Recruiting Pastoral Council Members

From Maggie Goorsky, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, Santa Clarita, CA (12.14.11)

One year ago, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Santa Clarita was starting a pastoral council.  One year later we are addressing the question of who should continue to be on the council and how do we recruit new members. In the beginning, our pastor simply invited each of us to join the council.  But now we are looking towards the future.  Is there a better way to ensure that the council members are the best suited for the position?  I did call a couple of parishes in the area and they all just do their own thing which has worked for them over the years.  But I thought you might have some ideas for us as we discuss this at our next meeting.  I looked at your website and did not see information about this but I may have missed it so please direct me if the information is there.

One Response to Goorsky

  1. Mark F. Fischer says:

    I’m glad that the pastoral council is still going strong after a year. I appreciate your questions:
    • Who should continue on the council?
    • How do you recruit new members?
    • How do you ensure that new council members are suited for the work?

    These are really important questions. There is a certain logic to answering them, so let me answer them in order.

    First, who should continue on the council? The main purpose of the pastoral council is a threefold task. Under the pastor’s direction, the council (1) investigates some aspect of the parish reality, (2) reflects on the results of the investigation, and (3) reaches a conclusion that the council recommends to the pastor. That’s what the Vatican II Decree on Bishops (no. 27) says. So the people who should continue are those who are good at doing the three tasks — investigating, reflecting, and reaching consensus.

    Second, you asked how to recruit new members. That raises the question of what makes a person want to contribute his or her efforts to the council. The greatest success of any council is this: the pastor accepts the council’s recommendations and implements them. If your council is successful, people in the parish will know. The pastor will let say that he is consulting the council and is getting good advice from it. People want to be part of a group that is making a positive difference.

    But if the council has not been that successful — that is, the council has not made recommendations that the pastor has accepted and implemented — then you need an alternate plan. I recommend that pastors choose a theme that they intend to be consulting about (e.g., about hospitality, religious education, building a new building, evaluating the liturgy, etc.). When the pastor announces the theme, it will attract people who share his interest and concern. An open parish meeting can help you recruit. Interested people will come to such a meeting. There pastors can talk about the subjects they want to consult about. People who attend can indicate an interest in serving on the council or nominate someone else. Often it is possible to choose the councillors right then and there.

    Your third question was about ensuring that new council members are suitable. A suitable council member is one who can accomplish the council’s threefold task — investigation, reflection, and recommendation. You’re looking for someone who is a good listener, who knows and loves the parish, and who has the patience to do the work of investigation and reflection that belongs to the council. The best way to identify such a person is to invite parishioners to an open meeting about the council. You can then create an opportunity, at the meeting, to see how the person interacts with others. Is he or she a good listener? Does the person ask good questions? Does he or she understand what the pastor is consulting about?

    All of this is common sense, but it is important. Councillors have a well-defined task. The challenge is to find people who are up to the task. Pastors don’t want to consult people who are unable to accomplish the threefold task. They don’t want to consult people who can’t advise them properly. So focus on the task, and then you can attract the kind of people who are able to achieve it.

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