priest Personnel,
and Dean, who play some role in the selection of the next
- When a change of pastor is planned, the Pastoral Council
can similarly be invited by the outgoing and incoming
pastors to aid in the transition in whatever ways they
both consider useful and appropriate. Another option is
for the outgoing pastor to create a Parish Transition
Committee whose task would be to facilitate the period
of transition, to work with and support the departing
pastor, help the parish community to say goodbye to him
in ritual and celebration and to act as a resource to
the new pastor during the initial stages of the of the
- The Council (or Transition Committee) should, in such
circumstances, be considered a special source of understanding
of the mission, core values, and long term goals that
have directed the ministerial activities of the parish
up to the time of transition.
- Recognizing its advisory role, the Council should stand
ready to assist an incoming pastor in whatever ways he
finds most suitable in his collaboration with them. An
incoming pastor should likewise give evidence of his appreciation
of the wisdom and experience of the Council and of its
sense of the parish′s mission, goals, and sensibilities.
- Evaluating the Pastoral Council′s Effectiveness
- The Role of Evaluation
- An effective Pastoral Council is vital to effective
parish ministry. Just as every aspect of parish life can
benefit from regular evaluation, so the Council′s
work should be reviewed to ensure its effectiveness.
- Similarly the members of the Council are entitled to
careful and wise use of the gifts of time and talent that
they contribute. Evaluation should be presented and used
in the expectation of mutual benefit to the Council members,
to all parish leaders, and to the work of the parish as
- Types of Evaluation
- Ongoing self-evaluation is the primary mode of evaluation,
and is the hallmark of responsible ministry. Each Council
participant, pastor and member, should be aware of the
impact of his or her own activities in the Council, and
should invite and graciously receive appropriate feedback
from other members;
- Annual evaluation by the Council of itself can be a
useful exercise. The Council might use part of its final
meeting each year to ask itself what it has accomplished
and whether its time is well spent.
- Special evaluations at times of parish or Council transition,
or in preparation for the Episcopal Vicar′s visit,
can improve the Council′s effectiveness, and should
be undertaken when the pastor or the Council deems such
an exercise desirable.
- Policies, Procedures, and Practices
- The Pastoral Council may be established and run in any form
which is essentially in agreement with these basic guidelines.
- The Council should put into writing its basic policies,
procedures, and practices. This written document and any later
changes to it must be submitted to the pastor for his approval
and recommendations before it goes into effect.
- The procedures should be reviewed on a regular basis and
updated to meet the needs of the Council and pastor. When
a new pastor assumes his office the written document of policies
and procedures should be reconsidered and submitted to him
for his acceptance and possible changes.
- A written copy of the procedures is to be sent to the appropriate
diocesan office so that it can be kept on file. These written
procedures may then be shared among the parishes of the diocese
to help in the exchange of ideas and practices.