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What to record and why? These are perennial questions. Here are a few thoughts to guide a discussion about your pastoral elder team.

We keep records to be accountable and to remember. The question is what needs to be recorded and for what purpose. 

Not so long ago, a clerk of council had to go through the records of the church to find out some information about a decision made a long time ago. Along the way, he read many more minutes than anyone would wish. A few questions came up:

  • Some information about people was in minutes that were confidential in nature. Ought this information be in the minutes? Would this not be hard for a grandchild to discover by reading minutes of the church? 
  • The minute he was looking for did not contain sufficient information to be helpful. While it mentioned that a decision was made, the details surrounding the decision were absent which meant that either they were not discussed by council, not made by council or the conversation with the person did not reflect the thinking of council. 
  • There were times when the gist of the conversation was placed in the minutes. Should minutes include the summaries of people’s comments? Or just the record of decisions made?

Having been in ministry over a quarter of a century, these conversations are not new. Everyone believes that records of decisions are important to record. Beyond that, there is debate.

Here are my suggestions:

  • That a visit was made by an elder in their capacity as elder needs to be recorded in the official minutes.  (accountability)
  • Comments about that visit ought not be recorded in the minutes. These are judgments by an elder that are laden with variations of the capacity of the elders to listen well. Too often after hearing the comments of an elder I have heard quite different impressions given by the member visited.  (while interesting, it does not serve the well-being of the person)
  • Elders ought to keep track of visits. Who, where, when. Here are sample forms for keeping track of elder's visits: Elder Visitation Record and Elder Visitation Record page 2.
  • How much is recorded beyond that a visit was made needs to be considered. Facts that are important to be remembered for the next visit, personal impressions about the state of the individual or family, and post visit thoughts about what ought to be talked about in subsequent visits are all helpful for the elder.   If we record them, they are helpful in jogging our memory.  In that sense it is personal and confidential, for that particular elder’s eyes only.  They cannot be shared. Neither in council meeting or with the subsequent elder.
  • Most conversations should be considered confidential.   When we talk about our visits, we should be aware that the conversation is not about “others” as much as it is about “my ministry” with others. Stephen’s Ministry has learned to do this well. In Stephen’s Ministry no name is given while the caregivers talk about their experience and how they can listen better to the person in care. Here the question is not so much sharing so that others know, but sharing so that I can have a more effective ministry. A lot less needs to be shared and what is shared has a different focus. Names become less important.
  • If we share something from our elder’s visit with the whole, we ought to ask permission from those visited. My rule of thumb is the more we share information the less private and confidential it is. Therefore everything that we share from a private conversation needs to be agreed to by all those involved in the private conversation. This includes any written record of the conversation. 

It is important to note that we do not keep records for the sake of historians. We keep records to keep us accountable and ensure that decisions are open and properly recorded and justified. While historians would want more, we are less concerned about the historians and more about helping the kingdom come in the lives of people.   Personal records to help jog memory are just that “personal”; their use must be limited.   

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