“The parish is where the Church lives. Parishes are communities of faith, of action, and of hope. They are where the gospel is proclaimed and celebrated, where believers are formed and sent to renew the earth.” -U.S. Bishops, Communities of Salt and Light
“Parish social ministry is the empowerment of the parish as the people of God to fulfill the Church’s mission of love, justice, freedom, and peace by communally responding in an organized way to societal and individual human needs.” -Parish Social Ministry: A Vision and Resource; a Catholic Charities Perspective Catholic Charities USA
Parish social ministry is an organized effort of the entire parish to serve those in need, to advocate for justice, and to work at changing societal structures that perpetuate injustices. The Catholic Diocese of Jackson has begun a five year plan, including three pastoral priorities, rich in the call to truly live the Gospel and thereby help to build the Kingdom of God. One way of helping to ensure that the three pastoral priorities are addressed in effective ways, and to provide structured support to this effort is to form a Faith In Action Team (a FIAT) within your parish. This team would include parish leadership and other parishioners interested in and committed to social ministry.
There are many models that a parish can use, but they all involve establishing a core group of people who are specifically responsible for helping the parish act on each of the elements of effective parish social ministry. This group, or FIAT, is made up of parish leaders or representatives of the various parish social ministries (eg. St. Vincent de Paul Society, Food Shelf, Pro-Life Group, etc.) as well as other related parish groups (eg. Faith Formation, Liturgy, Stewardship). It meets regularly, and has its own internal leadership.
The first step is to identify at least 3-5 initial team members who will meet to 1) clarify the team structure and mission, 2) discuss a plan of action including the seven elements listed in Communities of Salt and Light, 3) organize and execute a parish analysis, 4) recruit and train parishioners on Catholic Social Teaching, 5) coordinate parish-wide social ministry efforts, 6) identify emerging parish and community needs, 7) communicate regularly with the pastor and pastoral council, 8) maintain connection with diocesan and national offices, especially with regard to continuing education of the team, 9) collaborate with other faith communities on common goals, and 10) conduct an annual evaluation of effectiveness for the purpose of planning.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has published the helpful resource, Communities of Salt and Light, to provide guidelines for parish social ministry. This document is included in every FIAT binder provided to parishes by Catholic Charities Jackson Office of Parish Social Ministry. Another useful resource is the document, “Organizing a Parish Social Ministry Coordination Team,” available online (link is provided below).
Communities of Salt and Light provides three key messages that have implications for the responsibilities and structures of the “Coordination Team.”
In Communities of Salt and Light, the bishops highlight seven elements for effective parish social ministry:
Organizing a Parish Social Ministry Coordination Team, USCCB
Ulrich, Tom, Parish Social Ministry: Strategies for Success, Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame, IN, 2001
Peeler, Alexandra, Parish Social Ministry: A Vision and Resource, A Catholic Charities Perspective, National Conference of Catholic Charities, Washington, D.C., 1985
Parishes in Action is designed to develop new social ministry efforts, or to assist already active social ministry committees in the integration of the social mission of the church into the life of the parish. The program is most effective when parish council members, deacons, stewardship and social ministry leaders, directors of religious education and other parish leaders participate. It is also intended for parishioners who want to gain a better understanding of social justice, and/or would like to become involved in parish social ministry. Topics include Catholic Social Teaching, charity vs. justice, the elements of parish social ministry, and tools to build social ministry. Participants are expected to attend and participate in each session.
Parishes in Action is designed to be held during 2-hour sessions, over 5 consecutive weeks, with modifications available. A facilitator from the Office for Catholic Social Justice Ministry will lead each session. Additional guest speakers are provided for some of the sessions. There is time for small and large group discussion at each session. A small amount of reading is required between sessions, and participants are encouraged to review the provided supplemental material from their binder. Participants are also encouraged to practice newly learned skills.
Learn more about Parishes in Action by emailing OCSJM
For more information contact: