Teaching Our Faith – Parish pastoral councils

This series of teaching editorials focuses on consultation in the Church and the role of boards and councils on the parish and diocesan level.

Parish pastoral councils have been an integral part of the Archdiocese for nearly 50 years. Today there are diverse consultative structures that exist among our 110 parishes in the 24 counties of central Kentucky that form the Archdiocese of Louisville, but the purpose and function is consistent.

Parish pastoral councils serve as a consultative body to a pastor or pastoral administrator and facilitate cooperation between the pastor or pastoral administrator, the staff, and parishioners to define and carry out the parish’s mission. The council also supports good relations with the community and participates in endeavors related to the common good.

I’ve had the privilege to serve as the parish council chair for the Cathedral of the Assumption for several years, and it has greatly deepened my connection to the Cathedral and its ministry. I consider it a privilege to serve, but I’m also reminded of the encouragement to participate actively as laity in the mission of the church as reflected in multiple Scriptures. One of my favorites is 1 Peter 4:10, “Each one of you has received a special grace, so like good stewards responsible for all these different graces of God, put yourselves at the service of others.” 

In following with the mission of the archdiocese, parishes are led by the grace of the Holy Spirit and in communion with the Bishop of Rome to proclaim and encourage us to live the Good News of Jesus Christ by:

  • Worshipping God in word and sacrament;
  • Witnessing and sharing our faith;
  • Serving human needs, especially those of the poor and oppressed;
  • Promoting holiness of life through continuing conversion;
  • Fostering justice and mercy among all God’s people.

The scope of the parish council’s work, grounded in this mission, is also collaborative and in coordination with the parish committees — worship, service, formation and administration. We are so blessed at the Cathedral to have such dedicated leaders committed to serve as committee chairs and members. These critical committees help bring Christian life to the parish through celebrations, sacraments, outreach, teaching, faith formation, participation and caring, to name a few. They also make up an important body of the parish council, each holding a seat at the table to promote the interdependent relationships that make the life of the Cathedral or any parish fruitful. 

Lastly, the responsibility of the parish council is to assist the pastor by defining the parish mission, searching to discover the directives of the Gospel, developing a pastoral plan with priorities for service, building a sense of belonging by providing organizational structures and operating with procedural guidelines. 

In addition to these priorities, many parish councils have been guided recently by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz’s inspiring pastoral letter, published in 2016 — “Your Parish, the Body of Christ Alive in Our Midst.”  It was an open letter calling upon us to work for the renewal of parish life. We’ve just completed a period of discernment at the Cathedral, which will guide the future of our beloved parish over the next decade. This work would not have been possible without the generosity of parish council members and other church members, who have given kindly of their time to focus strategically on the future.

I was so happy to learn at a recent Pastoral Council of the Archdiocese of Louisville (PCAL) meeting, that many other parishes in the Archdiocese have also just completed or are just beginning the discernment process. At PCAL meetings, Archbishop Kurtz meets biannually with parish council leaders for a special day of sharing and learning. The most recent gathering was an opportunity to bring us together at our new meeting location, the Archdiocese of Louisville Pastoral Center on the Holy Family Church campus. It is an exceptional center and will provide easier access for many parishes throughout central Kentucky.  It’s been a privilege to serve alongside so many other parish council chairs and learn the remarkable mission work happening across our church communities. 

Over the last several years I’ve been saddened to hear from friends who feel they have no real purpose.   Many have expressed they feel lost, disconnected and not appreciated.  One of our closest friends recently shared he wasn’t “spiritually being fed.”  I remember being overwhelmed with empathy and compassion for my dear friend. My husband, John, quickly responded by saying, “If you are not being fed, then feed.” What incredible, simple but powerful words. 

Just as the parish council has the responsibility to support our church community and beyond, all of us as laity have the opportunity to profoundly impact not only the lives of others, but ourselves through service.  Please consider joining your church community to serve and to also be fed.

Leslie Smart, Parish council chair, Cathedral of the Assumption

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