Parish Pastoral Council

Amy Jackson, Chair
Cheryl Madden, Co-Chair
Steve Nyswonger, Secretary
Sue Hubert
Brent Phillips
Kim Reynolds

Guidlines for Parish Pastoral Councils

Diocese of Salina


The Church:  Jesus Christ entrusted His mission of salvation to the twelve apostles and through them to the bishops of the Church.  These are gathered in a spirit of collegiality around the Holy Father and share with him the responsibility for the governance of the universal Church.

The Parish:  Each bishop is assigned to a diocese.  Each diocese is further divided into geographical areas or communities called parishes.  Because a parish derives its nature and function from the diocesan Church, the bishop commissions a pastor for each parish as his representative.

A parish is a group of Christians called together by God through baptism to share in the mission of Jesus.  This parish is, for most Catholics, the single most important part of the Church.  The parish, as a community of communities, is the Eucharistic people gathered with the leadership of the pastor.

The Parish Pastoral Council:  One of the implications of  the  concept of  shared  responsibility is that the  whole  parish  community  should actively share with the  pastor the responsibility for carrying out the mission of  the  Church and  supporting the faith growth of the community. These duties grow out of the baptismal commitment of each Catholic.

The entire parish community cannot meet systematically and regularly with the pastor.  Planning within the parish and participation in the larger Church of the diocese requires organizational structures of collaboration. Thus it is necessary to form an intermediary group, which is representative of and in contact with the total parish, to plan with the pastor for the mission and faith growth of the parish community.  This intermediary group is the Parish Pastoral Council.

Because the pastor is commissioned by  the bishop as his representative, and since the pastor has the central leadership role in the life and development of the parish, the pastor plays an essential role in the Council and is to preside over it. (Canon 536)  It follows that the Council cannot formally meet without the participation of the pastor.  All reference to Parish Pastoral Council in these guidelines presumes the active leadership and involvement of the pastor in the work of the Council.  (When a parish life coordinator has been appointed by the Bishop, as provided for by Canon 517, the canonical pastor may delegate the responsibility of presiding over the Council to the parish life coordinator.)

The first thing the members of the Council must keep in mind is that they and the other parishioners have been called by God. The Council is not gathered for its own purpose or simply to use its own resources.

The second thing to remember is that the members of a particular parish are not called to live in isolation either from their fellow parishioners, or from other Catholics in the diocese.  The Church is a community which extends beyond the boundaries of any one parish.  This sense of parish-community and of diocesan-community is very important for an understanding of Church. 

Guidelines for Parish Pastoral Councils

Purpose:  The Parish Pastoral Council forms with the pastor a leadership group of the parish which is broadly representative of parish membership.  Through the Parish Pastoral Council the Catholic laity along with those who share in the pastoral care of the parish in virtue of their office give their help in fostering pastoral activity.  (Canon 536)  It is an energizing, coordinating and unifying organism of parish life which enables the individual members of the parish to have access to the processes which guide and support the various aspects of parish life.  As such, all other parish groups or bodies should relate to the Parish Pastoral Council either through one or another of the council commissions or through some other appropriate means.

It must be emphasized that the spiritual growth and mission of the parish community is the primary concern of the Council.  As a result, the Council concerns itself with the material well-being of the parish only within the context of this primary focus.

Functions:  The Parish Pastoral Council carries out its purpose through four interdependent functions:

1. Spiritual Formation;
2. Parish Planning;
3. Policy Development;
4. Communications;

1.  Spiritual Formation:  The  primary concern for the Parish Pastoral  Council  is  the  mission and faith  growth  of  the  entire  parish.  In  order to promote this  formation  of  adult  Christians  in the  parish community,  it  is essential that the members of the Council themselves join together  in a process of such  growth.  The Council should work to:

A.   Identify the spiritual-growth needs of all parish members;
B.  Assess the effectiveness of all present parish programs and organizations in deepening the spiritual life of the parish, assisting them in developing a sense of mission;
C.   Provide opportunities for the spiritual growth of parishioners through retreats, days of renewal, small faith communities, etc.

2. Parish Planning:  Planning for the growth and direction of the parish community is the major work of the Council each year. The steps in a parish-planning process are:

A. Writing a simple, direct statement of the parish's mission as a community within the diocesan Church.
B.  Identifying and reflecting upon the needs of the parish in light of this mission.
C.  Establishing goals and objectives and strategies to respond to the top- priority needs.
D.  Monitoring and evaluating the programs and activities designed to accomplish the goals and objectives.

3.  Policy Development:  The actual selection of goals and objectives and strategies for implementation in a given time period constitutes the formulation of policy.  A statement gives direction and is a guide to actions, showing what this `group' wants to accomplish.    

4.  Communications:  The importance of communication as a function of the Council in its service to the parish and in its relationship to the larger Church and world community cannot be overestimated.

A. In its role of service to the parish, the Council should regularly communicate with the members and groups of the parish, seeking input from them on issues and concerns under consideration.
B. The parish is an integral part of the diocesan community and the Universal Church.  Through the Vicariate pre-Pastoral Councils, the Diocesan Pastoral Council and other consultative groups, the Parish Pastoral Council develops regular channels of communication between itself and the bishop and the Universal Church.
C. The Council creates communication linkages with communities of other faiths and with appropriate groups/persons within the civic community.
D. The Council must continuously develop the quality of its own internal communications process among the members of the council itself.

Membership:  The Parish Pastoral Council should be a microcosm of the total parish community.  Therefore, the membership should be as representative of the parish community as is possible.

Representation is partly a matter of structure and partly a matter of attitude. From the standpoint of structure, the Council should include a broad cross section of the parish community and, at the same time, give evidence of a balance. 

It is recommended that councils analyze their membership relative to the percentage of men and women, youth and adults, etc.  Also, from the structural standpoint, each member of the parish should have access to the members of the Council.

From the standpoint of attitude, members of the Council should have the good of the entire parish in mind and no be representative of only one narrow point of view.  Parish Pastoral Council members should endeavor to be bridge-builders between different points of view rather than being advocates for one point of view. 

1. Qualifications:  Each parish, in its Parish Pastoral Council Constitution, should develop clear criteria to determine eligibility for voting and for candidacy.   (It should be noted that parish employees should not normally be eligible to be candidates.)

In addition to being  a  registered  member  of the parish, persons  called to  the  important  work of furthering the faith growth  and  mission  of  the  parish  community  should  give  evidence  of the following:

  • willingness to acquaint themselves with the responsibilities of a Parish Pastoral Council member as outlined in the teachings of the Church.
  • willingness to work with the pastor who is the leader of the parish community and with the other members of the Council in setting direction for the parish.
  • willingness to work for the whole parish community rather than advocating only one point of view.
  • willingness to be held accountable for active involvement and leadership in parish life and development.

2.  Responsibilities:  A Council member makes a commitment to the parish community, which places serious time pressures on the individual.   It is not a duty lightly accepted but should be regarded as a primary commitment.  This commitment involves:

  • an active involvement in personal and communal spiritual growth.
  • participation in the meetings of the council.
  • active membership on at least one commission/council or service as a Council officer.
  • study and preparation for each meeting.

3. Size:  Because parishes differ greatly in size, each parish must determine the size of Council most suitable for adequate representation of the parish membership.  The range of optimum size is between five and twenty members. Of this number, at least two-thirds must be elected by the parish community (cf. section below on ""Election Procedures"").

4. Term of Office:  Greatest advantage is found in a three-year term of office for Parish Pastoral Council members, staggered to provide an even rotation year after year. A  Council member is eligible for re-election to the Council for a second  three-year term;  then, however, the person is not eligible for re-election or reappointment to a third term until  one year after the completion of  the second term. 

5.  Membership: 

a. Ex-officio members – These are to include the pastor and  parochial vicars and pastoral associates who are at least half time.  (All ex officio members are non-voting members.) 

b. Elected/appointed members - It is suggested that all persons be elected (and appointed) to the Council itself - - not to head particular commissions.   The elected (and appointed) Council members will then elect one from among themselves to serve in the capacity of chairperson for a one-year term, one from among themselves to serve as a vice-chairperson for a one-year term.

The other elected/appointed members of the Parish Pastoral Council would then identify which council commission they would prefer to be associated with.  Each commission will have a member of the Parish Pastoral Council serving on it, not necessarily  as chairperson of that commission, but as an active member and formal liaison between that commission/council and the Council.

Leadership in the Parish Pastoral Council and Respective Duties

1. Pastor/Presider:  The pastor presides over the Parish Pastoral Council and must participate in all meetings of the Council. Since the pastor is to ratify all Parish Pastoral Council decisions, he does not vote with the Council. 

When a parish life coordinator has been appointed by the Bishop, as provided for in Canon 517, the priest supervisor may delegate the responsibility of presiding over the Council to the parish life coordinator.

2. Chairperson:  The chairperson, who serves under the guidance of the pastor/presider, is key in the effectiveness of the Council organization.  The chairperson's duties include:

  •  organizing and coordinating the activities and processes of the Council.
  • chairing the meetings of the Council.
  • motivating the various members/groups in the Council to fulfill their specific responsibilities.
  • representing the parish at the vicariate-level pre-Pastoral Council meetings.

3. Vice-Chairperson:  In addition to the normal duties, the vice-chairperson  is also expected to participate in the pre-Pastoral Council  meetings in the vicariate with the chairperson.

4. Secretary:  For the smooth functioning of the Council, a secretary is to be appointed/elected. This  person may, or may not, be a member of the Council.  In addition to the regular duties of an organization's secretary, this person will send the names and addresses of Council members to the respective diocesan offices.  It is important that councils keep on file careful records of their history and development, of their minutes and recommendations, of changes in leadership, etc.

The Parish Pastoral Council’s constitution should detail the duties of each officer.  Additionally,  the  constitution should  identify  the  composition of the executive committee and the agenda committee;  the pastor is to be a member of each of these two committees.

Selection Procedures:  In order to assure the widest possible representation on the Parish Pastoral Council  (e.g., age groups, sex, minorities, geographical areas, etc.), one of two approaches to selection  of membership is possible.  Each Parish Pastoral Council constitution should state which of the following two approaches a particular parish is using. 

Option One – Nominations Committee:  In April or May, an ad hoc nominations committee would be created, charged with responsibility for both nominations and elections procedures.   This nominations committee, formed by  the Council,  would  include  the  pastor,  the chairperson of the Council  and  three additional  parishioners.  The functions of this nominations committee are:

a. To identify and nominate persons who have the leadership ability, the necessary qualifications (see page 4), and the desire to serve.  (Three candidates for each  office recommended.)
b. To develop procedures whereby the members of the parish community can become acquainted with candidates and with their qualifications.
c. To set up voting procedures so that all eligible parishioners will have the opportunity to vote. (Eligibility is determined by the Parish Pastoral Council constitution.)

In the case of this Option One, all voting members of the Council would be elected by the entire parish membership.

Option Two – Elected/Appointed Membership:  In this option, at least two-thirds of the members of the Parish Pastoral Council would be elected by the entire parish community.  And at least one member, and  up to one-third of the members,  would  be appointed by the pastor, in order to accomplish the widest  possible representation which may not happen if all members were elected.

In this approach or model, in early May, the executive committee of the Parish Pastoral Council would develop procedures which would encourage parishioners to self-declare their candidacy for the Council. (Again, three candidates for each position recommended.)  The executive committee would then fulfill the same functions of the ""nominations committee” in #b and #c above.

Then, following the elections, the pastor would appoint at least one member, and up to one-third the number elected, to the Council.

Frequency of Meetings:  Normally, the Parish Pastoral Council should meet once each month.   It is recommended that the agenda of the meeting be so planned that the meeting can be limited to a period of two hours.

Additionally, each Council member will most often have one other meeting each month in his/her respective commission.  Usually the chairperson and the vice-chairperson will not have these added  commission meetings; however, they are expected to take part in the regular vicariate level meetings of the Diocese.

Leadership Role:  Parish Pastoral Councils enable the members of the parish to join with their pastor in the policy-development process for the parish community. 

The leadership role of the Council must be understood within the context of the theology of shared responsibility and the collegial nature of the Church, and not within the context of American democracy or other political models.  For this reason the Parish Pastoral Council is consultative to the pastor and its ""decisions"" are to be considered as recommendations to the pastor. 

The nature of the church is both human and divine.  Insofar as it is a human organization, there is much that the Church can adapt from the leadership procedures of other organizations. Church organizations must do more, however, than bring reason and information to bear on decisions. Those who help make decisions for the life and growth of the Church must work to discern God’s will in a prayerful atmosphere of faith.  Only then will the decisions be life giving.

Great care should be exercised in using parliamentary procedure because of the tendency to fall  into a political spirit of opposing parties, majorities versus minorities and the win/lose mentality.  A Parish Pastoral Council which develops a win/lose dynamic in its decision-making process will usually polarize rather than unify the parish community. Discernment and consensus procedures increase the likelihood of arriving at decisions that the Parish Pastoral Council can support even if each individual cannot totally agree with the decision.

The pastor and the Parish Pastoral Council confer on all important policy concerns of the parish community. They work together in a climate of good will and trust.  Great care is to be taken to assure a complete and honest dialogue in which all points of view  are considered.  Resource persons of competence should be invited for the necessary input and variety of perspectives.  All members of the Council seek to arrive at decisions which can be supported by the entire parish community rather than just a segment of the parish. The growth of maturity within a parish is often exemplified by the affirmation of legitimate diversity as a benefit to the parish community.

Decisions of the Council are considered final when ratified by the pastor. Ordinarily this ratification will take place within the context of the meeting at which the decision is made.  If the pastor desires more time for reflection on the decision, he may withhold ratification until the next regular meeting.

Since the pastor/presider is involved in the process of dialogue and discernment which leads up to any  Council decision and since the Council should be careful to reach decisions which can be supported by the entire parish community, the occasions when the pastor decides it necessary to withhold  ratification of a Council decision  (and/or use his veto power) should be rare.


The structure of a Parish Pastoral Council flows from its function and its discerned areas of responsibility.  Certain responsibilities are divided among commissions, each of which addresses a specific area of parish life and mission.  Since the commissions are the working arms of the Council, their vitality largely determines the effectiveness of the Council.

1. Commissions:  In order  to  enable  commissions (and Parish Pastoral  Councils)  to  share  across  parish  lines, each parish should have these three commissions:

A. Liturgy
B. Education
C. Christian Service/Family Life

As the need arises, parishes may form additional commissions, e.g., parish life, evangelization, etc.

2. Functions of Commissions:   The basic functions of the commissions are focused on a specific facet of parish life. These functions include:

  • To identify the needs of the parish in its area of responsibility.
  • To communicate these needs to the Council and the pastoral team, discerning with them which needs can be realistically addressed and where inter-commission collaboration might be effective.
  • To formulate long-range goals and objectives after prioritizing needs.
  • To develop means to implement these goals.
  • To submit the proposed means (programs) to the Council for approval and support.
  • To communicate with the pastoral team about the implementation.
  • To maintain communication with the parish concerning programs, encouraging active support and involvement.
  • To maintain communication with the respective diocesan offices for guidelines and resources.
  • To provide ongoing formation of members in areas of concern through workshops, recommended readings, etc.

3. Membership: Each commission will determine the number of persons necessary to address effectively its area of responsibility.  The work of some commissions admits of a number of divisions or sub-committees.  It is suggested that the optimal size of the entire commission be between four and fifteen persons, being broadly representative of the parish community.  The term of membership on a commission should be determined in the parish guidelines for each commission.

A. Qualifications:  In seeking members, the Parish Pastoral Council commissions should keep in mind these  qualifications  for potential members:

  • Interest in the area of responsibility and the willingness to learn more.  
  • Willingness to work for the benefit of the whole parish rather than advocating only one point of view.
  • Understanding of the relationship of the work of the commission to   the overall goals of the Council and to that of other commissions.
  • Degree of conviction that the work of the commission is a priority.

B. Chairperson:  Each commission has a chairperson who is responsible for the organization, coordination and promotion of the work of the commission. This person may be chosen in one of the following ways:

1)  Elected by the commission.
2)  Elected by the commission and approved by the Parish Pastoral Council.
3)  Elected or appointed by the Parish Pastoral Council.
4)  Elected by the parish membership.
5)  Nominated by the parish membership and elected by the Parish Pastoral Council.
6)  Appointed by the executive committee.

NOTE!  All Parish Pastoral Constitutions and By-Laws should be submitted to the Chancery for approval.  All changes and amendments should likewise be submitted for Chancery approval.

The Liturgy Commission

Purpose:  The liturgy is the climax of the Church's activities and the basic source   of its power.  In all the sacramental celebrations, but especially in the Eucharist, the Lord's Paschal mystery is recalled and celebrated.  In the Church's memorial, the community re-establishes its own identity as the Body of Christ.


1.  To prepare all the liturgical celebrations of the parish, especially Sunday Eucharist and Liturgy of the Hours (morning prayer and evening prayer), in keeping with the Liturgical Year.
2.  To establish guidelines for weddings, funerals, baptisms, etc.
3.  To evaluate parish liturgical celebrations in order to identify and continue those things which promote healthy prayer and to improve these areas which do not.

Membership:  The Pastor, as the official liturgist in the name of the Bishop, is to be part of the commission.  The parish should consider having a liturgist or parish coordinator of liturgy, similar to the director of religious education.  The commission should include a member of the parish council, as well as the chairperson of each of the liturgy commission sub-committees; music, environment and art, and ministries.  There should be no limitation to the number of terms a person may serve on the liturgy commission, since training and experience in liturgy is more valuable than periodic overturn of membership.

The Education Commission

(Refer also to Section III. pp. 7-11)
Purpose:  The Education Commission of the Parish Pastoral Council has as  its  responsibilities the determining of goals and objectives to  meet  the  educational needs of the  total  parish community,  together  with the monitoring and evaluation  of programs designed to implement these goals and  objectives.   This “cradle to the grave"" approach assures that all members of the parish are serviced educationally according to their needs during the entire course of their lives.


1.  To identify the education needs of the entire parish by ongoing processes   (such as surveys, census data, input from resource persons, etc.)
2.  To communicate the results of such needs analyses to the Council.
3.  To formulate long-range goals and objectives in terms of the prioritized education needs of the parish community.
4.  To develop programs to implement these goals and objectives, working in collaboration with the parish professional education personnel.
5.  To be knowledgeable of the various parish educational programs and activities and to collaborate with other Council commissions in education-related matters.
6.  To cooperate with and support the parish professional education staff engaged in various facets of parish education (school principal, director of religious education, teachers, etc.)
7.  To be knowledgeable of Diocesan educational goals and policies, seeking to apply them to the parish level.
8.  To maintain communication with the Diocesan structure of education (commissions and boards).
9.  To become knowledgeable of policies and educational programs of the local public school system and facilitate parish involvement in speaking to such matters.

Membership:  Persons who are members of the Education Commission should be knowledgeable and concerned about the broad educational mission of the Church and be representative of the parish community.   Professional members who are involved in the implementation of education programs at various levels of parish life are important to the planning, monitoring and evaluation of parish education/
Christian formation programs.

In parishes with Catholic schools, an effort should be made to integrate the role of the School Council with the functions of the Parish Education Commission so that the  Parish  Pastoral  Council  is  truly  the  unifying  organism  of leadership  in  the total parish community.  For this reason, it is recommended that in parishes with Catholic schools the school principal and/or one member of the School Council be members of the Parish Education Commission.

Christian Service/ Family Life Commission

Purpose:  Jesus not only preached the nearness of God's  reign; He  also  enacted  the  works of God  by  which people could experience that  loving  presence of  God's  reign.   We continue His mission, His work and His service toward others, living out the Gospel imperative.  The Christian Service/Family Life Commission exists to bridge the gap between the Gospel reality and the lived world of our society.

It  is  the  purpose  of  this Commission to promote and coordinate  programs  that  will  guarantee  justice and charity  in  full measure for all members of the parish.
This Commission has the responsibility of enabling members of the parish to respond to the social problems of today, giving special care to the poor, the lonely, the aged, the oppressed, and minority groups. It is also the purpose of this Commission to promote the growth of people, especially by strengthening family life within the parish community.


1.  To assess the human needs of all parish members, especially youth, parents, the divorced, singles and the elderly, and to provide appropriate responses to their needs.
2.  To educate parishioners to realize that all are called to care for each others' needs.
3.  To raise awareness of parishioners on issues relating to life, justice, peace, and hunger issues by encouraging the study of papal encyclicals and bishops' statements.
4.  To promote all parish service programs and mission projects -- e.g., Operation ""Rice Bowl"" during Lent, the annual Campaign for Human Development collection, food collections for the poor, emergency aid, etc.
5.  To promote the involvement of married couples in programs of preparation of engaged couples.
6.  To support married couples in the living out of the Sacrament of Matrimony by   the celebration of renewal-of-vows on anniversaries and by promoting marriage enrichment programs.
7.  To become knowledgeable of programs and resources available through the Diocesan Offices of Catholic Charities and Family Life.

Membership:  Persons who would be members of this Commission should have a true interest in reaching out to serve the needy and in promoting human growth.  Those with experience in counseling,  in social work,  and  law enforcement would also strengthen the Commission, as would those involved  in  marriage programs,  marriage preparation,  community  leaders,  etc.  One member of this Commission should serve as a contact person with the Diocesan Life Commission.