Parish Finance Council - Part VII

This is the seventh column in a multi-column series on parish finance councils, and it will focus on the minutes of a parish finance council meeting.

It is important to maintain an accurate written recording of each official parish finance council meeting. Not only do the minutes of the meetings represent legitimate patrimony of the parish, they also often provide a valuable service to the parish.

Many times during discussions — and especially in disagreements — people’s recollection of events, statements made by others, and conclusions vary. It is not uncommon for someone to say, “I thought we all agreed that we were going to. . . .” This statement is often followed by, “No, I know we agreed to. . .”, which is followed by, “No, I thought we agreed to. . . .”

If the original discussion took place at an official parish finance council meeting and the results of the decisions were properly recorded in the minutes, it will bring the new disagreement to a conclusion. The recording secretary of the parish finance council can simply turn to the minutes of the meeting of the original discussion and read the applicable section of the minutes.

To be useful, the minutes of finance council meetings must be properly recorded. Practices vary widely among parishes. In some cases, the minutes are similar to a transcript of the meeting in which each statement made is recorded. Others are so brief that they are of little use. Finally, some minutes express the opinion of the person recording the minutes rather than what actually transpired.

In next month’s column, we will review methods for setting the agenda for parish finance council meetings. For now, though, the minutes should include every item listed on the agenda. If an agenda item is not discussed, the minutes should record that fact.

The minutes should include a summary of each topic discussed. The summary should not include a word-by-word narrative, rather, it should include a brief description of the issue and the conclusion. For example, if the parish is considering resurfacing the parking lot, the minutes should not say, “Bill thought is was time to resurface the parking lot. Jane thought we could go another year. Joe said he would support it only if we didn’t use XYZ Company because last time they did a bad job. Father Doe said that we will think about it and talk about it soon.” Instead, the minutes should read: “The council discussed whether to resurface the parking lot. Reaching no decision, the matter was indefinitely tabled.”

Sometimes it is helpful to add some detail to the minutes, especially when the council reaches a decision without a consensus. For example, the minutes could read, “The council reviewed three bids submitted for resurfacing the parking lot. Except for one member, the council recommended to Father Doe that the parish select XYZ Company. Joe stated that he was not satisfied with the work done by that firm the last time and therefore did not agree with the advice of the other members. Hearing the advice of the finance council, Father Doe decided to award the contract to XYZ Company.”

Taking accurate minutes of a meeting requires careful listening and concentration. It is often helpful if a non-finance council member attends the meeting to take the minutes, allowing the members to fully participate in the meeting. Perhaps the parish secretary or a volunteer could provide that role. Though the finance council normally has an official secretary whose duties include recording the minutes of the meetings, a stenographer may take the minutes and submit them to the finance council secretary for editing and approval before disseminating them.  

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