General Formation Programs

The Working Group under instruction from the Australian Bishops’ Conference has placed great emphasis on Pastoral Council Member formation, both as a Council and as individual members. For the purpose of simplicity, formation processes are divided here under four headings: Initial Formation; Ongoing Member Formation; Specialised Formation; and Group Formation.

Initial Formation and Orientation to the Parish Pastoral Council Ministry

When there has been a change of membership under the constitution or by simple departure of members for personal reasons, or when a whole new Pastoral Council has been established, initial formation and orientation sessions are strongly advised to set the new Councillors or new Council on a desired path. This needs to be scheduled into the Parish Calendar as a matter of course. Its benefits include: having all members working from a shared focus on role and mission; the establishment of trust among the members; efficient meeting procedures; and effective pastoral outcomes.

Pastoral Councils that undertake an initial formation session at the beginning of each new term of office save themselves months of time, which would otherwise need to be spent on clarifying issues, deciding on details and developing strategies to assist with achieving desired outcomes. Without such a formation session, members who are new to the council will often take many months to determine how the group operates and what is expected of them, thus limiting the effectiveness of their contributions. The length of time for the initial formation session may range from a few hours to a full day or an overnight experience, separate from regular meetings. Some Pastoral Councils have found it helpful to invite an outside facilitator, who is familiar with the role and functions of a Pastoral Council, to assist with the session.

Important aspects to include in an initial formation and orientation session:

  • Building trust and team work through getting to know each other better
  • Situating the Pastoral Council within the context of the Mission of the Church
  • Clarifying the role and function of the Pastoral Council
  • Focus on prayer and ongoing formation
  • Pastoral planning i.e. short-term and long-term goal setting and action planning
  • Consensus approaches to decision making
  • General operating procedures
  • Practicalities – agendas, minutes, times, conflict resolution processes
  • Selection of office bearers
Each Pastoral Council will expect to continue to develop the work done in the initial formation session during the monthly meetings, particularly through the ongoing formation segment and general interactions. If members identify a need for an additional formation session, perhaps for review or revitalisation, the Pastoral Council is encouraged to include the required session in their planning calendar.

[Courtesy of Cecilia Anning, Handbook for Parish Pastoral Councils, Archdiocese of Brisbane, 2007.

Ongoing Member Formation

After the initial formation processes, and settling into the rhythms of their ministry, Pastoral Councillors will quickly discern the need for further development in a number of understandings, skills and capabilities. This ongoing formation may take the form of special events or be integrated into the agenda of each Council meeting.


These events include any formation experiences arranged or accessed outside the normal meeting schedule. Such formation programs may be quite diverse in type and duration. Like the orientation program they may be full-day training sessions on particular aspects. They may be conferences, pastoral planning days, visiting speaker presentations, reading group discussion meetings, Gospel reflection groups, and so on.

For example, a Pastoral Planning formation day may follow a similar schedule to one that has been a stock process used by one of the Working Group.

Parish Pastoral Council PLANNING WORKSHOP

09.00 Gather for Coffee & Conversation

09.30 Opening Prayer and Introduction

09.40 Situating our Community within today’s Church

10.00 Revisiting our Mission and Vision – What do they mean to me? Now?

10.20 PLANNING SESSION ONE – Building our Community

11.00 Morning Tea

11.20 PLANNING SESSION TWO – Worship & Celebration

11.55 Quiet Reflection Time

12.00 PLANNING SESSION THREE – Growing in Faith & Witness

12.40 Lunch

13.20 PLANNING SESSION FOUR – Reaching out to Serve

14.00 PLANNING SESSION FIVE - Resourcing our Pastoral Plan

Discerning Community Gifts to Match our Plans

Structure as a Resource [Structure follows Strategy]

What has been missed?

What known future issues do we need to face/prepare for?

15.15 Reflection and Discernment of Next Steps


15.45 EUCHARIST – Offering our plans with the bread and wine

17.30 Celebration of the Day – BBQ at the Parish House

This program is specific to particular Parishes who use the kind of Parish Model on which it is based. Its main advantage is that it forms people in the basics of Pastoral Planning as well as creating an outline plan for the Council at the same time. The essence of the example is the kind of formation session that may be built around any number of desired topics or formation events.

These kinds of events ask Councillors to be generous with time. Perhaps two such days per year might be a reasonable limit. Even then, there will be a number of Councillors who find it impossible to attend. Mostly, therefore, formation occurs within the Council’s regular schedule of meetings.