Congregational Files

Record-keeping is an important administrative detail for which pastors are ultimately responsible. Upon leaving a call, the synod requires a congregation’s elected secretary to verify that all congregational records are up-to-date and in good order. The model constitution for congregations specifies that it is the pastor’s responsibility to maintain the parish register. These registers already exist within a congregation and need to be kept in a safe location that minimizes the possibility of their destruction.  A hard copy must be maintained, even if congregational records are kept by computer. (See the ELCA website for details regarding “Active Records Management.”)

A parish register includes the following records:

  • Permanent roll of members
  • Baptisms
  • Confirmations
  • Marriages
  • Funerals
  • Communion participation
  • Pastors of the congregation
  • ELCA-rostered lay workers
  • Other professional lay workers of the congregation, such as organists and choir directors
  • Roster of officers of the congregation

Copies of legal and property-related documents should be kept on-site, but the originals should preferably kept in a bank’s safe deposit box. Vital legal and property related documents include. . .

  • Charter or articles of incorporation
  • Constitution and bylaws
  • Tax-exempt status reports and documentation or the congregation’s nine-digit federal employer identification number
  • Deeds, titles, surveys, leases, mortgages, easements, and blueprints
  • Current service contracts
  • Insurance policies (current and retired)
  • Copies of letters of call to the pastors and ELCA rostered church workers
  • Other employment contracts
  • Service contracts
  • Documentation creating endowment funds and for bequests, gifts, and endowments
  • Minutes of regular and special congregational meetings
  • Minutes of the congregation council and its executive committee
  • Personnel handbooks and employee benefit programs

Pastoral Care Files

When a pastor provides pastoral care to parishioners, such as marriage counseling or personal spiritual direction, the pastor may create a file containing . .

  • Date and time of consultation and persons present
  • Observation notes
  • Tests, such as personality inventories
  • Correspondence

If maintained, these files must be kept locked and in strictest confidence as they involve a relationship at the highest level of trust and are usually subject to the clergy and penitent privilege. The parishioner should sign a release if any information is to leave the file at any time, unless the purpose of their removal is to destroy them. The pastor must use good judgment in establishing the nature of each relationship and in creating documentation of it. An understanding of the nature of this relationship will determine the appropriate disposition of the records. The principle of confessional confidences, which applies to all ordained ministers of this church, is specified by ELCA churchwide constitutional provision (7.45.) 5