The parish register is a permanent record and requires the utmost care. The parish register is a hard-copy record and should be kept in a fire-proof safe. You may use a computer program for managing the parish register in the administration of your congregation. This database itself does not constitute a parish register.
According to the Model Constitution for Congregations, the pastor[i]is responsible for maintaining the parish register (*C9.12.a)[ii] For further instruction, please refer to the document, Maintaining the Parish Register.
Vital legal and property related documents include:
Secure these documents by placing them in a fire-proof safe or maintaining copies in an off-site location.
You may have a financial management database that handles all of your accounting transactions. Retention of financial records refers to hard-copy documents. [iii]
Preserve permanent records in hard copy.
The audit report, treasurer’s annual report, and the annual budget approved by the congregation should be part of the minutes of the congregation’s annual meeting.
The IRS mandates that you preserve these records for four years. For administrative purposes, you may wish to keep these records for seven years. Tax Guide for Churches and Religious Organizations IRS p1821
All records related to congregational spending are open. All records related to member giving are confidential and should be secured.
Detailed guidelines for the congregation’s treasurer and financial secretary are found in Resources for Congregational Treasurers and Bookkeepers.
Retain current reports (Forms A and C) in hard copy or in Portable Document Format (PDF) for 2 years.
Destroy as replaced.
Files containing some or all of these documents may exist for the pastor, other rostered persons, employees, registered seminary students, and volunteers:
Right to privacy laws dictate that these files must be held in strictest confidence, However, the file must be made available to the employee upon request. Keep this file locked at all times.
Place biographical information and career history for the congregation’s staff in the congregation’s archives.
When the pastor, or other authorized staff member, provides pastoral care to parishioners, such as marriage counseling or personal spiritual direction, the pastor may create a file containing:
The pastor, or other authorized staff member, must use good judgment in establishing the nature of each relationship and in creating documentation of it.
The principle of confessional confidences, which applies to all ordained ministers of this church, is specified by ELCA churchwide constitutional provision (7.45.) [iv]
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.
In all states, suspected cases of child abuse are required to be reported to the authorities. Whether such reporting requirements apply to pastors may vary. Consult an attorney in your state for guidance on such matters.
An understanding of the nature of a particular pastoral care relationship will determine the appropriate disposition of its records.
The pastor and staff may have correspondence of various types:
E-mail is especially vulnerable to loss. E-mail that represents the policies, program, and ongoing life of the congregation should be printed out.
Place only letters that describe the program and ongoing life of the congregation in the congregation’s archives.
These materials produced by the congregation to assist its programs and promote its activity, document the life of the parish and tell the congregation’s story:
Remember digital files never survive by accident!
Today, all of these documents are created— and may be used— electronically but are preserved as paper documents. It is inevitable that hardware, software, and file formats will change.
Use quality photographic paper to print out copies of pictures for the congregation’s archives.
The World Wide Web site may contain:
The World Wide Web site is a constantly changing program delivery platform.
Because the Web site may contain unique information about the life of congregation and its community, some effort should be made to preserve this record.
The membership directory must be password protected.
You may wish to see if an archival site is collecting snapshots of your congregation Web site. http://www.archive.org
If you find no archiving service, print out snapshots of unique Web delivered material to be preserved in the congregation’s archives.
Sermons, in whatever format, are considered intellectual property and belong to the pastor.
The pastor may choose to place manuscripts of sermons commemorating special occasions in the archives of the congregation.
Resource material received from the synodical or the churchwide office for the support of the activity of the congregation:
For congregations, such materials seldom have permanent value, and the files should be culled annually. These materials are collected in the churchwide and synod or region archives.
See also these additional guidelines. . .
Maintaining the Parish Register: Advice for Congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in AmericaCongregational Treasurers Financial & Accounting GuideCertification of Congregation Records at the Time of a Pastoral Transition (form)Disposition of Records for Disbanding CongregationsA Brief Guide for Archives of Congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in AmericaThe Work of a Congregational Archivist and/or Archives Committee.Comparison of Microfilming and Digital Preservation Technologies.
For additional information contact. . . .
Archives of the ELCAOffice of the SecretaryEvangelical Lutheran Church in America321 Bonnie LaneElk Grove Village, IL 60007Telephone: 800/638-3522, ext. 2818e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Office of the Secretary Evangelical Lutheran Church in America8765 West Higgins RoadChicago, Illinois 60631Telephone: 800/638-3522
[i] "The pastor shall keep accurate parochial records of all baptisms, confirmations, marriages, burials, communicants, members received, members dismissed, or members excluded from the congregation, and shall submit a summary of such statistics annually to the synod.” (*C9.12.a. and b. in the Model Constitution for Congregations)
[ii] A representative of the synodical bishop is required to verify that these records exist and are in good order at the time of a pastoral transition. (S14.15. in the Constitution for Synods)
[iii] “The Congregation Council shall ascertain that the financial affairs of this congregation are being conducted efficiently, giving particular attention to the prompt payment of all obligations and to the regular forwarding of benevolence monies to the synodical treasurer. The Congregation Council shall be responsible for this congregation’s investments and its total insurance program.” (C12.05.e. and f. in the Model Constitution for Congregations)
[iv] "In keeping with the historic discipline and practice of the Lutheran Church and to be true to a sacred trust inherent in the nature of the pastoral office, no ordained minister of this church shall divulge any confidential disclosure received in the course of the care of souls or otherwise in a professional capacity, nor testify concerning conduct observed by the ordained minister while working in a pastoral capacity, except with the express permission of the person who has given confidential information to the ordained minister or who was observed by the ordained minister, or if the person intends great harm to self or others” (churchwide constitutional provision 7.45. in the Constitution, Bylaws, and Continuing Resolutions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America).