Qualities of Effective Council Members

One application of the principle of shared responsibility in the local church is found in the Code of Canon Law (c. 511-514) and in the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (c. 272-275). These canons briefly lay out a set of minimum requirements for the purpose of a diocesan or eparchial pastoral council without precluding a fuller understanding of such a council. At the very least, membership on a pastoral council requires the capability and commitment to fulfill the purposes defined in Church law. This is a starting point for determining desirable qualities in council members. To be able to fulfill the purposes of a pastoral council, members must also share an understanding of and commitment to the mission of the local church or diocese/eparchy. This shared sense of mission provides the essential context for members to carry out their responsibility as a council, “which under the authority of the bishop investigates, considers, and proposes practical conclusions about those things which pertain to pastoral works in the diocese.” (CIC, c. 511; cf. CCEO, c. 272)

Think about what characterizes a valuable advisor. How do you recognize a worthwhile advocate? Whom do you choose when you want to accomplish a task? The talents for advising, advocating, and accomplishing will inform the roles and functions of those called to serve on a pastoral council. To advise. Advisors can be those who have learned from living and have integrated that learning with their beliefs, values, and behavior. Advisors can also be those shaped by experience in their vocation, career, aspirations, and even their failures. Effective advisors have prior acquired knowledge, gather pertinent information, and are open to ideas that both fit or challenge their own thinking. Genuine advisors set aside prejudice and personal agendas to listen, absorb, and then offer the truth from their perspective. They do so simply, without expectation of reward, but for the benefit of those seeking advice. They can let go of their personal wisdom and allow it to belong to others. Advisors such as these are the basic cornerstones of an effective pastoral council.

Underlying these many competencies is the fundamental quality of all council members, namely of nourishing a deep personal commitment to an active prayer and faith life (recognizing that personal spirituality may be expressed in a variety of ways). The living spirituality of individual members enhances the corporate spirituality of the council, creating a climate of openness, trust, mutuality, and respect that models the communion of the universal Church as the Body of Christ. To ensure viability, council members should view their service as a significant ministry of the local church.

Mr. Mark F. Fisher and Sr. Rosalie Murphy, SND deN 2004

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