Formation of Parish Pastoral Councils gaining momentum

By TARA CONNOLLY Staff writer

Parishes in the diocese are following the examples of active and successful Parish Pastoral Councils (PPC) as more and more parishes are activating councils to help the parishes prosper.

Training to assist parishes in initiating PPCs – a body of parishioners who prayerfully discern the needs of the parish and then advise their pastors accordingly– was offered Sept. 17 at St. Mary, Hamburg, where pastors with PPCs already in motion and diocesan officials outlined the roles and benefits.

Bishop of Allentown John Barres outlined some of his aspirations for parish pastoral councils in the Diocese of Allentown.

“Dynamic parish pastoral councils in the Diocese of Allentown will help give our parishes vibrant New Evangelization leadership,” he said.

“Parish Pastoral Councils in the Diocese of Allentown will focus on:

“1) Cultivating deep holiness and a missionary purpose in every parishioner;

“2) Dramatic missionary growth within the parish by constantly finding creative ways to motivate lay parishioners of all ages to reach out to inactive Catholics and gently invite them back into the parish family and the full practice of their Catholic faith;

“3) Assist the laity in the parish in practical ways to live and communicate the truths, principles and values of our Catholic faith in the workplace and the public square;

“4) Every pastoral council meeting in the Diocese of Allentown will have some experience of Eucharistic adoration. This sets a Eucharistic and missionary tone to every meeting and helps to keep our discernment focused on the Glory of God and the salvation of souls.

“Parish Pastoral Councils are a means for the spiritual and pastoral needs and aspirations of the parishioners to be discussed for the benefit and advice of the pastor, so that he and his staff and other members of his ministry team can concretely respond to those needs and aspirations,” said Msgr. David James, vicar for pastoral planning, whose office has been overseeing the implementation of PPCs across the Diocese of Allentown.

“We already have some very good parish models of how ‘One in Mission’ (the diocesan document requiring the creation of Parish Pastoral Councils in the diocese and guiding their implementation) has been implemented in several parishes in the diocese.

“St. Benedict, Mohnton in Berks County and St. John the Baptist, Pottsville in Schuylkill County are two of those parishes.”

Father Philip Rodgers, pastor of St. Benedict, and Father David Loeper, pastor of St. John the Baptist, were on hand at the training to describe the accomplishments of their PPCs and how the councils have evolved into a parish asset.

St. Benedict

The PPC at St. Benedict began in 2008 with catechesis outlining the qualifications and expectations of council members. Within a month parishioners volunteered or nominated a fellow parishioner to take on the role.

“I wanted to involve lay people in the leadership decisions of the future of the parish. On one Sunday afternoon a discernment process led to the filling of nine seats on the council,” said Father Rodgers.

Soon the council created its first mission statement, a constitution was adopted and a pastoral plan began to take shape.

According to Father Rodgers, some of the issues and goals discussed by the PPC included establishing a greeter ministry, planning parish weekend retreats, fostering relationships with other faith denominations and welcoming Cuban refugees.

The council also examined hosting homeless families through the Family Promise program and strengthening all parish ministries.

“Their work is always moving forward and every year three new goals are accomplished,” said Father Rodgers.

The PPC also seeks to acquire three new members every year and the pastoral plan is reviewed.

“During April nominations take place by parishioners filling out a form that self-nominates or nominates another. The nominations are reviewed and parishioners are personally asked if they accept their nomination,” said Father Rodgers.

The following month candidates engage in a process of discernment to prayerfully determine who will fill the three vacant seats on council. In June new members attend orientation and the first PPC meeting is in July.

“They discuss strengths and weaknesses of areas of mission, brainstorm and dream about how the parish can spiritually grow, and develop a list of goals that will strengthen areas of mission,” said Father Rodgers.

“The PPC then prioritizes their goals and breaks it down by year one goals, year two goals, year three goals and ‘down the road goals.’”


St. John the Baptist

At St. John the Baptist the PPC was formed before Father Loeper was appointed pastor in 1997, to assist the pastor in making sure the spiritual needs of people, and the physical and temporal needs of the parish, were being met.

“The council is essentially the voice of the parishioners,” he said.

The PPC at St. John consists of 15 voting members who are elected and seven representatives from various committees of the parish.

“There is also a recording secretary who is appointed by the pastor and does not vote. A youth representative as part of the council has also been planned for the near future,” said Father Loeper.

According to Father Loeper, the PPC is assessing several facets of the parish, including religious education, liturgy and faith formation.

“Representatives from those groups give a report on what is being done at this time, and then the council gives input on other ideas for the future,” he said.

Aside from evangelizing and facilitating a continuous process to enhance spiritual renewal and ongoing conversion, the council aims to help the pastor know his parishioners better.

“The council has been instrumental in helping the parish grow, not only in numbers of parishioners but also spiritually. It also makes sure the physical plant is kept in good shape,” said Father Loeper.

“By being the representative voice of the people of the parish, the council has helped me to know what ideas people have for the good of the parish and how we can best implement them. Also, they advise in ways we may need to do things better in order to grow.”

Vibrant parishes

With approximately half of the 84 diocesan parishes functioning with some form of parish council, the initiative is part of the overall strategic goal for vibrant, healthy and evangelizing parishes.

“The council is essentially a community of service, assisting the pastor in a consultative manner to help a parish become more evangelizing and spiritually vibrant,” said John Majewski, director of the Office of Project Services, who has been assisting with the development and implementation of “One in Mission.”

“Furthermore, by assisting the pastor in his work, they can assume the tasks that the laity may undertake in a parish, freeing the pastor to enter more completely into the pastoral/sacramental life of the faithful.”

Although the council is not a body that makes binding decisions, the recommendations of the PPCs – rooted in prayer and discernment – are taken under serious advisement by the pastor as he plans how to best meet the pastoral/sacramental needs of his parishioners, especially with a view to reaching out to inactive Catholics.

Ultimately, with the assistance of the PPCs, parishes will become vibrant on many levels.

As Bishop Barres has stated, “Vibrant parishes make a vibrant diocese. A vibrant diocese supports the mission of the parishes.”