Discussion Question: Parish Council Eligibility

Today’s essay question:

To what degree should members of a parish council be subject to the requirements enumerated for bishops (priests) and deacons in 1 Timothy 3:1-13? Support your answer. (Because I don’t want to wade into the matter of women serving on parish councils, make appropriate adjustments for that in reading the epistle.)

1/21 Update: I can tell many of you are giving this diligent reflection, which explains the, ahhh, light response so far.  Some points to ponder: Is it ever in the interest of the Church (locally and universally) to have councilmen who drink too much, or are prone to violence? What about quarrelsomeness and intemperance? Marital history?

10 comments on this post.
  1. SubDn. Lucas Christensen:

    I can’t think of any of the qualifications listed that ought not to apply to a parish council member, with a possible single exception: a remarried widow/widower ought to be able to serve on the PC. I can’t think of a single other attribute that I wouldn’t expect in a council member.

    SubDn. Lucas Christensen
    All Saints Church
    Bloomington, IN

  2. Becca Ziegler:

    I’ll just move my facebook response over here … with a few extra comments:

    I think the real point is that in order to truly serve God, which is the job of any member of the church be it clergy, parish council member, or parishioner we must do our best to lead a sincerely Christian life. We should all hold ourselves to the standards which we hold our clergy to. I understand that there are exceptions to some of the marital status etc, but I think the general idea that you must have your life in order to be able to serve your Church and ultimately God is universal regardless the position you hold in the Church.

    I think our Parish Council should be comprised of people who are ready to lead with a clear mind and a strong footing. Someone who consistently drinks too much and fights too much is not prepared to be the kind of stable example which a leader in the Church should be.

    I, not being married myself, do not have as much to weigh in about the actual marital status. I think the more important concept in regards to this is that, at the time in their life when they are appointed to serve of parish council, all aspects of their life should be in order.

  3. Trudy Ellmore:

    The “diligent reflection” comment made me smile. That’s my excuse!

    Keeping a few of our parish council members in my mind as an example of how not to be, I would suggest that some of the most important qualities are being a team player (not actively thwarting the work of the parish & priest) and being ethically and morally above reproach. I guess that means meeting the qualities of 1 Timothy. However, how does one ‘interpret’ being ‘husband of one wife’? One at a time? Or not being divorced? If the latter, then we’re in serious trouble due to the current state of our society’s stats re: divorce.

    No it is not in the Church’s best interest to have a council member that is prone to violence or drinks too much. Sometimes those things are not discovered until after the person is on the council already. Thus, the president and rector need to have enough guts to seek/demand resignations when necessary.

    In order to have a council made of persons who meet St. Paul’s directives, choices ought to be made prayerfully and with the priest’s guidance. Not walking down the aisle and grabbing any warm body available, which IMHO is often the case. If there are not enough persons to fill the slots, then go with the quality persons and leave the other slots open until such time they can be filled with a ‘good’ person.

  4. fr anthony perkins:

    What an interesting topic! Let me provide a slightly different view.

    Folks above did a good job pointing out that the desired qualities are much the same as for candidates for ordination. I agree. I would like to temper this a bit by arguing that the actual selection of board members seems to be something that allows for (requires?) a lot more discretion/variation than ordination.

    I agree with Trudy that the rector and board need to have the guts to demand resignations when necessary (or – using the same logic – to halt a nomination). But because of the dense web of parish history and relations that run through each person, I’m not sure any single case can be decided on purely objective merits (at least none set much higher than those required of adult members in general). The pejorative term for this is “politics”, but I think there is a more charitable way to see it (e.g. part of a corporal and personal healing process).

    Sometimes a pastor may just need to keep things going long enough for the healing to really set in. There are times when healing requires more decisive action – but why limit the medicine available unnecessarily?

    Obviously some behaviors are so far over the top that they require resignation (violence?!), and obviously it’s nice to have board members that know how to play/work well with others. But I am willing to work with people on the board that I would not recommend for a vocation. In such cases, service on the board can become a path for rehabilitation (especially as board meetings and the running of the parish may allow for interaction with someone that would not otherwise be possible).

    So I am arguing for broad discretion in qualifications.

    But “broad discretion” requires that we select/train up other lay leaders and priests who can exercise discernment and that have the pastoral ability to provide serious spiritual OJT. In parishes where these qualities are not available, it would probably be better to set qualifications for board service really high (and leave seats vacant, if need be).

    Your servant,

    fr anthony
    (a priest/rector with very little experience)

  5. Trudy Ellmore:

    Fr. Anthony’s whole last paragraph of his comment is spot on as far as I am concerned. Most especially his statement of “we select/train up other lay leaders”. This is a significant part of the priest’s responsibility, I feel.

  6. Fr Basil Biberdorf:

    I agree with that last paragraph myself. I’ll say, though, that there’s a lot of opposition to leaving council seats vacant, for example. Some of the faithful get very upset about this in fact, and end up accusing the priest of trying to “stack the deck” in his favor by limiting a parish council in some way. Sometimes, though, there are no real good options for filling a vacancy.

  7. Fr. Oliver Herbel:

    Fr. Basil, you state the objection well. By-laws kick in, too. For how long can a seat be vacant. That said, Fr. Anthony is right (and Fr. Basil you concur)that we need to work on raising up good lay leaders.

    One thing to keep in mind, though, is that people need to have the priest’s blessing to be successfully nominated. After all, the bishop has to bless the elected board members later. I think the crux of the matter is having priests willing to properly consider nominated parishioners. It also means priests should not be pushing to have people on the council who would back the priest’s scandalous behavior(s). I hope this latter rarely ever happens, but it seems to happen sometimes. So, it all comes down to the priest. Who is he raising up and guiding onto the council?

  8. fr anthony perkins:

    It’s a tricky balance – we recognize that the ideal is good folks doing the right thing, but try to protect ourselves and our parishes from them when they aren’t/don’t. This balance is evident in both this discussion of lay leadership and the one on clergy. I am a big fan of limited government, and prefer a system that leaves as much discretion to our spiritual leaders as possible – whether it is bishops WRT candidates or priests/selection “committees” when it comes to boards. This is the ideal, and even when it is not in evidence, it is the thing we should be working towards (I think).

    Extra rules are tempting for at least two reasons: 1) they “maximize the minimum” – meaning that they may not deliver the ideal situation, but at least they protect us pretty well from really bad decisions and 2) they are thought to provide an instructional framework whereby the selection of suitable folks becomes ingrained and automatic.

    But, while 1) is debatable (I’m ambivalent) – I think 2) is incorrect. What I see happening when discernment (or what Weber refers to as “charisma”) becomes institutionalized is that it atrophies (rather than develops) discernment. But his may be because of my ideological blinders. I also believe that big government atrophies our civic/communal capabilities.

    I think (or perhaps it is just a hope) that we should (out loud) expect our bishops, priests, clerics, and lay leaders to exercise proper attention and intentionality when selecting and training candidates for every ministry; and that when they don’t (or we still get bad apples), that we help diagnose the problem. The way to build muscles is to challenge them.

    FWIW, I think this forum is doing this right now – and I think it is very healthy! I am just arguing that we avoid suggesting more rules and suggest indicators and tools that will help our leaders exercise their charisma/discernment.

    As a sort of random comment – what do y’all think of the use of personality/psychological evaluations as part of the process (for both lay leaders and clerics); not as a way to select (although really abnormal findings could be looked into), but as a way to aid in the conversation/process?

  9. Fr Basil Biberdorf:

    Fr. Oliver, I won’t comment at length in favor of putting an extended reflection up as its own article. Briefly, though, I’ll say that there’s a lot of second-guessing of the priests’ judgment going on. (Yes, we know why, but some thinking about the value of imputing bad behaviors to parish clergy universally is called for, I believe.)

    Secondly, there are too many parishes where the councils just don’t function responsibly. In some cases, council positions are seen as honors bestowed rather than positions of responsibility and accountability. In others, the council views itself as a restraint on the priest’s proper authority (as in a checks and balances system) rather than as a consultative, deliberative body with a real ministerial role. These situations are a tightrope for the priest. Yes, he needs to lead, sometimes very, very gently, and other times boldly. Diocesan authorities too often decline to support priests taking the difficult, but necessary, path.

  10. Mark C. Phinney:

    1. Do the Biblical requirements for a presbyter apply to members of the parish council? I pray that they don’t. Both my wife and I are in our second marriage. My first wife walked out on me two-and-a-half years into that marriage; I was willing to attempt a reconciliation up to the time I became engaged to my current wife. Since my divorce, I have served on two parish councils, each for 4 years continuously, the maximum number of consecutive years allowed by the by-laws of each parish. (I had served on the parish council in a third parish for four years before becoming Orthodox.)

    My current wife divorced her first husband because she was afraid the behavioral changes in first husband threatened her physical safety and that of her then 5-year old son. She is serving her fourth year on the parish council, the second as Vice-President; her service will end in January, 2011.

    2. Why would anyone in their right mind nominate or vote for a parish council candidate with a reputation for violence?? Unless the parish priest is willing to publicly vouch for the repentance of the questionable candidate or the candidate’s behavior indicates at least 2-3 years of repentance, no one should support the nomination or election of the candidate.

    3. Why would anyone in their right mind nominate or vote for a parish council candidate with a reputation for substance abuse? As above, unless the parish priest is willing to publicly vouch for the repentance of the candidate or the candidate is known to be actively involved in a recovery program for at least 2-3 years, no one should support the nomination or election of the candidate.

    4. What sort of ministry is service on a parish council? Is it comparable to service as a priest or deacon? What of service as a member of the choir or a church school teacher?

    5. If one of the responsibilities of the parish leadership, both clergy and laity, is to develop future leaders, how is that done? How are candidates selected? If self-selection is allowed? How are they formed?