What A Priest Expects From His Parish Board


 

Word Magazine  January 1960  Page 7-8/12

 

  

 

WHAT A PRIEST EXPECTS

FROM

HIS PARISH BOARD

  

 

By Father David F. Abramtsov

  

 

The parochial boards of our churches are usually quite explicit about what they
expect in a priest: He must be not only a spiritual leader, a teacher, preacher
and steward of the Mysteries of God, but also an all-American sportsman and an
all-around ‘jolly good fellow!’ Rarely does the ordinary board member consider
the qualities a priest expects of him. This then will be our subject.

 

What does a priest expect of members of the parish board? Many things. Most of
all the priest expects that only the most pious and dedicated men in the parish
will be elected or appointed to the board. If a man feels that Christ’s Faith is
not foremost in his life, then the priest expects that man to decline the
nomination to the high office of board member. Frequently a man is elected to
assist the priest, by serving on the board, for whom Christ’s religion is the
most distant aspect of his life — it comes after his business, after his lodge,
after his golf, after his wife’s demands on his time. The most irritating thing
for a priest is to have a parish board made up of lukewarm Christians who put
their church in last place instead of in first place; who look upon their church
duties as sort of extra-curricular activities or hobbies to which attention is
given last. This sort of board members is easily spotted because he is the one
too busy elsewhere to show up at meetings; he is too attentive to civic,
political and lodge affairs to further and advance the parish program.

 

The priest desires religious men on his board. He expects his church board
members to be pious and to be an example to the rest of the parish in speech,
and conduct, in love, in faith and in purity (I Tim. 4:11). It goes without
saying that there ought to be no room on a parish board for foul-mouthed and
profane people who conduct themselves as unbecoming followers and disciples of
Christ, who frequent places of ill-repute, who lead lives of sin, who have
married outside the pale of Holy Church (or allowed their children to do so);
who have no understanding of the most basic doctrines of the Orthodox Church.
There is nothing more scandalous in a parish than to have board members who do
not receive the Sacraments frequently. The priest expects his assistants in the
parish to receive Holy Communion at least four times each year and even monthly
if possible. Those who cannot receive this often because of their lack of faith
ought not to have been elected in the first place.

 

It is often that a priest has board members who are wise as concerns earthly
vanities, who are experienced in the business world, but who are completely
ignorant of the things of God. He sees board members who make the precious Sign
of the Cross as if brushing specks of dust from their neckties; who do not know
how to make a good Confession, who do not even know the Creed halfway through
from memory — but yet know how to make a shrewd business deal and can recite
baseball averages for hours on end. The priest expects his assistants in
Christ’s vineyard to be exemplary Christians, to take a meaningful part in the
ritual of the Church, to know the important prayers of the Church from memory,
to have some comprehension of what the Church stands for, its doctrine and
dogmas, its mission in the world, and to have some concept of the Orthodox
Church’s world-outlook.

 

If a priest is expected to exhort older men as he would a father and treat
younger men like brothers (I Tim. 5:1), so does a priest expect to be treated by
his board members as a spiritual Father; to be looked up to and not down upon.
The priest is truly the father of his parish (and his board) because through
Baptism, and the other Sacraments and means of Grace, he has begotten and
nourished them in the spiritual life; they are his spiritual children (I Cor.
4:14-16). The parish is a spiritual family: the priest being the father, the
parishioners — the children, and no family will prosper where there is no mutual
understanding, loyalty and respect. The priest dedicates the whole of his life
to Christ’s work, the board members devote only some spare time and a few
dollars. The priest is truly a minister and servant of his people but he chose
to be this minister and servant voluntarily. Sometimes the board acts as if it
imposed the position of servant upon the priest. In other words it tries to make
a hireling of the priest. The board who sees the priest not as a builder and
steward of church life, with special Grace of God for his godly work, but only
as a hireling or “hired-man” — should recall the words of Christ who said that a
hireling is not a shepherd and cares nothing for the sheep (John 10:12-13). In
other words, if the priest is forced to be a hireling, he is lost as a shepherd
and his flock will be scattered and devoured by spiritual wolves.

 

The members of the parish board also are called to be servants of the people and
to assist the priest in every practical way. Too many of the board members think
of their position as one of honor alone. They think they were elected as a
reward for worldly success. The idea of service is far from their minds.
Unfortunately, there are still some parishes which elect men to the board
because of wealth or for some other equally unspiritual reason. According to the
words of Christ, a wealthy man will have more than enough work cut out for him
simply to save his own soul without burdening him with parochial work! When such
men of worldly wealth are placed on the parish board they sometimes assume
almost dictatorial powers and run the parish like a business corporation —
threatening to withdraw often much-needed financial support if their dictates
are not followed. Rich men often have a wrong idea of their wealth thinking that
the Lord has rewarded them personally. It sometimes does not occur to them that
they are merely stewards of the things of the Lord — that what the Lord gave He
can also take away. The Lord entrusted them with wealth to be used for doing
good and in order to be liberal and generous with those not so fortunate. The
riches were not given them in order to abuse the trust placed in them by the
priest and people. There is nothing more despicable than the wealthy parishioner
who uses his wealth to run a parish. The priest is directed by St. Paul to
charge the wealthy not to be haughty but rather to be rich in good deeds and in
the spiritual life (I Tim 6:17-19). The priest expects Christian humility from
all his board members not an overbearing superiority complex which destroys
mutual love and respect.

 

A priest was once respected because he was an ambassador for Christ, who
preached the Kingdom of God and the salvation of souls, but there is now a
tendency to honor him because of his business acumen and his ability to
put on successful extravaganzas. It is not infrequently that a church board
wants a worldly priest and is nervous with a pious and deeply religious pastor.
A certain priest once said that if Christ came to earth in these days, the
parish board would hasten Him off to some smart men’s shop, outfit Him with
stylish clothes, take Him to a barber shop for a shave and haircut, buy Him some
expensive cigars, and have Him join a prominent lodge! Some parochial board
members are engaged in a never-ceasing struggle to pull the priest down to their
level of worldliness and to resist the priest’s efforts to elevate them from the
love of the world to the love of God. Holy Write directs the priests of God to
avoid men who are lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive,
unholy, implacable, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers
of God, who hold the outward form of religion but inwardly deny its power (2
Tim. 3:1-5). St. John Chrysostom thunders against priests who are man-pleasers
and willing to give the Holy Mysteries into sinful hands to those who give
Christ a kiss as did Judas. Yet what is a priest to do with those who resist the
power of God, who prohibit the Holy Spirit from abiding in their souls — and yet
with whom he must work because they were placed on the parish board?

 

As Metropolitan Antony frequently says, such men are spiritually sick and the
priest must try to heal them with all the power of Christ’s love at his command.
As things stand in congregational America the priest has little left of even
moral and spiritual authority but he can exert the influence of his own personal
way of life, his own holiness which like the leaven of Christ’s parable can and
should leaven the whole parish including the parish board. The priest expects
his board to have an open mind and an open heart so that into their “itching
ears” he can preach, strive to convince, have the right to rebuke and exhort
with all the unfailing patience he ought to

possess (2 Tim. 4:1-3), and thus lead them along the narrow way. The priest
certainly has the right to expect his parish board from debauching his piety and
to cooperate with him in his attempts to elevate them from the mire of worldly
vanity.

 

The priest expects his board members to be well-informed about Archdiocesan
affairs as well as general Orthodox matters; to purchase and read literature to
that end, to subscribe to the Archdiocesan magazine The Word: to attend
Archdiocesan conventions; to assist the work of national and international
Orthodoxy as well as Orthodoxy’s efforts on the local level.

 

The priest expects cooperation from the parochial board in all things which
build the spiritual life of a parish; he expects full attendance at all meetings
and active participation in all parochial activities; interest in the progress
and welfare of the church school, the choir, the altar boys society, and other
such youth groups such as the SOYO. The priest expects the board members
to show a zealous willingness to underwrite the expenses of these groups: to see
to it that the church is lacking in nothing that is needed for the worship of
God. It is unbelievable but true that some church boards oppose the buying of
necessary vestments, church vessels and appurtenances of the Holy Altar such as
a Tabernacle, etc. These same boards who will spend countless dollars on
improving kitchen and toilet facilities, bingo supplies and brooms for the
janitor, hesitate to purchase those things necessary for carrying out Orthodox
Divine Service in all its fullness and beauty. If it may be put so crudely, a
parish is in the church business and not in the kitchen or diner business. In
every parish the Holy Sanctuary must come first, and the priest has the right to
expect his parish board to understand this and underwrite the expenses entailed.

 

The priest expects his board members to be exemplary workers and contributors of
time and energy as well as money. He expects them to receive Holy Communion
frequently as a body; to attend all church services, and what is more important
to arrive on time and stay until the end. He expects the board members to attend
evening devotions during Lent and Passion Week. He expects the board members to
put the church in first place in their lives.

 

The priest expects the members of the board to consult him before scheduling any
parochial affairs lest unseemly activities be held during Lenten periods, which
could ruin the good name of the parish and undermine the spiritual influence of
the parish within the community. There is nothing more reprehensible than the
board member who refuses to abide by the priest’s wishes in such matters and
such a member stands self-condemned by his own actions.

 

On Sunday morning the priest expects the president of the parish board, or
someone appointed by him, to be in church at least fifteen to thirty minutes
before the beginning of the Divine Liturgy to see that everything is in order,
to see whether the priest needs some last-minute assistance; to see that the
candles are prepared, that there is enough wine, and generally to see that the
sexton has done his job. The priest expects his board members to stay to the
very end of the Liturgy, to usher out the people and keep order. There is
probably nothing that upsets a priest more than the board member who walks out
of church during the sermon to count the Sunday offering or to take a
smoke. The money-counting can wait until after the Liturgy. Anyone willing to
serve on the board ought to be willing to stay fifteen minutes after services to
count the offerings! If the board member is anxious to eat lunch, let him
remember that the priest has not even eaten breakfast!

 

Sometimes at the end of the Liturgy, by the time the priest consumes the Holy
Gifts, makes his thanksgiving, unvests, and emerges from the Holy Sanctuary, he
finds the whole church deserted. It is as if everyone had fled the presence of
God. The priest is confronted with the job of blowing out the candles, closing
the windows, turning off the lights, turning down the thermostat, locking the
doors and generally doing what he expects the church board members to take care
of. After all, it is their church building, and it is not unreasonable for the
priest to expect them to care for it. In modern times the faithful hastily leave
the Eucharistic Christ behind for the swimming pool, the lunch table and the
golf links and, frequently, the church board leads the procession. How insulting
to Christ such a hasty departure is, not to mention its boorish, undignified and
plain bad-mannered aspects. The priest expects the board members to approach the
Altar of God at the conclusion of the Liturgy with everyone else; he expects
them to venerate the Holy Cross with piety and devotion, and to receive the
Antidoron from his hands and then, with everything in order, to go out
and count the offerings in a leisurely manner.

 

From the above it is obvious that the priest expects his board members to be
all-around, “all-American” Orthodox Christians who realize that their position
is of grave importance since they are in a position to influence all the other
parishioners for better or for worse. In his high place as assistant to the
pastor a board member is bound to be temperate, serious, sensible, sound in
faith, in love, and in steadfastness (Titus 2:2), to be in control of himself
(Titus 2:6), to be submissive to spiritual authorities, to be obedient, to be
ready for any honest work on behalf of the parish, to speak evil of none, to
avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all men
(Titus 3:1-2). If a church board member does these things he will be
well-pleasing to God, an inspiration to his fellow-layman, and a true and
fruitful servant of Christ the Lord.

 

 

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