Father Jason Parzynski, administrator of St. David the King Parish, Princeton Junction, is pragmatic when speaking about the role of parish pastoral councils.
“They bring a wisdom to the pastor that is valuable in both understanding the parish community as a whole, as well as understanding how ministry initiatives are meeting the needs of the community,” he said. And while it’s his hope as a parish priest to meet and know many parishioners as he can, “realistically, one person can only be aware of so much at any given time.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Convocation for Parish Pastoral Councils
“The pastoral council creates a venue for me to get the pulse of the parish and guidance on how I can be more effective and intentional in shepherding the parish,” he said.
Terry Ginther, diocesan chancellor and executive director of the Office of Pastoral Life and Mission, said a pastoral council is established by a pastor, and members are identified through a process of selection or discernment, not voting. The pastor gathers the council on a regular basis to consult with members about areas of pastoral matters. The role of the members is to investigate these issues by studying their underlying causes and the best way to address the issues, to consider all possible approaches in light of what they know about the people of the parish and their needs.
Some 100 pastors and parish pastoral council members had a chance to gain insights during the first diocesan Convocation for Parish Pastoral Councils Sept. 30 in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold. Hosted by the diocesan Office of Pastoral Life and Mission, the convocation drew more than 100 participants from 30 parishes, a handful were in the process of establishing or re-establishing a council, Ginther said.
“Some who came do not have a council and were able to learn steps to take in the months ahead. Other participants represented existing councils and were very interested in moving ahead with some initiatives inspired by our Synod listening [sessions],” she said.
Dominican Sister Donna Ciangio, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Newark, told participants that pastoral councils are not about the members deciding on whether the lines in the parking lot need to be painted.
“Pastoral Council members are about embracing the mission of their parish and bringing the mission of their parish to life,” she said in her keynote address, “Building Up Communion, Participation and Mission.”
Along with hearing Sister Donna’s keynote, participants joined Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., for Mass. They also attended breakout sessions on topics related to parish pastoral councils.
“Today, we come together here in the Co-Cathedral, members of parishes from all over the Diocese of Trenton, to reflect upon what I’d like to call a ‘structure of listening’ in our parishes — the parish pastoral council,” Bishop O’Connell said in his homily.
He said parish pastoral councils trace their roots to the Second Vatican Council and, ever since, the concept of a parish pastoral council has developed into an important part of parish life.
“Pastoral councils are a coordinated parish effort aimed at the common good to evangelize, sanctify and serve God’s people under the leadership of the pastor,” Bishop O’Connell said. “Their common trait, however, is to be truly advisory to the shepherd of the local parish community.”
When addressing the role of the parish pastoral councils, Sister Donna emphasized that parishes need to have a clear mission that is readily recognized by the community. The council’s primary focus is on “visioning for the mission,” and the goal of the mission is ultimately about finding ways to spread the Word of Christ to the people.
“We have to figure out if we are providing the people the means for having an encounter with Christ” and helping them to develop a personal relationship with Jesus, she said.
“You can’t do evangelization if you don’t know Jesus Christ,” she added.
Learning the Ropes
As a newcomer to the parish pastoral council in St. Thomas More Parish, Manalapan, Laura Tortoriello is learning how it functions.
“I realized it’s not just about a group making decisions,” she said, but rather it’s about “all members and groups involved in the parish working together and not in silos.”
Karrie Ann Vanella, another new member of the council, said she has seen “great strides” in the parish in terms of getting people involved.
“Many parishioners want more fellowship and a more intimate relationship with those they encounter on a daily basis. They just don’t have any idea how to start,” she said.
Father Joel Wilson, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, Maple Shade, said the pastoral council “brings me many and varied voices from the parish, forming a representative body of counselors, and together we strive to vision and strategize for the parish.” he said.
“It is so important for parish life,” he said.
Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., greets Milissa Else, coordinator for Parish Strategies and Small Group Ministry in the Newark Archdiocese, who presented a breakout session on "Practicing Listening & Group Prayerful Discernment." Also pictured is Dominican Sister Donna Ciangio, left, chancellor in the Newark Archdiocese who was the convocation's keynote speaker, and Terry Ginther, diocesan chancellor and executive director of the Office of Pastoral Life and Mission. Mary Stadnyk photos