“We are God’s fellow workers.” (I Corinthians 3:9)
The priest sometimes exercises discreet influence concerning who is elected chairperson. On other occasions he may be matched with a person who, though faithful in church attendance, is gifted with a strong personality. Perhaps he or she finds compromise difficult, doesn’t listen very well or struggles with boundaries in relationships.
Whatever the result of the election or the disposition of the personality (Russians say, “There is no cure for personality”), a few simple suggestions are offered here concerning forming a peaceful and productive relationship for the few years in which you will be working closely together.
1) Immediately call the person after the election, congratulate them and ask for the opportunity to get together to talk about the parish – current challenges and future dreams. At the meeting share your thoughts and feelings and listen attentively to their thoughts and feelings. Offer your support. Express that as the parish priest you believe it is part of your responsibilities to ensure that the parish council chair has a personally beneficial term of service and when they eventually leave the position they feel that the parish council, and through them the parish, has benefited from his or her term of service.
2) As the priest, learn the difference in functions: the chairperson leads and manages the parish council; the priest leads and manages the parish office. Both the parish council chairperson and the priest share a deep concern for the spiritual, physical and financial well-being of the parish. Try not to fall into the false dichotomy that the priest only attends to the altar and the parish council only attends to the business aspect of parish life.
3) Thoroughly read the material in the Orthodox Ministry Services Library concerning governance, parish council development and especially the differences between for profit and nonprofit organizations. Many parish council members arrive at their positions referencing the for profit organizational model in their values, perspectives and priorities. There are very significant differences between for profits and nonprofits. And this does not yet even begin to approach the most important and unique fact: the parish is the Body, Bride and Eucharistic Community of Christ and so both transcends and sanctifies even the most laudable mission and services of the best nonprofit charitable enterprises.
4) Print the PDFs of material in suggestion #3 above that you feel would benefit the chairperson and ask the chairperson to read through this. If there is anything in the Stewardship Advocates material that you disagree with, feel comfortable sharing this with the chairperson, that you don’t feel this is applicable to your parish. Some of this material might be usefully inserted into every parish council member’s notebook for required reading.
5) Consider asking the chair to include a discussion of the document on the differences between the for profit and the nonprofit organization on the agenda of one of the earliest parish council meetings he or she will chair. Ask him or her to lead the discussion on the document.
6) Consider a one day retreat with the parish council in which parish council development, elements of envisioning the future of the parish, strategic planning and identifying key goals and objectives for the coming year comprise the content. Several Stewardship Advocates PowerPoint presentations and exercises may be of service in this regard. Find meaningful ways for the parish council chairperson to share in leading the retreat. Help him or her to assume their proper role.
7) Throughout the chair’s term(s) of service remain in close contact. At times, call just to see how they are doing, without any specific agenda to discuss with them.
8) Almost all priests consult with the chair regarding the agenda of parish council meetings. No one likes to be bushwhacked. If there is an important and potentially divisive item on the agenda, ideally the priest and the chair share a common view of the best outcome. Wise priests usually and discreetly prepare parish council members for this item to ensure a favorable outcome. Ideally, this is a strategy formed and executed by both the priest and the chair. Division at the top usually means division at the bottom.
9) Support the work of the parish council in general. Most initiatives within the parish have no hope of succeeding without the active involvement of the priest and the cheerful energetic support of the parish office. This includes the initiatives of the parish council and each of the committees of the parish council.
10) Sincerely and charitably pray for your chair and individual members of the parish council. Not only will God certainly hear these prayers but in subtle but remarkable ways the prayers may also shape the disposition of the priest towards the chair and the parish council. If possible, try to walk in their shoes. Imagine if you were elected or appointed to enter into their work or business worlds and were expected to operate at an optimum level. You would hope for some guidance, assistance and support.