Parish Finance Council – Part V

This fifth column in a series on parish finance councils will focus on how to train parish finance council members.

Msgr. Bob Getz, a retired priest, wrote the following in response to one of the earlier articles appearing in The Priest on this topic. He writes:

“Dear Dr. Lenell: I enjoy your work in The Priest very much. The key suggestion in naming people to a parish or diocesan finance council is that they have an orientation, a ‘hands-on’ training experience, of four Mondays of counting the Sunday collection in their own parish or a neighboring poorer parish, taking three or four hours to total a bank deposit. Then to review the incoming parish bills for that week, perhaps writing some checks and entries to be paid (signed by the parish pastor), then looking over the recent monthly bank statement and a balance sheet simplified of the parish incomes and expenses. Over my 52 years of pastoring in 14 poorer to a most wealthy parish, the reality of this handling is necessary in facing reality discussions and decisions. The diocesan finance council often has people who are CPAs, bank executives, and business managers who have never been in the trenches of a Monday morning money handling. God bless. Msgr. Bob Getz, retired.”

A special thanks to Msgr. Getz for sharing his experience of 52 years. He makes an excellent point that, while theory is good, there is no substitute for hands-on experience. In addition to gaining an appreciation for the complexities of daily activities at a parish, a volunteer finance council member can use that experience for the betterment of the parish. For example, last month’s column included a partial list of duties that a pastor might find helpful from a parish finance council. One of those duties was “Reviewing the system of collection and recording of revenues to ensure that the system has adequate safeguards against errors, omissions and irregularities.” What better way to review the system of collection and recording of revenue than to personally perform those duties? When a finance council member spends time working at a parish, the finance council member will often gain a perspective to improve the procedures at the parish.

Another benefit of immersing a finance council member in the daily processes of the parish is what Msgr. Getz referred to as “facing reality discussions and decisions.” Oftentimes the finance council discussion will lead to such topics as “how to reach the young people of the parish.” The discussion will often come to the conclusion that the parish should hire a youth minister. When the topic of financing the new position surfaces, an inexperienced finance council member might suggest rather naively “We should pay for the position through general parish funds,” as though that well never runs dry. If the finance council members work at the parish and, as Msgr. Getz suggests, spend time “writing some checks and entries to be paid . . . then looking over the recent monthly bank statement and balance sheet” they will understand that, in most weeks, there is barely enough money to stay current on incoming bills, let alone expenses added to the cash flow.

If it is impractical for finance council members to volunteer for service at the parish office, the pastor should substitute another form of hands-on training for them. Perhaps each member of the office staff could attend a parish finance council meeting and explain the duties and the processes which affect them. Remember, however, that there is no substitute for real world experience in appreciating the intricacies of any job. TP 

Mr. Lenell, C.P.A., Ph.D., is the director for financial and administrative services for the Diocese of Rockford, Ill. Dr. Lenell’s book Income Taxes for Priests Only is published by “Fathers Guide.” He lectures and conducts workshops and does consulting to several dioceses on priests’ taxes, compensation, and retirement planning. Write to Dr. Lenell, c/o The Priest magazine with questions, or e-mail him at WayneLenell@fathersguide.org