In-Meeting Formation
Special focus is laid on formation processes that are usually part of every Pastoral Council meeting agenda. In addition to the special formation events outlined above, an ongoing formation segment at each meeting, or at each alternate meeting, is strongly encouraged, even considered by very many to be essential. As well, individual members may wish to undertake further faith-enrichment studies whenever possible.

The inclusion of an ongoing formation segment at meetings (perhaps for ten minutes, no more than twenty) aims to contribute towards at least one of the following:

  • continued faith enrichment
  • deeper understanding of Scripture
  • greater knowledge of Church teaching
  • personal growth
  • development of group skills to work as a more effective team.
Whether the focus of ongoing formation is faith development or team building, they go together as two parts of a single reality. In placing such a strong emphasis on ongoing formation, the expectation is that the pastoral councillors become better equipped to respond to their role of service and are enriched in their living of the Christian life.

A practical approach to formation is to include a brief article or book section reference with the agenda and minutes. The circulation of material prior to the meeting allows councillors to study and reflect on the topic in preparation. The use of questions to focus the discussion is recommended e.g.

What did you find interesting, helpful or surprising?
What comments or questions does it raise?

At the Pastoral Council meeting, the process of speaking first in small groups of two or three, and then sharing with the total group, facilitates maximum participation, drawing out even some of the less vocal members of the Council.

Resources for Formation at Pastoral Council Meetings

  • Formation material in the areas of scripture, theology, spirituality, skills-development and current issues can be found in parish resources and publications to which the parish and/or individual members subscribe.
  • The Brisbane Archdiocese’s Handbook for Parish Pastoral Councils (3rd Edition) contains many sections suitable for formation.
  • Articles and resources are available from the workplace, diocesan resource centres and members' own professional and personal situations.
  • Councillors, parishioners and diocesan employees, who have specific expertise in a required area, may contribute material.
Ongoing Formation Topics

Topics suitable for further study and reflection for Pastoral Councils include:

  • The dignity and value of the human person
  • The mission of Jesus
  • Scripture studies
  • The nature of the Church
  • The importance of Baptism and its call to mission
  • Church teachings of current interest
  • The personal and group call to ministry as members of the Pastoral Council
  • The importance of personal and communal prayer
  • The leadership role of the Pastoral Council in the parish community
  • Ways of deepening mutual trust and understanding among members
  • Development of good communication skills
  • The use of effective and productive meeting procedures
  • Pastoral planning skills.
[Courtesy of Cecilia Anning, Handbook for Parish Pastoral Councils, Archdiocese of Brisbane, 2007, pp. 61-63]

Specialised Formation

Specialised formation may apply to many programs. Here it is applied to two: Formation of Pastoral Council Office-bearers such as Chairpersons; and particular specialist skills that may be discerned as necessary from time to time, for example, Project Leadership, or Pastoral Planning skills.

With regard to the first set of programs, many Dioceses run their own programs in this regard. Brisbane Archdiocese for example has both training programs and regular conferences for the development of Pastoral Council chairpersons. While individual Pastoral Councils may be particularly blessed with access to people who have natural or already developed gifts for acting as the Council Chair, most will need to develop essential skills in the person chosen for this role. As a very basic list, they will need to be formed and frequently updated in the following elements:

  • Collaborative and Collegial Leadership
  • Group Dynamics and Consensus Decision-making
  • Agenda formulation and processing
  • Meeting procedures
  • Time management
  • Communication skills
  • Problem-solving
  • Conflict Management
Other Pastoral Council officer-bearers in the structural variations specific to each Council may also need appropriate formation in their roles. Everyone who takes on one of these roles needs some kind of induction to be informed of the Council’s expectations at least.

Other specialist skills formation may be sourced within the local community, from the Diocese or obtained from the Internet [This website was commissioned partly for this purpose], Reading Materials, or other resources. Most Dioceses, for example, have an Agency responsible for Pastoral Planning, and employ skilled people who are only too willing to assist with skills development in this area by sharing their wisdom. Catholic Education Offices in most Dioceses also hold a range of skills that they may be able to “squeeze” some time in for sharing with Pastoral Councils. In country Dioceses, where communities are scattered far and wide at distances from the Diocesan centre, the Diocesan Centres need to be particularly conscious of their formation needs, and provide accessible resources where possible. For such communities, web resources may be most helpful as well as making in-person programs available on a regional level. Local community resources may also be able to be adapted to the specific formation needs of the Parish Pastoral Council. For example, a local Municipal Council or business operative may be able to share their Project management skills with the group.



Group Formation

There is very much to be said for processes that bond the Pastoral Council as human beings, people with unique stories, wisdom, wit, experience and warmth. The bonding and maintenance of the group assembled for this ministry is often best achieved by events that enable people to share their stories in a relaxed and social atmosphere. Sharing a meal, or sharing a stimulating movie or spiritual experience together with reflection and some hospitality, one-on-one conversations, and even sitting around in comfortable chairs sharing something of who were are in a convivial and secure group environment, are all essential group formational processes. It is almost a maxim in the training and education industry that “Association with one’s peers” is an important part of any developmental program. For Parish Pastoral Councils, relationship-building is of the essence.

Review of Prayer and Formation Programme

At regular intervals, Pastoral Councils need to review their prayer and formation experience. Some questions that might assist this review are:

  • In what ways have members been enriched by their experience of prayer at meetings?
  • What aspects of meeting prayer require modification?
  • Which formation segments have been helpful? Unhelpful? In what ways?
  • What would assist in improving the effectiveness of the formation provided?
  • To what extent has trust and mutual acceptance of differences been enhanced as a result of prayer and formation at meetings?
  • What formation topics could be included in future meetings?

[Courtesy of Cecilia Anning, Handbook for Parish Pastoral Councils, Archdiocese of Brisbane, 2007, pp. 61-63]

In-Meeting Formation Resources

Here are some examples of in-meeting formation reflections that Parish pastoral Councils have found helpful. They usually take up 15 to 20 minutes within normal meeting time. Special settings or lit candles may be used to act as a prayer focus.



SESSION ONE:

He makes the winds his messengers, and flames of fire his ministers.[Psalm 104:4]

It is Pentecost.
Pentecost shows us how deep prayer leads to mission, as God answers the prayer and fills the church with mission for the world. Pentecost challenges apathy. Pentecost challenges superficial prayer and shallow expectations. Pentecost challenges mediocrity and half measures. Pentecost challenges a minimalist approach. Pentecost is very hard when we take it seriously. But God is with the church; God breathes life into the church and longs to see it aflame with the love of God for the world. God invites us back into the passion of Pentecost time and again.

When the day of Pentecost had come, the believers were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? … in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power."
[Acts 2:1-11]

  • Name what ‘fires you up’ with regards to the Church.
  • Discuss where you see ‘the passion of the Holy Spirit’ in the parish.
  • As the parish pastoral council gives leadership to the parish, how can it focus on these areas of ‘passion of the Holy Spirit’ in order to accentuate the life and mission of the parish?

Come Holy Spirit
and fill the hearts of your faithful.
Kindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created,
and you shall renew the face of the earth.
Amen

SESSION TWO:

I will bring you to my holy mountain and make you joyful in my house. [Isaiah 56:7]

Sometimes Jesus leaves us scratching our heads, and this gospel is one of those times. People are quick to jump in with explanations, but as a parish leadership group it is good to ponder these things without ready-made answers, and to relate to Jesus as a person rather than a doctrine.

Jesus went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.
Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon."
But he did not answer her at all.
And his disciples came and urged him, saying, "Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us."
He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me."
He answered, "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs."
She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table."
Then Jesus answered her, "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish."
And her daughter was healed instantly.
[Matthew 15:21-28]

Reflect on this for a moment.

  • Does this remind you of an incident in your life? Share it with those around you.
  • How does this gospel passage speak to the leadership the PPC gives to the parish?
  • Who ‘belongs’ and who doesn’t in our parish – how is this shown?
  • Has there been a time when a PPC decision has been questioned by a parishioner and the PPC has changed its decision? What does this say to you?

May you be gracious to us, O God,
may you bless us and make your face shine upon us.
May your ways be known on earth,
your salvation among all nations.
May the peoples praise you, O God;
may all the peoples praise you.
Then the land will yield its harvest,
and God, our God, will bless us.
[From Psalm 67]

SESSION THREE:

Your thoughts are not my thoughts, and your ways not my ways. Isaiah 55:8

Here is a parable of Jesus that still divides and troubles people today.

Jesus said to the disciples, "For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard.He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

"About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' So they went. He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing.

About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, 'Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?' "'Because no one has hired us,' they answered. He said to them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard.'

"When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.' The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius.

When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 'These men who were hired last worked only one hour,' they said, 'and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.'
But he answered one of them, 'Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?'

"So the last will be first, and the first will be last."
Matthew 20:1-16

  • What do you think about this parable?
  • How would it feel to be the worker hired first? The worker hired last?
  • What is this saying to you about the Kingdom?
  • Could you lead the pastoral ministry of a parish like this?

To you, O God, I lift up my soul.
Show me your ways and teach me your paths;
guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.
Amen
[From Psalm 24]

These reflective formation sessions were prepared for the Parish Pastoral Councils of the Archdiocese of Adelaide by Michael Brady. Similar formation processes may be gleaned from helpful articles, Church Resources Newsletter on the Internet, press articles, sections from books. Councils may even choose a specifically prepared formation programme in specific areas such as leadership, using fro example some of Kevin Treston’s materials, the Brisbane Diocesan Pastoral Councils Handbook, and so on.