What is Parish Council?
Most simply, a parish pastoral council is a representative group from the parish who offer counsel to the pastor. The pastoral council represents the entire parish. This includes all cultures, ages and groups within the parish. It includes those who attend Mass occasionally, as well as the core supporters of the parish; those who have been parishioners for fifty years, five years and five months. In all matters, the parish pastoral council is charged with considering the good of the parish as a whole as it seeks to fulfill the Mission of Christ. To accomplish this, a pastoral council must be a representative body, not a body of representatives. This means that unlike legislative groups, a member of a parish pastoral council does not represent any particular interest group (that can find itself in competition with others within the parish). The pastoral council is a place to seek consensus on the vital questions of the day. The pastoral council enables its members and the entire parish community to share in the mission and ministry of Christ.
A logical question is: give counsel about what?
Pastoral councils are not intended to be a management team for the parish. The purview of the pastoral council relates to matters that impact the spiritual vitality of the parish. In this interest, a pastoral council attends to envisioning, planning, coordinating and empowering all the baptized for fuller participation in the life of the Church. This usually takes the form of a long-range planning.
Pastoral planning involves prayerful consideration of the parish mission in a way that is respectful of diocesan priorities and responsive to emerging circumstances. It is consistent with the Gospel and the teachings of the Church. One outgrowth of good planning is building bridges across all divisions within and around the parish. This is accomplished as the pastoral council seeks dialogue with the leaders of various groups and ministries within the parish and across the diocese.
Canon law defines this as a consultative role (Canon #536, see Appendix J for text). It is the responsibility of the pastor to direct these efforts. It is the responsibility of the pastor to convoke the pastoral council, preside over it and determine the structure, approaches and methods to be used. Today, pastoral council is able to work in collaboration with the finance council, parish groups and the parish staff. An effective pastoral council is: simple in procedures, prayerful in process, consensual in decisions, enabling in practice, unifying in purpose and apostolic in outlook.