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The Ministry of the Parish Council

by His Grace Bishop Joseph
The Word, October 2002
Delivered to parish council members of the Western Region in June 2002

Christ is in our midst!

I would like to thank all of you for the holy ministry you are performing in your parishes. May God reward you abundantly.

Let me talk to you as children, friends, parishioners and Parish Council members. I would like to take the opportunity to share with you some thoughts on the ministry of the Parish Council in the life of the Church. When I say ministry, I am not saying this to “spiritualize” an otherwise secular job. A Parish Council member, through the acclamation of the community in which the Holy Spirit resides, has a charism, a special gift and responsibility to represent and serve the community. This ministry comes forth from God, who is the center of all things. This is why Council meetings are held in the Church, begin and end with prayer, and always are conducted with the priest present.

Like organs in a body, each Parish Council member has a special function. All of you have different talents and skills that you bring together to form a single body. The Council meeting is not an arena in which we do battle with others. We do not seek to defeat our enemies and compete with others. Each vital organ of the body works together for a common goal, and so Parish Council members must support one another. The aim is to speak with one voice.

Now, I know that we are not robots, and that all of us have opinions. Sometimes our opinions differ, and when they do we must work harder to deal with each other respectfully and lovingly; otherwise we are no longer serving a holy ministry. Does anyone honestly think that God desires us to engage in political intrigues and manipulations? I will give you the answer: NO.

If you desire to serve God and your community, then leave your personal agenda on the sidewalk outside; don’t even bring it onto Church grounds. When you come to Church, your only agenda should be love. And anyone who says, “My way or the highway,” does not have love in his heart. Encourage one another, be patient with one another’s imperfections, humbly admit mistakes and try to keep things organized so everyone can participate. We don’t have time for contests of strength and influence. This is not an arena for old clan grudges or new attacks. It is a place where the vision of the community is woven into a tapestry through your various talents and abilities.

Before you think of finance and business matters, ask yourselves, “Where is God and His Church in what we are doing?” Once you answer this question, you will have peace in your decision-making. If you want God to bless this community, then do your best to avoid unnecessary conflict. Should you have a disagreement with someone, settle it outside the meeting and be reconciled. When you advertise your disagreements, you demoralize the entire community. The people who have entrusted this ministry to you ask themselves: “Is this what we want? More fighting and bickering? The Parish Council can’t do anything!” This ministry is holy and an extension of the prayer and worship of the community. The people know this already.

So, I have spoken of how the Parish Council should act, and now I must say a few words about what it does. The responsibility for the material maintenance of the parish falls squarely on the shoulders of the Parish Council. No one can individually handle such a responsibility, which is why you need to work together as a team, a family in harmony.

There is a temptation to leave all the problems of the Church to the priest when we cannot reach a consensus on our own. This is wrong. If you leave the priest to stay up nights worrying about whether the bills are going to be paid or if the Council will ever reach a decision on this or that, then you have diverted him from his primary task of caring for the spiritual needs of the community. In the Liturgy, we sing in the Cherubic Hymn about laying aside all earthly cares, and the priest is foremost in having to do this so that he may sanctify himself and others.

If you take the responsibility for the financial well-being of the community, then take it completely. Don’t let anyone else worry instead of you. That means fixing problems yourselves. There is no blame if you have done everything humanly possible. But, until you have done everything humanly possible, then the responsibility is still yours. That was why you were elected: not for empty honors, but because people trust you to fix problems. By giving others the gift of peace, you also bless yourselves.

By freeing the priest of these concerns, you can use him according to his purpose. The priest is the voice for the Church’s Holy Traditions, and he is an invaluable resource for Parish Councils. He helps remind the Council of its duties and its context. By listening to him, the Council will help the community grow.

By doing your duties as Parish Council members, you prepare your community to participate in the greater Church throughout America and the world. This is the role of the Bishop, who links his communities together into a single organism spanning the entire planet. This is why when the Bishop speaks, it is not for himself, but for the Church of Christ. His directions are not open for debate, because they are not just for one parish but for all of them. The parish is part of a greater body called the Archdiocese, and if it rebels against the rest of the body, it kills itself and all the other parts of the body. By listening to the Bishop and following his requests without question, you will further the national ministry of the Archdiocese and receive the peace of Christ.

What everyone must realize is that all of the clergy in the parish serve you on Metropolitan Philip’s behalf. They are all directly accountable to him, and His Eminence delegates their duties and responsibilities. They are at the parish not as employees but as His Eminence’s representatives. We know what they are doing and they keep us informed of their activities. Both the Metropolitan and I appreciate the work of all the priests, deacons, departments and organizations of the Region.

I have faith in Christ, and I believe He will lead you down the right path if you let Him. I also know that your families play an important part in the formula for success in the Parish Council. Your families bear your burdens in a special way, sacrificing their time with you so that you can serve the community. When you are troubled by what goes on in the Parish Council, your distress becomes theirs. So, they too have a special ministry in supporting you with their prayer, patience and perseverance.

Whenever I visit a parish, I am always asked, “How can we make the parish grow?” Sometimes, they mean in terms of money, other times in terms of attendance. The answer for both is the same: education. Don’t think that people are only hungry for cookies and coffee on Sundays. They want to feed on the “heavenly bread,” the Word of God. The better the education (that means adults first!), the better the quality of your parish life. The better the quality, the more people you will attract, and the more encouraged they will be to support the Church. Don’t you know that quality brings quantity?

So, hold your women’s meetings and men’s groups, but make them educational rather than merely about fundraising or socializing. Focus on learning, and it will take away the dissent and the gossip. Don’t look at youth activities as babysitting, but help our young people out by giving them the tools of the faith to overcome life’s challenges.

Others have asked me about what I see as the recipe for success for a Parish Council. There are two ingredients to this recipe: keep it concise and speak with one voice. The first ingredient is the hardest for more experienced council members, especially when I tell them to keep the meeting brief. Don’t beat people up with endless discussions. Discipline yourselves, and you will be pleasantly surprised. Go home to your families while you are still able to communicate coherently and enjoy their company, rather than collapsing into bed exhausted and confused. Once in a while, gather as a council but don’t discuss business. Invite a speaker who can help you learn more about the Church or yourselves. Enjoy each other’s company and respect one another, and you will have a successful Parish Council.

Next, remember that the Parish Council is not a democratic body, but a symphonic orchestra. That means you gather to play a single piece of music, not have a group of individual instruments blaring out at once. Endless delays and discussions are futile; what is there to decide once you have heard the Gospel? If you forget God and His message the moment you think of money, you have a problem. Keep Christ in the forefront of your thoughts, and you will have harmony.

I hope you sense both the responsibility and the joy of ministry in the Parish Council. Before I conclude, I must ask you one final question: what is your vision for your parish? What is it that inspires not only you, but the entire community? If you are only trying to preserve what you have, the Scriptures say you will lose everything. You must take risks and make the plunge. For what? For the salvation of all, for the sake of the Gospel. If the message of Jesus Christ isn’t in what you are doing in the Parish Council, you are heading towards failure. But, God Himself will be your provider and defender if you resolve to preach Christ to the whole world!

The vision I am asking of you must be a long-term one. It must be something that will endure long into the future, far beyond ourselves. It must inspire those who come after us, lasting after the next election, the one after that, and into the future. It must be a legacy to our great-grandchildren, one that they will be proud of.

I will close this with a reminder to all of you: our Lord Jesus Christ is here with us every moment. If we are to succeed in anything, it is only through Him. Every moment of every day, He is there. Never forget the fear of God, because it will save you from harm and strengthen your resolve.

God bless all of you for accepting this holy ministry.