'Part of your role is to envision the life of the collaborative, not deciding what you think the collaborative should be, you're asking God what these parishes should be.'
On a recent crisp, fall Saturday, Pastoral Council members from the Phase I Lynn Collaborative gathered for a day of prayer and reflection on the role and responsibilities of being a collaborative pastoral council (CPC) member. Father Paul Soper, cabinet secretary for Evangelization and Discipleship guided discussion along with Father Brian Flynn, pastor, and Chris Carmody, director of Ministries. The current Archdiocesan Guidelines for Parish Pastoral Councils came from the Archdiocese's Eighth Synod and were promulgated in 1988. To be sure, they are from the last century, and will be revised to accommodate the new collaborative reality, but still, they provide good direction for councils today. The guidelines speak about the council as an instrument of evangelization -- right on target with the focus of Disciples in Mission, and rather forward thinking for 1988: "To assist the pastor in his leadership role planning, organizing, initiating, promoting, coordinating, and reviewing the evangelization ... activities within the parish." Disciples in Mission builds on this idea: "the multiple Parish Pastoral Councils of the parishes in a collaborative become one parish council to assist the one pastor in fostering pastoral activity and in guiding the mission of the Church in each parish and in the parish collaborative." There's harmony in these two statements.
The Lynn gathering looked at the role of the CPC through the lens of prayer, vision, discipleship, and personal faith stories. The day not only began and ended with prayer, but also included time for midday adoration and benediction. A priest was available for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Prayer at parish /collaborative meetings shouldn't be hurried or tagged on, perfunctory "bookends" to the meeting. It is an important part of council gatherings. In fact, one characteristic of a council, as stated in the guidelines, is prayerfulness: "The Council devotes time to reflective prayer at each meeting and makes provisions at least once a year to have some special time or meetings spent together solely in prayer, reflection and spiritual sharing." The Lynn Collaborative was doing just this.
Father Soper spoke about what it means to be on the CPC. He said, "Part of your role is to envision the life of the collaborative, not deciding what you think the collaborative should be, you're asking God what these parishes should be. The fundamental thing you have to do individually and together is to pray." Later, he encouraged council members to "build prayer into the topic up for discussion. Don't be afraid of the silence." He cautioned, "When someone speaks don't let it flow into a conversation."
Parish Pastoral Councils and CPCs are consultative. The guidelines state, "a consultative body, the PPC is responsible to the pastor, assisting and supporting him in his leadership role .... The PPC should be an important means by which the pastor will hear the voice of the parish. Through its deliberations and consultation with the pastor, the PPC helps to unite the Pastor and the parishioners." This is so important when bringing together two or three faith communities and two or three councils in a collaborative.
Referencing Scripture, Father Soper spoke of God's call to Abraham, connecting the 12 tribes of Israel to Jesus' calling his 12 apostles, "Jesus chooses 12 apostles, reconstituting unity. They were a sign of unity for the nations." He went on, "CPC members from different parishes of the collaborative are called to be a sign of unity. You are symbols as much as you are people. That's why there is one CPC rather than two.... When you think of your role on the council, think of unity. Come with the attitude of seeking a common vision. It can arise sometimes out of conflict. Conflict isn't wrong, as long as it is holy conflict." Coming full-circle, he returned to the importance of prayer: "Jesus called his disciples. You'll be calling people too -- to be on committees or to do this or that. That calling had better come from prayer. It's a grave responsibility. Your first responsibility is prayer."
This was the first retreat that some council members had been on in many years. Chris Carmody reports, "The members ... gave great feedback from the day, expressing that ...they better understood what discipleship is and how we can move towards it as a council and as a collaborative." Fittingly, the day ended with Mass. As one member said, "I feel privileged to serve ... This is the beginning of something bigger than ourselves."
Susan Abbott is the former Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.