Retention of Pastoral Care Files

Description of Records

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:

Date and time of consultation
Persons present
Observation notes
Tests, such as personality inventories

Care of Records

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. 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.

Final Disposition

An understanding of the nature of a particular pastoral care relationship will determine the appropriate disposition of its records.