Begin with the End in Mind

Dec. 9-15, 2004
Begin with the End in Mind
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
Bishop James Moynihan Endorses New Parish Pastoral Council Guidelines

In his letter dated Nov. 1 to the people and clergy of the Diocese of Syracuse, Bishop James Moynihan introduced the new guidelines for parishes and pastors meant to enhance parish life through successful collaboration between parish leaders and clergy. The document, entitled “Parish Pastoral Council Guidelines: Guiding the Parish –– Moved by the Spirit,” is a comprehensive guideline for parish pastoral councils that will help direct them to a more collaborative model that promotes long-range parish vision. “I have directed that every parish should have a parish pastoral council,” said Bishop Moynihan in his opening letter. “These guidelines reflect sound pastoral practices and reasonable hopes for parish life. Parish pastoral councils are to help their pastors to investigate, ponder and propose ways for their parish communities to flourish with vitality. They are to begin with the end in mind,” he said.

In order to share with Catholic parishioners the importance of the document, the collaborative model portions of the guidelines are being published here. The guidelines represent an extensive collaboration that began with the Parish Pastoral Council Day in April 2002, explained Bishop Moynihan. Sparked by the parish pastoral model of the Diocese of Oakland, Calif., committee members spent two years consulting, collaborating and modifying the document before Bishop Moynihan approved it.

Parish councils in the Diocese of Syracuse were first mandated by Bishop Cunningham have received continued support from Bishops Harrison, O’Keefe and Moynihan. They are viewed as an important pillar of parish life. The 1983 revision to Code of Canon Law clearly situates the role of the parish finance council, and civil law creates the role of the parish trustees. These clarifications allow an important emphasis for parish pastoral councils as groups that give guidance about the pastoral life of a parish and serve as instruments of visioning and planning.

The pastoral council is an advisory or consultative body for the pastor. The council does not manage parish operations. The members meet with the pastor and offer him the wisdom of the community. The council is responsible for seeing the bigger picture of the parish. Whereas the finance council has a limited scope that deals with budget and financial matters, the work of the pastoral council embraces all the pastoral dimensions of the parish. In addition to long-range planning, the council members deal with whatever pastoral concerns the pastor brings before them.

Today, pastoral councils in the Syracuse Diocese are functioning in many different ways. Some are coordinating parish ministries; some are listening to reports; some are the eyes and ears of the pastor; some are organizing programs; some are doing pastoral planning. In most cases, the council needs to be designed in a way that is comfortable for the pastor. However, the major role of all pastoral councils should be planning for the spiritual and pastoral life of the community. The parish pastoral council and the parish finance council function independently. However, it is essential that they collaborate with one another in carrying out the parish mission. The parish finance council serves as an advisory body to the pastor in the administration and stewardship of parish finances, parish facilities and long-range financial development. The mission of Jesus, the vision of the Church and the mission of the diocese should be the foundation each parish uses to develop its vision. In order to develop a parish pastoral council, the wants and needs of the parish need to be considered by parish leadership to help determine its future direction. To determine its present condition, a parish can conduct parish surveys, host parish assemblies, create focus groups and offer a “from here to there” session.

The Vicar for Parishes Office, the Pastoral Planning Office, as well as the Diocesan Pastoral Council can provide materials to help a parish develop new tools to determine more clearly the needs and wants of the parish. Once a parish knows where it is coming from and where it wants to go, a mission statement should be created. Father William Bausch, author of The Parish of the Next Millennium, believes that mission statements are important, but they need to be specific. The document states, let the mission statement say who they are as a parish as well as where they are headed. Mission statements are not something to be accomplished but rather something that guides a parish toward its vision. In creating a mission statement, the council should make sure it receives a lot of input from the parish community.

Once the mission statement is complete, it is important that it is understandable. It should not contain words that look good but which no one can explain. The council should get the word out that a mission statement is in place to guide the parish and its activities. Some parishes put their mission statement in the bulletin each week, while others place it in a prominent place in the church so that everyone can see where the parish wants to go and what it stands for. Reading it at meetings lets people know how the mission connects to what they are doing. The mission statement should influence the decisions of the pastoral council, the pastoral staff and the finance council. It should filter down to every organization in the parish. The parish mission statement identifies the purpose of the parish and establishes a vision for the future. Setting values gives the members of the parish the opportunity to clarify how they intend to make their shared mission a reality.

Clarifying parish values will assist parishioners in developing strong feelings of personal effectiveness, will facilitate consensus about the mutual goals to be established, will encourage thoughtful, collaborative, Christ-like behavior, promote strong norms about working hard and caring and will reduce stress and tension among parishioners. The articulation of shared values requires the members to answer the questions, How will we behave? What can we commit to doing? What can we expect the parish to commit to doing? What attitudes will advance the work of the Lord? What shared values will enable all individuals in the church to act autonomously?

In addition to providing information on organizing a pastoral council, the guidelines clarify the roles of pastor, council members and facilitators as well as offer practical suggestions and additional resources. Father James Lang, vicar for parishes and director of pastoral planning, said that planning and coordinating at the most local level will provide a meaningful way to build the future of the parishes and the diocese. “The Book of Proverbs states: ‘Where there is no vision, people perish.’ (29:18) Pastoral leadership is about having a vision. Similarly, Steven Covey recently dusted off an ancient planning principle and applied it to contemporary business and life,” said Bishop Moynihan. “It simply stays: ‘Begin with the end in mind.’ That is a good place for the work of a parish pastoral council to begin.” To obtain copies of the publication, contact parish pastors or call Father Lang at (315) 470-1437.

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