“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” (Psalm 20:7)
Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) in The Orthodox Way writes, “In the Creed we do not say, ‘I believe that there is a God’; we say, ‘I believe in one God.’ Between belief that and belief in, there is a crucial distinction.” He goes on, “When I say to a much-loved friend, ‘I believe in you’, I am doing far more than expressing a belief that this person exists. ‘I believe in you’ means: I turn to you, I rely upon you, I put my full trust in you and I hope in you.’ And that is what we are saying to God in the Creed.” (pp.15-16)
Something very important and something very similar happens in parish life. We can say, “I believe that Father so and so is my priest and that such and such is my parish.” Or, we can say “I believe in Father as my priest and I believe in this parish.” This implies, as Metropolitan Kallistos wrote, “I turn to my priest and my parish, I rely upon my priest and my parish, I put my trust in my priest and my parish and I hope in my priest and my parish.” Of course, complete trust in God and complete trust in an all too human priest and an all too human parish are not quite the same thing as putting complete trust in God. Yet there remains a close analogy.
For a parish to fulfill its mission parishioners must believe in the leadership of the parish and in the parish itself. Priests and parishes must earn this belief, which is a manifestation of trust. Credibility is based upon trust. Trust begins with an honest and dependable priest, continues with an effective, listening and highly responsive parish council, is further confirmed by a professional highly effective office and is demonstrated with sound financial management.
One very important way that credibility is on display in a parish is when parish leadership embraces a policy of institutional transparency. Healthy parishes are open and transparent. There is a sunny atmosphere. Coffee hours are filled with smiling people. Conflicted, ill-led or troubled parishes are usually opaque with a restive undercurrent of rumors and conspiracies. Transparency further encourages trust, commitment and charitable investment. Which public companies would people invest in if they failed to provide timely and accurate statements and filings to the SEC? How many charities would people give to if there was no audited annual report on their website?
Take this short 10 item quiz to ascertain how well your parish does as regards visible and demonstrable elements of transparency. Give yourself 10 points for each item you faithfully practice.
1) We have open parish council meetings in which any member of the parish may attend, though there may be executive meetings where a confidential item may be discussed.
2) We publicly post the minutes of the proceedings of the Parish Council for all the read.
3) We have objective annual audits conducted either by a separate internal auditing committee or by an external Certified Public Accounting firm.
4) We have straight talking leadership (tells the truth even if it is embarrassing or awkward to do so.)
5) We practice inclusive major parish decision making to our best ability.
6) We insist on clear and full financial disclosure of parish finances.
7) The priest maintains confidentialities and the office maintains the confidentiality of parishioner giving.
8) We have background checks on those working with youth or children, transporting parishioners or personally handling money.
9) The parish council emphasizes to its members the necessity of listening closely to parishioners.
10) The parish council follows through on its declared intentions, especially as regards collecting and spending funds for a stated purpose.
Remember: in the Kingdom of God there are no secrets and there is no privacy. These are aspects of a fallen world. In God’s Kingdom, everything is completely transparent with the exception of the Mystery of God, which is forever inscrutable to created life, though we may experience God directly though His uncreated Light and His uncreated Energies. Of course, in this fallen world, for the sake of love there is a need for confidentiality and discretion.