This piece was written by Maria Colfer, co-ordinator of the Ferns Diocesan Pastoral Council.
It was about the late 80’s early 90’s when there was an announcement in the diocese that clergy, laity and community groups were being invited to come together for a public meeting. Two at least from every parish were invited to attend. This was a rare open-door event. I remember the excitement when I was coming from Mass that Sunday. The sense of anticipation was palpable.
The big day arrived. It was an afternoon gathering in the Ferrycarrig Hotel. I was nervous of going on my own and asked a friend to come with me. She seemed glad to do so. The conference room was thronged with laity, religious and clergy everywhere. A DVD was rolling on a big screen up at the top showing a baptism being celebrated during a Sunday Mass in San Paolo with a massive congregation all singing dancing and showing great joy at being part of this event. Was this the ‘new Church’ where everyone was coming together and being involved?
Proceedings began with the Bishop welcoming everyone and acknowledging that this was the first time ever clerics and laity had come together in the diocese. He was enthused by it all, we could see. He encouraged the clergy to embrace this initiative.
Once preliminaries were over the meeting was facilitated in small groups. You could feel the energy. For the plenary session each table had a spokesperson to give the feedback. The central message was one of praise for the diocesan leadership in hosting such an event. The second one was the real need to build on this day and have a follow-up.
With a new pep in my step I came home with a sense that something powerful was emerging in our diocese. I couldn’t wait for our next parish meeting. The main part of that meeting was taken up with issues around typical parish maintenance . It was only under A.O.B that the conference got a mention. A report was given that the Bishop was now asking for parishioners to be more involved in the pastoral life of their church and parishes were being encouraged to set up groups called parish pastoral councils. A silence fell on the room as if people were trying to absorb what they had just heard.
Then, as if prompted by the Holy Spirit, a voice from the top of the room said ‘I wouldn’t mind being part of that kind of group’ . Then a second person volunteered expressing similar sentiments and a third was followed by a fourth. Soon there were 5 or 6 volunteers who shared a desire to be involved and so was born the first pastoral council in our parish.
It was wonderful to be able to discuss with fellow parishioners issues around Mass, sharing ideas on engaging young people and developing ways to enhance liturgies and we even hosted a retreat. We were brave enough to dramatise the Stations of the Cross and filled our Church one Good Friday night. These were heady days as we got busy doing. We shared our ideas with our priest and he was willing to give us our heads and let us at it, as it were. I know now that we lacked the training necessary to work on personal formation but while we fell short on theory we had enthusiasm in spades.
Today, a Pastoral Council is more prayer- based and consultative than we were aware. It’s more about relationships in the parish and above all the relationship of the members with God. Our Church was certainly more alive and was even a conversation point among parishioners with our first attempt at having a Pastoral Council. Now many years later I am fortunate enough to find myself in pastoral work. I still find it life-giving and enriching and I am convinced more than ever that having a properly trained prayerful Parish Pastoral Council, grounded in its own community, welcoming and inclusive in its endeavours can, and is, the life blood of any Christian parish.