Moved by the Spirit

April 18, 2002
Moved by the Spirit
By Connie Cissell/ SUN editor
The Diocesan Pastoral Council sponsors a day for Parish Pastoral Councils

EAST SYRACUSE — At a time when pastoral planning could be considered a top priority across the country, the Syracuse Diocese once again is trying to keep ahead of the game. The Diocesan Pastoral Council sponsored a special day-long event April 13 at Bishop Grimes Junior/Senior High School. The event was titled, “Guiding the Parish — Moved by the Spirit,” and it provided some information and some tools to help Pastoral Councils work more effectively than ever.

Bishop James Moynihan, recently recognized by the Jesuit magazine, America, for his pastoral letter, “Equipping the Saints for the Work of Ministry,” opened the event with prayer. The keynote speaker, Chuck Siebenand, addressed the crowd of approximately 400 church trustees and Pastoral Council members and shared some of his own experiences with Pastoral Councils. Siebenand is the director of Pastoral Planning for the Diocese of Oakland. His experience also includes several years of work in Diocese of Jackson, Miss.

Siebenand told the people there that they need to be “people of vision.” He said that sometimes he fears the church will drift along while its people get caught up in current trends and lose sight of its true mission and meaning. “It’s important to dream,” Siebenand said. “We see this in the Protestant churches. The churches with vision and those that renew that vision are the ones that will survive.”

Describing the old models of “Parish Councils” as opposed to the newer term “Pastoral Councils” was part of Siebenand’s presentation. He traced a history of Pastoral Councils saying the 1960s’ councils were made up of a group of men having coffee with the pastor and talking about finances. In the 1970s, Siebenand said, the councils were made up of more people and included men and women who were making some administrative decisions and developing new programs. In the 1980s, 1983 specifically, he said, there was mention in Canon Law that bishops should see to it that each parish establish a Pastoral Council. That decade included the new involvement of Pastoral Councils in organized ministries. By 1993, people began to see the word “pastoral” in a new light, Siebenand said.

“People began to investigate, study and pray over pastoral decisions. In the 1990s we began to seriously look at and do long-range pastoral planning setting goals for three to five years ahead,” Siebenand said. The difference between the words “Parish Council” and “Pastoral Council” are in that they lend themselves to different connotations, Siebenand explained. “The phrase ‘Parish Councils’ gives me the feeling of a power group. A group that gathers information, listens to reports and works on parish administration. The terms give a sense of importance and then decisions about carpets, parking lots and refrigerators can be made,” Siebenand said.

Siebenand said he had a friend who told him half of his Parish Council meeting was used to decide how many donuts to order for the church’s feast day celebration. The word “pastoral” is one to be continually “grappled with,” Siebenand said. It gives the impression of being “with the people, engaged with people, shepherding, guiding them.” The days of saying lay people shouldn’t be involved in parish life because “it’s Father’s job” are all but over, he explained. These days, he said, churches are likely to have two separate committees for finance and for pastoral concerns. Father James Lang, Vicar for Parishes in the Syracuse Diocese, has been working on pastoral planning for the past several years. He has traveled the diocese meeting with Pastoral Care Areas and Pastoral Councils helping them face some of the challenges that come with combining church services, resources and talents. He was a presenter at the event and spoke about facilitating small groups. In most organizations like a Pastoral Council, Father Lang said, about 90 percent of the work is done by a small group of people. One of the keys to heading up an effective council is to not lead it like a dictatorship, but rather to determine the outcome and accomplish what needs to be done by sharing ideas and talents of members of the group.

“Groups tend to go in cycles,” Father Lang said. “The first thing to know if you’re a facilitator is that the meeting itself isn’t the point. You’re trying to go someplace, you’re driving the car.” The cycle is the way an organization lives and dies, Father Lang said, and it is nothing to be threatened by. “When you see something you used to like come to an end, don’t be afraid of it,” he said. “It is a normal part of the cycle.” Effective parish life cannot be separated from the culture in which it exists, Father Lang said. He used the analogy of the role of women before and after World War II. After the war, he said, society tried to return to common ground. Society had changed and could not go backward, Father Lang explained. Women who entered the workforce during the war did not go back to being homemakers only automatically, events and circumstances had forced society to change.

The cycle of groups is made up of four processes, Father Lang said. The forming process, storming process, norming process and then the performing process are all involved in group-building and the destruction of groups after the work is done. The first step is to form an identity, the second step occurs when that identity meets reality and when communication is integral. Sometimes at that step, Father Lang said, it is good to realize that what is happening is really up to God. During the storming phase, there is minimal performance in the outcome of the group. Then things even out a bit, he said, and people begin to work well together and goals begin to be accomplished in the “norming” phase. Then by the end of the cycle, the performing phase, the group is running like a well-honed machine. What comes next typically, Father Lang said, is that the group then takes itself for granted and falls apart and the cycle begins all over again. The workshops also included suggestions for building relationships, communication and conflict resolution, clarifying roles and more. Several diocesan priests and personnel were presenters and several others had booths on display in the cafeteria. The event provided a large group of people an opportunity to share ideas, meet one another and check out some of the resources that are available to them. By the time the day was over, people were talking about next year’s gathering.

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