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What Pastoral Council Does Not Do

Because pastoral councils are consultative bodies, they are ill-equipped to either legislate or administrate. In particular, most councils are ill-equipped to: interpret liturgical norms, repair the roof on the church, administer daily parish operations, supervise staff, decide what copier to purchase for the office, establish financial practices, set or enforce employment practices, choose investment portfolios. Decisions like these that require specialized skills or expertise are best left up to the pastor who will consult with relevant experts (e.g. business manager, pastoral staff, finance council, diocesan departments) as appropriate.

It is also a mistake for the pastoral council to develop big dreams and leave them with the pastor to implement unassisted. Too many sound recommendations meet untimely deaths simply because the council provides no plan for implementation or fails to study the impact of an idea on existing parish infrastructure (cost, staffing, facility requirements, etc.)

A good recommendation is one that considers the possible consequences and includes suggestions for implementation. A good recommendation includes: rationale, goal and reasonable suggestions for a plan of action. One parish council studied the lack of teens in the parish and recommended reaching out to young people. Their rationale was sound and they knew that the budget was tight, so they recommended recruiting volunteers who would provide programs for youth in the evenings and on weekends when youth are available to attend. Unfortunately no one took into account that this time of day is when the coordinator of faith formation is already most busy and unable to train and supervise new volunteers. There was no thought given to what space would be required on the parish property. This might have been achievable as a multi-parish cooperative project but it was just too ambitious for this one parish.

Recommendation: Before every meeting the executive committee should ask themselves: Are we competent to advise the pastor on these matters? With whom should we consult to be effective advisors? What is the best method for addressing the matters at hand? Do our recommendations include sound rationale, accountability and realistic plans for action?

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