New to the Parish Council?

New to the Parish Council?

This is the season of Parish Council elections throughout the Archdiocese. Well-intended, faithful parishioners are invited to “run” for the parish council.  Suddenly thrust into the spotlight as a candidate, with photo and biography published in the parish bulletin and web site, candidates come to church with a new, distracting self-awareness. Offering to serve, but with the possibility of rejection looming in the approaching election, the willing candidate enters a strange state of limbo awaiting election day.

Best advice… Don’t let it change you. Don’t solicit votes. Don’t worry about getting elected. You don’t have to be on the parish council to serve your Church. If you are not elected the first time you are nominated, you will probably be elected next time.

If you are elected, take the following steps to prepare for your first parish council meeting:

  1. Download and read the Archdiocese Regulations especially the section pertaining to the parish, beginning on page 22. The Parish Regulations are the guide for parish leadership. These regulations were compiled and are regularly updated by clergy and lay leaders from throughout the Archdiocese.

Knowledge of the Regulations, and referring to them on a regular basis, will keep the parish council from making easily avoidable errors. The Regulations offer helpful guidance, having evolved over the years, changing and being clarified as made necessary by evolving parish life.

  1. Consider your education, experience and skill set before your first meeting in January when committee assignments are usually made. You may choose to offer your professional training in service to the church, or you may prefer to offer other talents, knowledge and skills unrelated to your profession.

“It is important to remember that your priest is the head of the parish. He is also a member of the parish council. Although he does not vote, he brings long-term vision, historical perspective, and theological grounding to the current parish leadership group.”

  1. Speak to your priest about your service on the parish council. Ask his advice on what he thinks may be the best use of your knowledge, skills and experience. It is important to remember that your priest is the head of the parish. He is also a member of the parish council. Although he does not vote, he brings long-term vision, historical perspective, and theological grounding to the current parish leadership group.

Serving on the Parish Council is not a resume-builder or an opportunity to do professional networking. It is a calling to serve God and your fellow parishioners. For a few years you will sacrifice the peace of sitting prayerfully in the pews as you carry out your duties and assist other council members in theirs.

Parish Council meetings tend to expand to fill the time allotted. If an agenda has been prepared, it is helpful to indicate the time allotted for each agenda item and the person who will be reporting for each. This allows for discussion, but keeps the meeting moving at a reasonable pace.  If a meeting agenda has not been prepared, it might be something to suggest privately to those in charge.

As a new council member, you will initially need to listen more than you speak. As time goes by and you become familiar with procedures and issues, it will become easier to participate constructively in the discussions. Avoid slowing down the meeting with questions that pertain only to your need to get up to speed. Find a mentor on the council, ask them questions and listen to their advice.

Always come prepared to parish council meetings. One famous attorney wrote that 99% of the work is done outside the courtroom. The same is true for parish council meetings.  Preparation avoids tedious conversations over the minutiae of every project and report. It is helpful to distribute the meeting agenda, the minutes of the previous meeting and the treasurer’s report electronically for review prior to the meeting. This saves time and prepares council members for the meeting by refreshing their memory on the proceedings of the previous meeting.

Though you may come to the Parish Council with ideas for change and improvement, don’t be discouraged by the natural tendency of resistance to change. The phrases, “That’s the way we’ve always done it,” and “We’ve never done it like that before,” are not valid reasons for rejecting new ideas. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Persist diplomatically in implementing new ideas and procedures. Look for efficiencies and improvements in the way things are done. But be patient. Change comes slowly in the parish.

Throughout your service on the Parish Council, keep in mind Article 29, Section 1of the Regulations, which states, “The members of the Parish Council shall attend the Divine Liturgy regularly and participate in the sacramental life of the Church, thereby setting an example for the Parishioners.” Most of all, remember Article 24: Section 1: “To serve on a Parish Council is a ministry and all those who serve are called to represent Christ and the Orthodox Faith to all whom they meet in all aspects of life.” 

May your ministry be blessed.

Fr. Jim Kordaris ([email protected]) serves the Archdiocese of America as Director of Stewardship, Outreach & Evangelism. Prior to his ordination, Fr Jim served in many capacities at St. Mary’s Church in Minneapolis under the leadership of Fr Anthony Coniaris. He served six years on the parish council including two years as president.

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