PPC & Parish

The Theology of the Parish Pastoral Council in section 4.1 has a short outline of the Pastoral Council and its function within the life of a Parish. This section looks at more structural issues, regarding the placement of the Council within the diverse arrangements under which Parishes organise themselves to accomplish their mission and its vision. There are many ways of thinking about structural matters, but the fundamental principle that we might learn from the corporate sector is the “Structure follows Strategy”, i.e. we are encouraged to determine our structure on the criterion of which shape will best achieve the strategies we set ourselves to build our community. Another form of the corporate dictum that is sometimes used in the Church is “Form follows Function”. The two sayings amount to the same thing. What this section deals with are four different structures of Parish life, and where the Parish Pastoral Council might be placed and the orientation it might take.

For example, what we might refer to as the traditional structure of a Parish modelled very much on a hierarchical form that reflects a particular authority structure valued by many communities. The overall leadership of the Parish Priest is very clearly defined. The responsibility of the Parish Pastoral Council, along with other key groups and facilities in the Parish is very clearly to the Pastor. This structure is a very useful one in traditional Parish communities that have certain expectations about leadership. It is also a useful model in those Parishes that have little experience of collaboration, leadership development and whose faith development is still in its beginning stages, and where the firm direction and clear leadership that this model presents is needed.

As some Parishes have developed, they have seen a need to recognise the gifts of the Spirit among their people and have established a collaborative model wherein the Pastoral leadership team becomes the enabler of the gifts and ministries of the whole Parish, always of course, with a view to building up the community for its outward mission. Here the relationship between the Parish Priest, his Pastoral team, and the various functional structures of the Parish is a “Servant Leader” facilitating their roles as Baptised members of the Catholic Community, gifted by the Spirit with the three offices of Jesus, as Prophets, Priests and Kings – gifts that are fundamentally given for transforming the world, but are also called forth for building up the community of the Church as it goes about fulfilling its mission.

This model is becoming much more frequent as our people grow in understanding of the faith and their understanding of their role in the mission of the Church. The model presupposes a good number of people who are gifted with leadership, and who can take responsibility under the leadership of the Parish priest for appropriate functions within the overall plan of the parish for the achievement of its vision. Here the Parish Pastoral Council becomes more like an overall planning and coordinating body whose function is to work collaboratively with the Parish Pastoral Team in facilitating the functions of the other groups, and ensuring their consonance with the Parish mission and vision.

Another way of looking a Parish Structure is from the perspective of Church as “Sacrament of Relationships” [Denis Edwards. Pacifica. 2, 1995]. Here the Parish sees itself as the Sacrament of Relationship with God and with each other, identifying all those who are in relationship with it and naming the shape and terms of each ensuing relationship. In this structure, the Parish sees itself as connected by a whole series of relationships, and takes the time and effort to reflect on the form that each relationship takes. Here the Parish Pastoral Council takes on the role of Relationship identifier, builder, sustainer and developer, under the leadership of the Parish Priest who is the sign of relationship with the Diocesan Church and through the Bishop with the whole of the Church.

For a Parish community with this vision and strategy, the essence is about being the sign of the loving God in the midst of the people. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote in the Encyclical Letter God is Love, “The entire activity of the Church is an expression of love that seeks the integral good of all people: it seeks their evangelisation through Word and Sacrament, an undertaking that is often heroic in the way its acted out in history; and it seeks to promote them in the various arenas of life and human activity”. [God is Love, para. 19]. In this way is the love of God encountered in our world.

The fourth structural model of the Church is one that is specifically geared to evangelisation, to its prophetic role of transforming the world through the Gospel. Here the role of the Parish pastoral Council is that of developing a culture of evangelisation among the people of the community, identifying the charism of prophecy alive in the community and enabling due formation to develop the various ministries that enable the mission of the Church, and coordinating their exercise throughout the various levels of the evangelisation process.

It will be evident that while each of these structures has been presented here in stand-alone form, there are bits of each of them in the majority of parish structures and in the roles that their Parish Pastoral Councils take in assisting people to engage with the multi-faceted mission of the Church. They are used here to demonstrate how the different strategies of the Parish flow into the structural arrangements by which they organise themselves to achieve them. The definition of strategies and their subsequent structural arrangements are part of the discipline of Pastoral Planning, a primary function of the Parish pastoral Council.