I was once privileged to serve a parish in the U.S.A. for three months while on my Sabbatical Leave. Within the first fortnight I noticed a very positive and healthy spirit all around, commencing with the parish administration, then the immediate circle of collaborators, the parish school, the parishioners and the parish leadership team. I was particularly curious to know the precise reason and wondered if the parish was blessed with a very resourceful, well coordinated and effective parish pastoral council (PPC). To my stunned disbelief I was informed that there was none. So I tactfully queried the pastor, a very competent, knowledgeable, dedicated, and highly respected cleric. And this was his candid reply: “Jim, after all the stress, tensions and disharmony that I have seen and experienced with PPCs over the years, I don’t ever want one here. By Canon Law, a PPC is not an absolute necessity, but a parish finance committee is. And that is just what I have.”
Over the past 44 years as a priest in the pastoral ministry, I can well understand what the pastor meant. I understand principally because I have observed members on a PPC with differing ideas and expectations, some of which were patently incorrect and divisive, and others which were definitely unhealthy and wrong. And this has been a ceaseless, counterproductive and wasteful source of the “stress, tensions and disharmony” referred to by the pastor.
In essence, the PPC’s all-important objective is and should be the promotion of the best interests of the parish, as a whole, by serving as promoters of righteousness, bearers of peace and advocates of joy. This is the members’ privileged responsibility and bounden duty.
“The work of the PPC,” said the Fathers of the II Vatican Council, “is to examine and to consider all that relates to pastoral work and to offer practical conclusions on these matters, so that the life and activity of the People of God may be brought into greater conformity with the Gospel.” So the principal and all-important objective of the members of a PPC should always be the promotion of the best interests of the parish community as a whole.
Second, the PPC is a consultative body. In other words, the members should act as responsible advisers to the pastor in promoting the best interests of the parishioners throughout the parish. This demands from all an objective and realistic concern for the best interests of the entire community. It would be incorrect to be swayed by the insistent suggestions of one, or a few or a vocal minority. It is equally incorrect, in fact counterproductive, for the members to lobby, either overtly or covertly, in order to push a personal barrel. More positively, the promotion of the best interests of the local church demand from all, but more especially from the acknowledged leaders and representatives on the PPC, a judicious use of freedom as promoters of righteousness, bearers of peace and advocates of pastoral joy.
Third, it is important that all the members on the PPC participate actively. The shared observations of every member will enable the council, as a body, to view an issue in a more objective light, thereby facilitating the way for fruitful action.
Fourth, it is equally important that the members respect one another’s views. As a matter of fact, it would be brash, in fact harsh, for any member to contemptuously dismiss the genuine opinions of another. This demands some discipline on the part of each and every member and a firm control of proceedings by the chairman and pastor. Members must feel free to speak, and clarifications must be respectfully requested. Views may be freely expressed and openly discussed. After due deliberation, a motion may be formulated, which can then be put to the vote — for and against. This will enable the pastor to view the situation more objectively and so determine the best pastoral action.
Fifth, the duration of the meeting must be judiciously determined. As is well known, people resent long meetings and are unwilling to commit themselves to a needless waste of their useful time, especially at the end of a hard day’s work. This can be effectively done if individual reports are written down and read. Also, it is conducive to clarity and precision and facilitates the work of the executive body under the direction of the pastor.
Sixth, members should be judicious in screening the suggestions of parishioners. Some can be easily addressed and, therefore, do not need to be brought to the PPC. They can and should be addressed to the person or body concerned — the faster the better. For instance, there may be an issue that needs to be attended to by the parish finance committee (FMC) and promptly. Procrastination is indeed the thief of time.
Seventh, matters for the agenda should be sent to the chairman or the secretary at least two weeks before the next PPC meeting. And a copy of the agenda should be made available to the members at least a week in advance.
Eighth, it always helps to open a PPC meeting with a prayer and a brief reflection, either by the pastor or a delegated member.
And, finally, given the time and circumstances, the meeting could conclude once again with a brief prayer and blessing by the pastor and a little fellowship over light refreshments.
Well aware of the pernicious consequences of unbridled rivalry and divisive factions within members of a Christian community, St. Paul very wisely, candidly and emphatically makes the following prescription to the people of Ephesus, which could serve as the ideal to which every member on a PPC earnestly strives in building up the Body of Christ in the local church: “I, therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:1-6). TP
Father Valladares writes from Myrtle Bank, South Australia.