The mission of the Church is to carry on the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ. Through Baptism and Confirmation all are called to exercise both their rights and responsibilities to participate fully in the life and mission of the Church. This mission is rooted in the mission of Christ who commanded all his disciples ‘go into the world and proclaim the good news to all of creation.’ (Mark 16:15).
Purpose of the section
To provide formational documents and understandings on the theological framework for Parish Pastoral Councils.
The task of the Church is to carry on the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ. Through the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation each Christian person is called to exercise both their right and responsibility to participate fully in the life and mission of the Church. This mission of Christ comes from the command of Christ to his disciples: ‘Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matt 28:12-19).
The Holy Spirit who gave courage and strength to the Apostles on Pentecost, transforming them to be bold witnesses of the Good News, gives life to the Church today. St Paul teaches us ‘there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good’ (1 Cor. 12:4-7). So the members of the Parish Pastoral Council are called to use their gifts under the guidance of the Spirit to build up the community which they serve.
The points which follow help to keep before us the nature of the Church. They remind us of the true function of the Council. It is first and foremost a pastoral body, not an administrative or financial committee.
The Second Vatican Council, in faithfulness to the Scriptures, taught that the Church is first the whole People of God. Christ ‘continually distributes in His body, that is, in the Church, gifts of ministries in which, by His own power, we serve each other unto salvation so that, carrying out the truth in love, we might through all things grow unto Him who is our Head’ (LG 7). All the faithful are called to walk ‘in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd’ who ‘came not to be served, but to serve’ (Matt 20.28).
The theological framework for understanding the role and function of Parish Pastoral Councils.
The Church is not merely a human institution. We bear witness to the truth that every human person comes from the great Mystery, the Trinity. We proclaim that all are created in the image of God who is Father, Son and Spirit. This is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God who invites us to intimate union and collaboration. It is the teaching that is the very foundation of our understanding of:
- all that we believe
- our identity as Church
- the nature of our ministry and mission.
We come from God, our heart belongs to God and, with the grace of the Holy Spirit, together we can embark on our common journey towards God.
The presence of God also permeates all of God’s creation. In the words of Pope Francis: ‘When our eyes are illumined by the Spirit, they open to contemplate God, in the beauty of nature and in the grandeur of the cosmos, and they lead us to discover how everything speaks to us about Him and His love. All of this arouses in us great wonder and a profound sense of gratitude!’ (General Audience, 21 May 2014). Jesus is the perfect revelation of God: ‘Whoever has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14.9) and he reveals God to draw us into union with him: ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them’ (John 14.23). The literal meaning of baptism is immersion; we are immersed into Jesus. Through this immersion, we are joined with him in his work for the Father’s Kingdom.
Being one with Jesus, personally and as a community, means continually seeking to be faithful to him in thought, word and deed. The Spirit he gives enables his word to take root in our lives and empowers us to bear the fruit he desires: ‘Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing’ (John 15.5). Being with Jesus means, above all, being a proclaimer of the Gospel in the midst of people’s lives.
Subsidiarity is a principle of Catholic Social Teaching. Subsidiarity requires that decisions are made by the people closest to and most affected by the issues and concerns of the community. Subsidiarity holds that diversity and good order can only be maintained when each group/ commission or person is deemed vital for the good of the Church.Subsidiarity, in Catholic social teaching, is motivated by the Gospel call to love of neighbour and true respect for the dignity of the human person.
Trinity, Communion, Mission and Subsidiarity are central to our pastoral understanding of Church. At the heart of parish life are the companionship, guidance and strength of the Holy Spirit, forming us together as the Body of Christ, as a Church community, to continue to be the presence of Jesus in our world. These establish the spirit in which the Church and, thus, Parish Pastoral Councils, can put into place the pastoral actions from which they carry forth the mission of Jesus and of the Church within the parish community.
-  – Department of Pastoral Ministry (2000). Guidelines for Parish Pastoral Councils, Archdiocese of San Francisco. USA. [Retrieved Jan 2018].
The Call To Be Evangelisers
The work of evangelisation is at the heart of who we are as Catholics. It finds expression in the proclamation of the Word, in the celebration of the sacraments and in the love and service of the Church community. Evangelisation is about bringing the Good News of God’s love to all people in the world.
The Church exists to evangelise and, therefore, it is the essential mission of every parish. It is through the evangelisation efforts and collaboration of the parishes with the Archdiocese, that people are drawn into the Church community and learn how to be disciples of Christ. Nurtured by Scripture and nourished by the sacraments, and through giving witness, especially of love and care for the poor, they become true evangelisers.
The Call to be Missionary Disciples
Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are disciples and missionaries, but rather that we are always ‘missionary disciples’.
Missionary outreach is at the heart of discipleship. Disciples proclaim the mission of Jesus to the world in word and action. Missionary discipleship, therefore, challenges the baptised to actively proclaim the mission of Jesus in the world in word and action. Missionary disciples bring the message of the Gospel to the world by going out to others in need, seeking those who have fallen away, standing at the crossroads of people’s lives and the community and welcoming the outcast. Missionary disciples have a preferential option for the poor which is grounded in the Scriptures.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?…’ Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. [Matt 25:35-40]
Missionary disciples value the dignity of each person and their diverse and particular gifts are recognised and encouraged to be offered for the life of the parish. They each generously offer their talents, creativity, wisdom and experience in order to bring the message of God’s tenderness and compassion to the entire human family.
Pope Francis urges all Christians to go out as missionary disciples, each generously offering their talents, creativity, wisdom and experience in order to bring the message of God’s tenderness and compassion to the entire human family. A missionary disciple values the dignity of each person and their diverse and particular gifts are recognised and encouraged to be offered for the life of the parish.
All Christians are called to this witness and, in this way, they can be real evangelisers. We are thinking especially of the responsibility incumbent on immigrants in the country that receives them.
-  – Pope Francis. The Joy of the Gospel. Evangelii Gaudium (EG). Apostolic Exhortation on the proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world. November 24, 2013. (120).
-  – New Revised Standard Version (2006). The Harper Collins Study Bible. Harper Collins Publishers. San Francisco. USA.
-  – Pope Francis. Message of Pope Francis. Missionary Church, Witness of Mercy. Vatican Basilica. Solemnity of Pentecost. May 15, 2016.
-  – Pope Francis. Message of Pope Francis. Missionary Church, Witness of Mercy. Vatican Basilica. Solemnity of Pentecost. May 15, 2016. [Retrieved November 2017].
One way the Council is called to proclaim the Good News and give witness to the world is by being a servant leader of the parish community.
WHAT IS A SERVANT LEADER?
Christ came not to be served but to serve and give his life… [Mk 10.45]
Servant leadership is leading by serving the needs of others. Servant leadership is Christ-centred. Jesus is our model of servant leadership. Jesus responded not only to the needs of others but also helped them to become whole. Service is central to living out the Gospel. It calls us to serve one another without boundaries. The focal point of servant leadership within the Church is ‘to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up’ [Eph 4:12]. Servant leaders give of themselves to meet the needs, but not necessarily the wants, of the people.
Diocese of Scranton (2011). Diocese of Scranton. Servant Leadership Parish Pastoral Council Guidelines and Resources. pp.13–18
-  – New Revised Standard Version (2006). The Harper Collins Study Bible. Harper Collins Publishers. San Francisco. USA.
-  – Diocese of Scranton (2011). Diocese of Scranton. Servant Leadership Parish Pastoral Council Guidelines and Resources. (p.14)
The Council is one of shared servant leadership for the whole parish, not just their own particular special interest or function. The Council models the spirit of servant leadership when it is:
- prayerful – the Council’s agenda provides sufficient time to reflect on the Gospel and on the call to be servant leaders.
- faithful – as servant leaders, Councils are faithful in promoting parish unity and the mission of the parish and the larger Church.
- representative – to truly be a servant leader, the Council needs to be a representative body rather than a body of representatives, representing all facets of the parish and serving the parish well.
- pastoral – Councils strive to find the most effective resources and methods to serve the people of the parish as they fulfill the mission of the Church in this time and place.
- discerning – guided by a firm, faith-orientated value system, the Council works to determine how the mission of the Church is best accomplished in its own community, moulding its actions and decisions in response to that mission.
- prophetic – the Council needs courage and foresight to set the direction of the parish community, challenging the parish to grow in response to the Gospel. This prophetic work is not predicting the future but interpreting the path that the parish is to follow on its current faith journey in response to the Gospel and the needs of the Church.
- empowering – the Council makes every effort to get to know parishioners’ hopes and talents. Councils serve the parish by inviting parishioners to share their expertise, both to deepen the faith of the individual, and to strengthen the parish and the broader community. Connecting parishioners’ talents with community needs enables them to live out the mission of the Church in their daily lives.
- collaborative – the Council will strive to seek ways to collaborate with other parishes, with Christian communities and community organisations in the service of the Gospel for the common good of the broader community.
-  – Diocese of Scranton (2011). Diocese of Scranton. Servant Leadership Parish Pastoral Council Guidelines and Resources. http://www.dioceseofscranton.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Parish-Pastoral-Council-Guidelines-September-9-2011.pdf [Retrieved May 2017]. (p.14).
It is the task of the Parish Pastoral Council to keep before the faithful of the parish their baptismal commitment to make the mission of Jesus, the mission of the parish. This theological framework gives understanding to the nature of the Church. It gives clear guidance and a powerful description of how the Church should understand itself and how the Church should act out. It helps define the role and function of Councils as the Council strives to build parishes into vibrant, revitalised and forward-thinking faith communities, working collaboratively towards accomplishing the Archdiocesan Vision stated in the Archdiocese of Perth Pastoral Plan 2016-2021. In particular, they bring to life the Gospel values by which Councils exercise their mission in the life of the parish and the Archdiocese.
Two Guiding Principles – Collaboration and Discernment
The deliberations of a Parish Pastoral Council begin with and are sustained by collaboration for discernment.
Collaboration will strengthen and enhance the quality of parish life and will, in a practical way, avoid unnecessary duplication of services, serve unmet needs and model good stewardship of human and financial resources.
Discernment builds upon consciously relying on the prayerful presence of the Spirit, the sharing of candidates’ gifts and talents and the affirmation of everyone’s generosity with their gifts. Through prayer, study and listening, the priest and Council identify and prioritise the ways in which the parish is being called to live its specific mission.
Collaboration in a parish context will see priests and laity working together, using their baptismal gifts for the pastoral care of the parish. It calls every member of the parish, especially the clergy and Council with their God-given gifts and talents, to work together towards achieving common outcomes and goals. A collaborative parish will involve not only all the various groups within the parish, especially the Catholic school, but also those beyond the parish (for example, neighbouring parishes and Church agencies of the Archdiocese). “What is important is that the collaboration is related to the mission of the parish and in doing so it enriches service and reflects good use of resources.”
Collaboration within and beyond the parish will gather the views and wisdom of all and strengthen and enhance the quality of work of the Archdiocese as a whole. On a practical note, it will avoid unnecessary duplication of services, serve unmet needs and model good stewardship of human and financial resources.
-  – Diocese of Scranton (2011). Diocese of Scranton Servant Leadership Parish Pastoral Council Guidelines and Resources. (p.45).
-  – (p.44)
The model of faith-based collaboration is founded in the ministry and leadership of Jesus. The theological foundation for collaboration is clear in the Scriptures. Jesus did not minister in isolation. He was in constant relationship and dialogue with his followers. In missioning his disciples, Jesus ordered them to go out ‘two by two’ [cf Mark 6: 7-13], not alone to minister.
From the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus gathered people around him. He invited them to join him. He listened patiently to them as he taught them new ways of approaching things. Jesus empowered them to carry on his work with others. In doing so, Jesus affirms them in their giftedness, receives them back when they return from ministry and helps them to reflect on and learn from their experience. The early Church, as described in the Acts of the Apostles, reveals groups working together to establish and develop a young Christian Church. In working together to invite people into the new community, they followed the example given to them by Jesus; that is, firstly to listen patiently to the concerns of the community. In actively listening to the community, they were able to discern from the community new ways of approaching their pastoral issues. Then, in collaboration with one another, they were able to respond to the needs of the community.
-  – Diocese of Scranton (2011). Diocese of Scranton Servant Leadership Parish Pastoral Council Guidelines and Resources. (pp.94-96)
Good collaboration recognises that all have different gifts, skills and capacities that, when shared, contribute to building a stronger community which is vibrant, enthused and energised to work towards the common good of the parish and beyond. Good collaboration relies on good collaborators who:
- cultivate a spirit of common purpose, support and shared responsibility
- engage with each other
- have a high degree of commitment
- respect each other’s skills
- negotiate with each other to ensure coordinated action
- resolve any differences or disputes.
There is wisdom in collaborating with neighbouring parishes or other agencies within the Archdiocese when needs or opportunities present themselves. What is important is that the collaboration is related to living out the mission of the Archdiocese and, in so doing, enriching the life of the parish. Larger parishes can assist smaller parishes with resourcing for needs that may not be affordable for one parish, or a particular parish which may not have the people with a particular skill set to carry out a service. Examples of such collaboration could include hiring a youth worker for a zone rather than a parish; bringing youth groups together from surrounding parishes to go on a mission trip; the training and sharing of catechists, developing common service projects such as food pantries; and designing and implementing a wide variety of adult formation activities. Some excellent projects and programs happen in collaboration with Catholic school/s within the parish, and with other community agencies, such as health or social service agencies.
It is important to remember that the purpose of collaboration is never ‘just to work together’ but, rather, ‘we are working together’. This mindset makes stronger the understanding that all are called to share in the mission of the Church.
-  – Diocese of Scranton (2011). Diocese of Scranton. Servant Leadership Parish Pastoral Council Guidelines and Resources. http://www.dioceseofscranton.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Parish-Pastoral-Council-Guidelines-September-9-2011.pdf [Retrieved May 2017]. (pp.44-45).
The goal of collaborative planning is to structure ways in which two or more parish agencies or parishes can work together to contribute to the mission of Jesus within the parish and the wider Church. Prayer and faith sharing help each Parish Pastoral Council discern the will of God for their parish. Through prayer, faith sharing and reflection, each parish will assess the needs of the parish and with whom they need to collaborate to achieve their desired outcome. For collaborative planning to be effective, those involved need to:
- examine the project or program in light of each parish’s mission statement to discern a good fit
- articulate the values which are bringing the groups together on this particular venture
- have a vision of what the project might look like and what the results might be for all involved
- express clearly the shared goals and objectives
- develop a plan of who will do what and by when, to achieve the goals and objectives
- celebrate progress along the way!
-  – Diocese of Scranton (2011). Diocese of Scranton. Servant Leadership Parish Pastoral Council Guidelines and Resources. http://www.dioceseofscranton.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Parish-Pastoral-Council-Guidelines-September-9-2011.pdf [Retrieved May 2017]. (p.46).
Discernment, quite simply, is a way of being with God. Discernment is a primary function of the Christian life: to discover in our lives what is ‘of God’ and what is not, what is to be fostered and what is to be fought, what is of grace and what is of sin, what is to be proclaimed and what is to be denounced. ‘The Lord Jesus and the Spirit are, in the practice of discernment, the two hands of the Father’; therefore, discernment is spirituality in the concrete.
It is important to recognise that discernment is not about judgement; rather, it is a continuous process discerning at each moment what God is asking of us, and how we act upon what God is asking at this moment. It is searching out where God is for us so that we can stay there with God. Discernment is also very different to deciding what to do.
Discernment lies at the heart of our being. It is always done in collaboration with God. It is a sorting out of movements within ourselves, listening to feelings, desires and fears for the purpose of seeing where they lead us: towards God, to relationships, fulfilment etc. It is to discover the ‘God with us’, to listen to the ‘God with us’ and to respond to God’s voice so that we may follow the will of God.
Simply defined, discernment is ‘a prayerful process by which a group discovers God’s will in a particularly significant situation or decision’.
To discern is to distinguish or sort out what is truly of God. It not only helps us to become aware of the actions in our lives that draw us to God, but also allows us to discern the actions that draw us away from God.
-  – Scannone. J. C. Discernere e accompagnare. Le indicazioni dell’ ‘Amoris Laetitia’, La Civilta Cattolica. 4015:12.
-  – Diocese of Pittsburgh. (2010). One Body. One mission. The Parish Pastoral Council Guidelines of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. [Retrieved December 2017].
Spiritual discernment is calling on the Holy Spirit to lead or give direction. It is how the Spirit shows the Church and its members what God wants them to do and be. Spiritual discernment is rooted in prayer and guided by the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit is at work in the discernment process, actions and decisions are governed by love. When there is an openness to the Spirit, the discernment process is Christ-centred, as revealed in the Scriptures.
The Holy Spirit leads us, guides us, teaches us, and equips us to spread the message of the Gospel in word and action. The Holy Spirit makes known God’s plans and purposes. It gives us the wisdom to discern where a decision or action may lead to good and can warn against those that may be unfruitful. It helps us see through the confusion and gives us clarity to know the will of God.
The Holy Spirit is the power of God; it is a transformative power.
The Parish Pastoral Council has the responsibility to assist the priest to find the most effective way to serve the people of the parish to fulfill the mission of the Church. Guided by the values of the Gospel expressed in the teachings of the Church, the Council works to determine how the mission of the Church is best accomplished. This involves making decisions for the benefit of the parish.
For the Council to truly discern the will of God for the parish community, it needs to be prayerful and open to the power of the Holy Spirit. For this openness to happen, individual opinions and prejudices must be set aside. Council members must openly listen to one another and to other parishioners before decisions are recommended to the parish priest.
-  – Wade, T. (1990) The Parish Companion to the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Discernment and the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). Victoria. Australia (p.131)
Listening with the heart is essential in good parish leadership. Listening for words, feelings and connections is very important. Listening for loss, disappointment, excitement, listening with gratitude and appreciation, all are powerful ways to be open to the Spirit and to discern the will of God for the parish community. Listening with the heart leads to empathy, truly understanding the person’s thoughts, feelings and dilemmas. In listening with the heart, members of the Parish Pastoral Council become more open to the promptings of the Spirit to respond respectfully and with compassion to the needs of the community.