What is the Relationship Between the Priest and the Parish Council?

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My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.

WHAT IS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE PRIEST AND THE PARISH COUNCIL?

The Parish Priest is the representative of the local Hierarch (Metropolitan) in the Parish and as such heads and administers the parish. As the Spiritual Leader of the Parish, his priestly duties consist in shepherding the Parish entrusted to his care, directing its orderly life, preserving its unity, and keeping it faithful to its divine purpose of proclaiming the Gospel of Christ (GOAA Regulations 17:1). He and the members of the Parish Council are together responsible for the administration of the Parish. The following pastoral and theological guidelines should govern the working relationship of the Priest and the Parish Council:

Synergy

The Parish Council is comprised of the Parish Priest and the elected (or in some cases appointed) members of the Parish in good standing. Clergy and laity, working together for God's glory, best exemplify "the unity of the faith and the communion of the Holy Spirit" described in the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom. Their working together is a liturgy, from the Greek words meaning: "people and work/task." According to Orthodox Theology and Canon Law, a priest cannot celebrate the Divine Liturgy without the laity. Indeed, the very gift of his Priesthood exists not for himself, but for the sake of the laity. Likewise, the laity cannot celebrate a Divine Liturgy without a canonically ordained Priest. There is a synergy--a cooperation of clergy and laity which is expressed liturgically--which must govern every aspect of the Parish's life, including administration.

All persons have their own personality, gifts, and talents which they are urged to contribute like instruments in a symphony orchestra, all playing harmoniously and thus making a beautiful melody unto the Lord. This will only happen when we ask the question: "What is in the best interest of the Parish and the spiritual growth of its parishioners?" The financial and administrative issues of the Parish should never be separated from the life and mission f the Church.

For the Parish Council to demonstrate leadership and be effective, both Parish Council members and the Priest must be supportive of each other's ministry. The Priest is trained in Theology which includes the study of Dogmatics, Scripture, Church History, Canon Law, Liturgy and Pastoral Care, as well as Parish Administration. By virtue of his ordination and canonical assignment by the Metropolitan, he heads and administers the parish (GOAA Regulations 17:1) and is entrusted with the spiritual care of his parishioners, Parish Council members are elected to assist the Priest is serving and ministering to God's People. They bring a wealth of knowledge, gifts, and talents that the Priest should utilize for the purpose and mission of the Church.

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"Parish Council members are elected to assist the Priest in serving and ministering to God's People."

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The Parish is the Body of Christ, the local Eucharistic community, and the Parish Council should reflect this reality through their work. Saint Paul, speaking about the ministry of both clergy and laity says: "All of you, then, are Christ's Body, and each one of you is a part of it. In the Church, then, God has appointed first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongue" (I Corinthians 12:27-28)

A word must be added about a misconception that occurred in the early years of our Archdiocese. It was believed by a so-called "division of duties," i.e., the Priest should take care of all religious matters," and the parish council should handle "everything else." The Parish Council cannot implement a secularized business model to handle the life, work, and ministry of the Church, as this takes away from focusing on Christ's Mission. This division of parish life into "spiritual" and "secular" spheres is not valid in Orthodoxy. Regardless if the subject is fundraising, publicity, or administration, spiritual values must underlie all decisions and policies.

For this very reason, a program of continuing adult education for laity should be an important part of every Parish. When Orthodox Christians become acquainted with the Apostolic Teaching, Theology, History, and Holy Tradition of the Church, their depth of spiritual commitment increases, and their understanding of Christian leadership and stewardship is rewarded with new insight. Basic decisions are then made based upon a common love and understanding of the Church and Her Holy Mission in which both the Priest and the Parish Council share.

When love and mutual respect between the priest and the members of the parish council flow unreservedly, there is nothing that cannot be accomplished. The laity must look to their Priest for leadership and spiritual direction, and the Priest in turn must value the experience and leadership of the laity in areas where they are knowledgeable. If a disagreement over the interpretation of policy should occur, the matter is referred to the Metropolitan (or the Archbishop for the Direct Archdiocesan District) for consideration and final decision. Fortunately, such instances are exceptions compared to the harmony and progress that occur when the spirit of Christian love and goodwill prevail. (Source: Welcome to the Parish Council.  A Guidebook for Parish Council Members Serving Communities of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America)

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Please note: Parishioners are expected to adhere to and respect all the Archdiocesan guidelines and policy, as well as, the members of the parish council.  

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"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom

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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George