ORLANDO | Upon completing her four-year term on the USCCB National Advisory Council (NAC), Renae Bennett, archivist for the Diocese of Orlando, says, “Serving on the NAC has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life.”
The opportunity is a unique one, and serves to give voice to lay people as well as clergy and religious sisters. Established in 1968, after the Second Vatican Council, Bennett explains the NAC “was conceived as a rotating group of advisors, a ‘church in miniature,’ to represent a cross representation of ‘people in the pews’.” Members cover 15 geographical regions of the U.S. and reflect different ages, genders, ethnicities and vocations. Bennett notes, “The majority of the members are drawn from laity, but it also includes representation from religious sisters, priests, deacons, brothers, and bishops. Members are proposed by their bishops to serve on the NAC.” The focus of the work is to review, study, discuss and advise the bishops of the USCCB on agenda items they discuss at plenary meetings in June and November of each year.
Members vote on a scale to express the extent of their agreement or disagreement with the agenda, or “action” item. “They also draft and propose their own resolutions to the bishops to draw attention to areas they feel would benefit from being addressed by them, if not already covered in the agenda,” she said.
Bennett served from 2016-2019 representing Region XIV (Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina). She served on the Executive Board in 2017 as secretary and again as acting secretary in 2019 when the elected member could not attend the meetings.
Providing a platform for lay and religious to discuss the issues of the day affecting the Church, the NAC has addressed topics such as pornography and racism. It also deals with updates to breviaries, hymnody, issues of immigration and refugees, new editions of charters, causes for sainthood, human trafficking and crisis topics.
“It provides the bishops with valuable insight and inspiration about items of concern to the people of God,” says Bennett, who is a lay Franciscan. “NAC’s relationship with the bishops is one of mutual respect and trust. NAC is expected to be honest and forthcoming in their opinions and information provided to the bishops… The NAC is not a rubber stamp and that is important.”
The group meets twice per year, starting each morning with Morning Prayer and Mass. Opportunity for Evening Prayer, Eucharistic Adoration and Reconciliation are available each day. “We’re an intentional Christian community, so the focus of the work always comes back to the greater good of the Church and the greater glory of God,” she notes.
Bennett adds, “To look around the table and see so many different people, with different backgrounds, experiences, and opinions coming together to work because they love the Church, even when there is disappointment and anger, is both humbling and exhilarating… While my terms of service ended, the friends I made, the insight I gained into the Church, my increased appreciation for the diversity and heartfelt commitment of the people of God will forever be with me.”
Succeeding Bennett is Lisa Weis, director of liturgy at St. Margaret Mary Parish in Winter Park.
By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic October 2, 2019