Most simply, a parish pastoral council is a representative group from the parish who offer counsel to the pastor. The logical question is: give counsel about what?
Pastoral councils are not intended to be a management team for the parish. The purview of the pastoral council relates to matters that impact the spiritual vitality of the parish. In this interest, a pastoral council attends to envisioning, planning, coordinating and empowering all the baptized for fuller participation in the life of the Church. This usually takes the form of a long-range plan.
Pastoral planning involves prayerful consideration of the parish mission in a way that is respectful of diocesan priorities and responsive to emerging circumstances. It is consistent with the Gospel and the teachings of the Church. One outgrowth of good planning is building bridges across all divisions within and around the parish. This is accomplished as the pastoral council seeks dialogue with the leaders of various groups and ministries within the parish, throughout the vicariate and across the diocese.
Canon law defines this as a consultative role (Canon #536, see Appendix J for text). It is the responsibility of the pastor to direct these efforts. It is the responsibility of the pastor to convoke the pastoral council, preside over it and determine the structure, approaches and methods to be used. Today pastors find the greatest satisfaction when the pastoral council is unfettered by rigid structures and able to work in collaboration with the finance council, trustees and the parish staff. An effective pastoral council is: simple in procedures, prayerful in process, consensual in decisions, enabling in practice, unifying in purpose and apostolic in outlook.
Recommendation: Consider the following topics at the start of each year: How can we be supportive to the pastor this year? How can we best advise the pastor and establish a plan for setting parish priorities each year? What structure is necessary for us and how can we simplify our procedures in a way that makes us more responsive? How can we enable others in the parish to act or become stakeholders in our parish's success? How can we be more prayerful in our deliberations?