HOW TO WRITE A PARISH
A GUIDE FOR PCCS AND PARISH
mation about times of services and the beautiful
BACKGROUND church building, but not very much on mission op-
The Parish Profile is a key document. It aims to do portunities. Not the kind of thing to inspire someone
two things: to come.
♦ It is the first picture a possible new priest will get
of the parish. No problems here – it reads like a description of
♦ It is the PCC’s guidance note to the parish rep- the perfect church where everyone is always very
resentatives when they are considering a candi- happy and there are no financial problems and the
date and are looking to make the right choice. buildings are all just right and always will be. Who
would want to come and spoil all of that?
It’s a bit like a job description, but longer. You will
send it to the Bishops and Archdeacons to help No change thank you – we’re happy just as we
them as they look for a new vicar for your parish are, have been and always will be. This is hardly an
and to anyone who expresses an interest in apply- invitation to someone to bring their own gifts, per-
ing for the post. It’s worth spending some time get- sonality and ideas.
ting it right. These notes aim to help you do that.
It’s all too difficult – the profile is so full of strug-
Please note: The profile should not be too long, and gles and negatives that the reader gets too de-
certainly not as long as these notes. The notes are pressed to finish it. Would you want to be part of
trying to explain why you need to include certain such a downbeat place?
things and so they contain lots of explanation that
you won’t need to put in the profile. Meanwhile on the planet earth – the profile is so
full of dreams, visions, plans and aspirations that
Also, contact your Area Dean before you start writ- the reader just thinks ‘I can’t do all of that’ and shys
ing. S/he will be happy to guide you through it all. away.
People want to read something that’s straightfor-
ward, upbeat and honest, enough to make them
STARTING WITH THE OBVIOUS think ‘That sounds like a good place to be’ but not
The fundamental point of a Parish Profile is to at- so over the top that they start to wonder ‘No, it can’t
tract at least one really good person to be your really be that good’. So, here are some ideas.
priest. As you are writing it and editing it, keep ask-
ing yourself: ‘Is this going to interest and excite
someone enough to want to come to our parish?’ As you are writing and editing
your profile keep asking
Parish Profiles are easy to get wrong. The poorer yourself: ‘Is this going to interest
ones tend to fall into five categories: and excite someone enough to
want to come to our
Worthy but dull – everything is in there but it’s all a parish?’
bit hard to read and not very exciting. Lots of infor-
WRITING A PARISH PROFILE – THE
Try to show that you are up for
GOLDEN RULES change and want things to be
better into the future, even if
Be positive – you are trying to attract someone to you don’t quite know what that
come, so you need to tell them why your parish is a future looks like
good place to be.
Be upbeat – there are always good things going on
Think in terms of lists – there is a big fashion for
and good stories to tell. There are also always posi-
the top 5 this or the top 10 that. Try and think in
tive things to say about the future, however tough
terms of the best 5 things about our church, the top
the present is.
3 challenges for the future, the 5 key qualities of our
Be honest – don’t pretend that things are different
from what they are. If you’ve been through a tough
Put yourself in the reader’s position – s/he may
time or there are major problems (e.g. buildings) to
well never have heard of your parish or know very
overcome, say so. However, also try to show that
little about it. At best they probably have a sketchy
you are up for change and want things to be better
view of what the parish and the church is like. You
into the future, even if you don’t quite know what
have to try and help them get a real handle on who
that future looks like.
you are and what’s going on.
Keep it simple – write in short, uncomplicated sen-
Seek help – especially from your Area Dean who
tences wherever you can. Use shortish paragraphs
will be very familiar with all of this.
and sub-headings to break things up. Don’t pack it
so full of facts and figures that only an expert in
statistical analysis could understand it.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Make it look nice – you don’t need to get it de-
So how do actually write the thing? Well, you basi-
signed by a professional but you do need to try and
cally write the profile as best suits you and what
make it as attractive to read as possible. Good
you want to say. However, the following structure
photographs (especially of people), as long as they
usually suits most profiles.
photocopy well, can brighten the whole thing up.
Please note: under each sub-heading we have put
Make it e-mailable – it’s a huge advantage if the
a question. This is the question that the reader may
profile can be e-mailed to interested people. An-
be asking themselves as they read that particular
other reason to keep it simple.
section. Don’t put the actual question down on your
profile! Rather, just use it as a guide as you go
You can’t tell them everything – you haven’t got
along and make sure that you are happy that the
space and they won’t read it. Just keep to the main
section gives a good answer to the question.
points. They can always ask more detailed
questions when they come and see you.
Keep it human – try to bring in a few quotes from SECTION 1 – ABOUT THE PARISH
different people in the congregation about what
Question: So where on earth is this place,
they like about church, what they think about the
what's it like and do I want to live there?
future, how they got involved, what was the best
thing that ever happened or whatever. Just drop the
An introductory section with 2 – 3 paragraphs say-
quotes into the profile every now and then to break
ing what the parish is like. This can include:
it up and give a human feel to it.
for parish ministry and are excellently managed by
♦ Where the parish is
full-time caretakers. However, for most of us …
♦ How many people live there
♦ How you would describe it – urban, suburban,
Clergy don’t want to be buildings managers, al-
rural, new town, small town, village, high in-
though they clearly see the importance of having
come, low income etc.
the right buildings for worship, mission and ministry.
♦ What kind of people – age/social/ethnic mix, is
Therefore, you need to give an idea of what build-
the population mobile or static, is it rising or
ings you’ve got, what condition they are in and what
plans (if any) there are currently in place for chang-
♦ Any particular features – particular problems,
landmarks, famous people (now or in the past) –
anything to give a bit of a flavour of what the
Some profiles get quite involved at this point! You
place is like.
are not trying to describe every last detail of your
beautiful or not-so-beautiful church. Rather you are
Make sure you finish the section on a positive and
trying to give an idea about:
upbeat note. For example: ‘We think St Peter’s is a
great place to be. Yes there’s lots of challenges,
♦ What kind of condition are the buildings in? Be
especially young people leaving the area. But
honest. There may be a lot of work to do in the
there’s also a lot going on and the church is at the
first couple of years to get things right. If so, say
centre of some of them. We want to become more
so. Otherwise try and show that the buildings
and more a part of our community so that people
are OK for what you need now.
see the church as being at the heart of things rather
♦ Is there any help looking after them? Are there
than just a old building that they used to go to.’
people around who are prepared to take at least
some of the responsibility for looking after them.
You could also include a short list – the best 3
♦ Current levels of usage of the buildings. This
things about living here.
gives a good idea both about the state of the
buildings and the connectedness of the church
to its community.
♦ The scope for new mission and ministry activity
SECTION 2 – ABOUT THE CHURCH/
within the buildings. The new vicar will come
CHURCH HALL AS BUILDINGS
(hopefully) with good ideas about how to move
Question: What are the buildings like and will things on and engage with new and existing
they take up my every waking hour? people in creative ways. Buildings can be a help
or a barrier to all of this.
As we all know our buildings can be a blessing and ♦ The routine and foreseeable cost of buildings
a curse. Some church buildings and church halls maintenance. Buildings can be a huge element
are in an excellent state of repair, are just right for of the PCC’s budget. If there is major repair
church and community use, generate lots of income work on the organ or to the roof then this can
completely skew parish finances. The potential
priest needs to know this.
There is a difference between Wherever possible try and show that there are posi-
having a beautiful church tives and possibilities. Also, beware of painting a
building that we want to keep picture of a church building as a museum piece.
looking great and the building There is a difference between having a beautiful
becoming the thing that we church building that we want to keep looking great
worship. Avoid the latter at all and the building becoming the thing that we wor-
costs (even if it’s true!). ship. Avoid the latter at all costs (even if it’s true!).
SECTION 3 – ABOUT THE CHURCH AS SECTION 4 – ABOUT THE CHURCH AND
PEOPLE THE COMMUNITY
Question: So what's the church like and would I Question: Is it just an inward-looking holy
want to worship there? huddle or is the church really part of the
In this section you are trying to give a flavour of
church life. You will want to mix it with some facts Here you are trying to show how the church plays a
and figures as well as some description of what you part – or not – in parish life. There are a number of
think is going on at the moment and what are the ways in which you can do this:
challenges for the future. Try to keep to the main
issues and remain pretty upbeat. There is a danger ♦ The weddings, baptisms and funerals that you
that you write a great long list of problems or things do, plus the support you offer (if any) to people
that need doing. Try and make sure there are as part of that
plenty of positives. ♦ The kinds of groups and activities taking place
in church buildings other than ones described in
You might bring in a couple of quotes from different section 3
types of people (young, old, new, been here all my ♦ The different services you offer to the commu-
life or whatever). If you do, make sure the quotes nity from home communion to befriending ser-
are pretty positive and make the reader think ‘they vices, from film clubs to toddler groups, from
sound like my kind of people’. lunch clubs to quiz nights
♦ The church school in your parish and how you
You could include: relate to it
♦ A list of services ♦ Any special relationships with local organisa-
♦ A brief description of the variety of worship pat- tions and institutions (e.g. hospitals, residential
terns homes for the elderly, homeless organisations,
♦ The kinds of people involved in worship – age prisons)
groups, social/economic/ethnic mix, number ♦ Any special links with the local authority or par-
from outside the parish ticular civic responsibilities on the part of the
♦ The involvement (or not) of children and young priest
people ♦ The different ways church members are in-
♦ The different expressions of church, from formal volved in the community on behalf of the church
Sunday and mid-week services to Bible-study ♦ How you work with and relate to other churches
groups and prayer meetings, from youth clubs and denominations in your parish
and fellowship groups to café churches and ♦ Your support for home and overseas mission
network churches and charities
♦ The numbers of people involved
♦ The overall churchmanship of the church There are huge areas of overlap between what you
might describe as worship and outreach in section
Size is not the whole issue. Big can be beautiful 3 and community involvement in section 4. Don’t
and small can be depressing; equally small can be spend hours debating the subtle differences be-
vibrant and active and big can be passive and com- tween each. You’re just trying to show what lies
placent. Try to get behind the numbers to the peo- beyond Sunday and mid-week worship.
ple, your strengths and weaknesses, your hopes
and aspirations. And remember you are trying to Also, these kinds of things can go in waves. It may
encourage someone to join you; give them some be that during the interregnum you’ve had to let
good reasons to do so. certain things drop, and they might not get back up
and running. Fine – say so, not with great wailing
and gnashing of teeth or in a way that the potential
vicar thinks: ‘Great. What they really want me to do Every deanery has its own mission plan in which
is carry on all the things the previous vicar set up each parish within the deanery has an input and
and which folded as soon as s/he left’. Just be role. It is important that the new vicar understands
straight that some things are going well, some this broader context. This includes whether there
things used to go well but don’t any more, some are any plans for pastoral reorganisation and
things have folded through nobody’s fault particu- whether the church is currently part of a team,
larly and you may or may not try to get them going group or cluster.
again, and – by implication – certain things have
never been done at all. Again, quotes can be help- Your church may be involved in a diocesan initia-
ful from people on the receiving end of these kinds tives (e.g. Going for Growth, Child Friendly Church
of activities, even though they may not be church Award) that you wish to carry on with. Again, flag
members. this up in the profile.
Also, church schools can be a major focus of mis- Any potential new vicar needs to understand what
sion and outreach. However, if you have a church kind of support s/he can expect, whether in a parish
school how do you relate to yours? Is it a simply a context or through the group/team the parish is in.
case of the vicar doing the odd assembly and invit- For example, is there administrative support; do
ing the children to bring their parents to normal clergy cover each others’ services; have you got
Sunday services, or is it something more? Again, readers, NSMs, OLMs, retired clergy who are active
tell it like it is and, if the church is really up for it, in the parish; do you have lay leadership teams,
how you might want it to be. house group or Sunday School leaders? Basically
is it the vicar on his or her own, or with a committed
Please note that this section contains a pretty long few or with a wider support and leadership base?
list of ways in which the church might connect with
its community locally and beyond. Hopefully you will The vicarage is another key aspect of all of this;
do at least some of these things; however, you after all it will be the vicar’s home as well as base
might not do many. Don’t get down about this, or for ministry. What is the house like and is it in a
talk about the stuff you don’t do, or pretend to be good position?
some great glamour church doing all kinds of bril-
liant things. Once again, just tell it as it is. The po- It is equally important that s/he understands the
tential vicar just wants to know what s/he is dealing financial position and the financial problems and
with. opportunities. Are the parish finances very healthy,
are you just about breaking even year on year, or
are you in or hitting real problems. Things like the
number of regular givers and the most recent stew-
SECTION 5 – THE CONTEXT FOR ardship campaign can be also helpful indicators.
MINISTRY You should always enclose a set of your most re-
Question: What's going on at deanery and cent accounts with your Parish Profile.
diocesan level and what kind of support will I
get? It’s also worth saying that you pay reasonable
clergy expenses, that you expect them to take
This is quite a wide-ranging section looking at the
things happening at different levels in the church
and the kinds of help and support the potential vicar
may receive. Once again be honest and
straightforward. Don’t worry about
Starting outside your own church the Diocese of what you haven’t got; talk
Liverpool places a lot of emphasis on deaneries as positively about what you have.
places where the mission context is worked out.
proper holidays and days off and that you support
them as they take time for training (CME), reading SECTION 6 – THE CHARACTERISTICS
and personal development – assuming all this is AND QUALITIES OF YOUR VICAR
true! It just shows that you have an understanding Question: Am I the kind of person they want?
and concern for their health, well-being and per-
sonal and professional development. Finally you get to the personal qualities of the vicar
that you want. This is where profiles get particularly
You need to report on whether your PCC passed unrealistic, saying, in effect: ‘we want an out-
any resolutions under the Priests (Ordination of standing preacher and service leader, who has a
Women) Measure in 1993. real concern for young people, old people, single
people and the family, has a real heart for minister-
Therefore you need to try to describe: ing to people at the margins of our community, who
is a visionary leader but is also extremely collabora-
♦ Any particular themes of the deanery mission tive, gets on marvellously with every age group,
plan that the church is particularly connected listens beautifully, loves every form of service going
with and will visit us all at least once a week unless we
♦ Any diocesan initiative the church is particularly are in hospital in which case s/he will visit us more
involved with regularly. Oh, and s/he must be brilliant at getting in
♦ Any pastoral reorganisation currently taking money, too.’ This kind of stuff leads to the standard
place or in the pipeline joke about the Angel Gabriel not being available.
♦ Any informal (clustering) relationships with other
churches and whether, practically, this means There is an enormous difference between the must
anything haves and the things that would be really helpful
♦ Whether you have a formally commissioned but are not absolutely essential. Most profiles mix
Shared Ministry Team or other leadership team up the two things.
♦ Any paid or voluntary staff members – assistant
curate, lay workers, lay readers, non-stipendiary By now, if you have given a good, clear and honest
or retired clergy helping out etc. picture of the life and ministry of the church then it
♦ The church’s financial situation and, if it’s not should be equally clear what kind of person you
particularly good, the steps you have taken re- want. It is worth then thinking through how you de-
cently to improve things scribe the essential characteristics and then the
♦ Any resolutions around the ministry of women desirable characteristics of the person you want as
priests vicar. It can be hard distinguishing between these
♦ Most importantly if you have agreed some priori- two categories. However, in theory if the potential
ties for mission, whether as part of your parish vicar lacks any one of the essential qualities then
mission plan or another document, then explain you shouldn’t appoint them.
these mission priorities and the steps you are
taking to implement them. So, the sharpest way of looking at it is getting a list
of essential and desirable characteristics together
Once again in this section be honest and straight- and asking yourselves very candidly and honestly:
forward. Don’t worry about what you haven’t got; ‘Which characteristics on this list must our next
talk positively about what you have. vicar have ALL of?’ What are the absolute bottom
line, non-negotiable, definitely must have qualities?
The answer to that question forms your essentials
list, the qualities that you will definitely stick out for.
What are the absolute bottom
line, non-negotiable, definitely Beyond that you need to describe the other charac-
must have qualities? teristics that you would really like to see. Make sure
that your list of desirables is not so long as to be
meaningless. All the qualities will be good and im- to make their home with us and to lead us?’ If the
portant things, but you can’t have everything. So go answer to that question is a resounding ‘yes’ then
for the most important to you. you know you’ve done a good job.
Try not to list more than 10 – 12 characteristics to
cover your whole list – essential and desirable. PS
Make sure you include a set of your most recent
annual accounts, a copy of your deanery mission
plan and your parish mission plan (if you have one).
AND FINALLY ...
By now you should have covered all the key points. PPS
When you’ve checked it for accuracy and complete- Help is at hand. If you get stuck or you’re not sure
ness read it through again and just ask yourself: just contact your Area Dean, Archdeacon or Church
‘Does this read like a place that someone will want House. They will be delighted to help.
to come to – to worship with us, to witness with us,
Once you’ve written your profile, just quickly run through the following list. If the
answer to any of the questions is ‘no’ then try to make one or two changes to
1. Is the profile positive and upbeat? Yes No
2. Does it paint a good, rounded picture of the church and the parish? Yes No
3. Have you included quotes and pictures to give it a nice human feel? Yes No
4. Is the profile realistic? Yes No
5. Have you made the job of vicar sound challenging and rewarding? Yes No
6. Have you described yourselves as positive about change? Yes No
7. Have you been realistic about the church buildings? Yes No
8. Have you been realistic about the skills and qualities you expect from Yes No
your next vicar?
9. Have you been clear about the challenges s/he can expect to face in your Yes No
10. Have you been honest about the kind of support s/he can expect? Yes No
And finally …
11. Having red the profile are you excited about the future of your church? Yes No