Since being appointed the Pastor of Holy Innocents Church in May, I have been working to reestablish the Pastoral Council. In order to maintain continuity, I have included many old faces from the previous Pastoral Council. But, there are some new faces as well. This weekend, I have decided to formally introduce the Council to the parish. So, we have signs in the gathering space and a page on our website with their names and pictures. They are all good people who believe the faith and love their parish and so far it has been a great experience working with them.
Some of you might be wondering, ‘What is a Pastoral Council?’. The Code of Canon Law describes it as follows: “[A] pastoral council is to be established in each parish; the pastor presides over it, and through it the Christian faithful along with those who share in the pastoral care of the parish in virtue of their office give their help in fostering pastoral activity… This pastoral council possesses a consultative vote only and is governed by norms determined by the diocesan bishop.” (Canon 536)
More simply, a pastoral council is like an advisory board. It is a group of parishioners that the Pastor can talk to concerning practical matters in the parish. Just as Our Lord called many men and woman to help Him in His ministry, a Pastor needs a lot of help to run a parish. While it is possible for a Pastor to make decisions unilaterally, it is wiser to listen to what other people have to say before making a decision. In my own ministry, I try to be open to what people have to tell me (I admit that sometimes that is with mixed success) and when I meet with the Council, we can share what we think about where the parish is going. I might have some ideas of things I want to do in the parish. Or, they might have some ideas they would like to see. Either way, we get to hear the points of view of a variety of members who bring their own professional experiences, prayer life, and history in the parish to the table for the good of everyone.
To be clear, pastoral councils have no legal authority in Canon or civil law. Nor are they in charge of the finances of the parish. Ultimately it is up to the pastor of the parish to be in charge of these things because he has the spiritual and moral duty to act for the good of the entire parish. Ultimately, all decisions for good or bad fall on him. However, this does not minimize the impact that the pastoral council has. It is impossible to be an expert in everything and to know everything. It is impossible for one person to know everyone in a parish. But, a council of diverse but faithful individuals can make connections and offer many lifetimes of experience for the benefit of all.
If you have any concerns about the parish that you do not want to approach me about for whatever reason, feel free to approach them. The more information they have about how parishioners generally feel about what is going on in the parish, the better they can advise me on my pastoral duties. Hopefully together, we can support the Church in her mission to share the truth of Jesus Christ to all people.