The Office for Parish Service and Support of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Center for Church Management and Business Ethics of Villanova University co-sponsored a workshop for parish finance councils on Saturday, April 25. Parish finance councils are composed of dedicated volunteers who serve their parish by sharing their time, financial knowledge and expertise in other needed areas with their pastor.

We realize that it takes a committed person to give up a spring Saturday morning, and we were happy to welcome 114 attendees. Members of parish finance councils, pastors and business managers from 36 parishes attended this workshop to learn more about the role, function and best practices of parish finance councils. Msgr. Daniel Kutys, the moderator of the curia of the archdiocese, welcomed the attendees, led the opening prayer and provided an overview of the day.

Msgr. Gerard Mesure, who serves the archdiocese as chancellor, coordinator of planning initiatives and pastor of St. Matthias Parish in Bala Cynwyd, reminded the participants that parish finance councils are mandated by canon law. Canon 537 calls for every parish to have a finance council, which aids the pastor in the administration of the goods of the parish. The parish finance council is a consultative body to the pastor.

The keynote address was given by Dr. Charles Zech, the director of the Church Management and Business Ethics program at Villanova University. Zech is an author, researcher and national speaker on church finances. His presentation included a sober look at the rate at which Catholics contribute to their parishes. On average, Catholics donate 1.5 to 2 percent of their income to their parish. This is the third lowest rate of all religious denominations, and a reality with which parish finance councils operate.

Zech spoke about the importance of parish finance councils and parish pastoral councils working together to create a vision and plan for the parish to live out its mission. He echoed Pope Benedict XVI’s call for a greater sense of pastoral “co-responsibility” among the People of God.

Marc Fisher, the director of the Office for Parish Service and Support, spoke of the need to become even greater stewards of the material goods of the parish by implementing “best practices” when reviewing the parish finances. He provided an overview of the current state of parish finances. He also stressed the importance of a balanced parish budget and ensuring that the parish is able to meet its financial obligations.

Fisher addressed the ways that parish finance council members can help their pastor to identify and recruit new members for the council. He reviewed some best practices for parish finance councils: the analysis of financial statements; assessment of internal controls; questioning when the facts do not seem to add up; and paying attention to the payment of taxes.

Fisher stressed the importance of communication with the parish pastoral council, the parish business manager, school principal (if there is a parish school) and sharing information about the state of the parish finances with the parishioners.

Elsie Goss Caldwell, a finance council member at St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish in Philadelphia, said, “the program was very informative and well organized. The speakers were very knowledgeable and open to questions.”

Marie Gordon, a new member of the finance council at Our Lady of the Assumption Parish in Strafford, told me that she found the workshop to be “helpful in understanding our role and co-responsibility” and added that she looked forward to sharing this information with the other members of her parish’s finance council.

The ongoing education and development of the members of the parish finance council, and their responsibilities as council members, is essential to the vitality of the parish. The Power Point of the presentations will soon be available on the Office for Parish Service and Support’s webpage.  A video of the workshop is being edited and will be posted shortly. These resources will be available for those who were not able to attend the workshop and for the orientation of new parish finance council members.

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Evelyn Brannan Tarpey is the associate for pastoral planning in the archdiocesan Office for Parish Service and Support.