Every January, the parish gathers at our Annual Meeting to elect new members of the Vestry for 3-year terms. At my last parish, one gentlemen asked, “Which suckers are we gonna get this time?” Sadly, this guy had an ungrateful and narrow vision for this important ministry.

Vestry members are not “suckers.” Vestry members are the most dedicated and passionate leaders that we have. Along with the Rector, the Vestry partners in the spiritual ministry of the church. They are people who have been moved by Christ’s love as a result of the ministry of St. Nicholas. They care deeply for the long and short term vision of what the Holy Spirit can do in Harris County and beyond. They work hard at providing programs, events, and opportunities for spiritual growth. They are called by God to perform their gifts to the best of their abilities. They are stewards of the financial gifts that the congregation has bestowed upon this church. They are planners, strategists, listeners, creators, and lights in the darkness of the world.

No, these are most definitely not “suckers.” Nor do we want them to be.

If you are a confirmed communicant in good standing (which means you regularly attend worship and other activities and have been confirmed in, received in, or transferred your membership to St. Nicholas), you have made and fulfilled a pledge in the last year of any amount, and are passionate about the ministry of our church, then you should consider running for Vestry. We meet monthly, we have an annual orientation and an annual retreat, and we make important decisions.

If you have questions, you can contact me or any Vestry member. We’d love to have you partner with us in the mission of St. Nicholas. No suckers allowed.

Below is a great article about the history of Vestries which I think you’ll find interesting.

A Vestry Meeting – Something Wrong with the Accounts
by  John Ritchie, Royal Academy, 1867
The Loose Canon
What’s a church vestry to do?
I’ve heard it said that nine out of ten Episcopalians don’t understand what a vestry does and that the number goes up to ten out of ten if one only polls former members of vestry. And yet we are not a congregational church and in our representative form of church governance, the Rector, Wardens, and Vestry acting together is the group with the authority to make decisions for a congregation. The vestry matters and, as I noted in a recent column (Vestries must be the church they wish to lead), it is difficult for a congregation to be better than its vestry in most areas.

The history of church vestries begins with a 1598 decision to have groups of lay leaders in each English church charged with overseeing care for the poor of the parish (meaning the geographic area and not just those who attended their parish church). That met where and as needed, but traditionally in the vestry of the church. While a 24-person self-perpetuating vestry was common, so also were open vestries made up of all householders in the parish and so some women.

Puritans saw the vestry system as a way for lay persons to acquire church authority. Because of the indifference of the king, vestries began selecting rectors by 1630. And in 1643, Virginia legislature abdicated its involvement in rector searches in favor of vestries. This was not a uniform practice. The colonial trustees selected rectors in the Colony of Georgia. Vestries pushed for more authority and by 1804 the life tenure of rectors, who could only otherwise be removed for grievous offense, was replaced with a canon that allowed vestries to appeal to the bishop for removal for cause.
The founders of The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America believed in representative government rather than pure democracy. They gave the authority to the Rector, Wardens and Vestry acting together on behalf of the congregation.

Current Practice

The Canons (or regulations) of The Episcopal Church state, “The vestry shall be agents and legal representatives of the Parish in all matters concerning its corporate property and the relations of the Parish to its clergy.”
Pentecost It is best not to overread this canon to limit the role of a vestry as priests are not in charge of only spiritual matters and vestry responsible for business alone. The priest in charge of a congregation has a responsibility to oversee the business side of church life and likewise the vestry are called by the Holy Spirit through the election process to assist in the oversight of the ministry of the church. A priest not concerned with finances is not being faithful to the charge entrusted to her or him and a vestry that only does business, with no reference to the spiritual life of the congregation, is likewise abdicating a significant part of its task of leadership. (at right, the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost)
While a mission congregation’s vestry acts as a council of advice with less authority in some matters than a parish vestry, for most decisions about the congregation’s life, their authority is the same and so the above applies equally. In every congregation, we should appreciate that vestries came about not by accident, but in response to a need for the laity of the church to have voice and decision making authority in their church.

Next week, I will complete this two-part article on church vestries with a challenge to make sure your vestry represents the people and perspectives of the congregation.

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue
Canon to the Ordinary, Diocese of Georgia

The Loose Canon columns are archived online at loosecanon.georgiaepiscopal.org