It is that time of year when new Vestry members are elected, selected, and then seated as their congregation’s leadership board. Usually, there is an outgoing class of three or four making up one-third of the total Vestry. And of course, after the election or selection process in a parish, there is an incoming class of three or four.

That is the new Vestry.

(To learn more about what a Vestry is/does, read my blog post “What does the Vestry do?” and/or my book, The Rector & The Vestry.)

But how can you transfer the knowledge and experience of the ‘old’ vestry to the ‘new’ vestry? Moreover, how can your Vestry engage the leadership needs and opportunities before your parish? I offer a few ideas below.

3 Important Qualifiers

However, before I present the best practices, I’d want to add a few ‘qualifiers’ to what you will read.

  1. The Age of COVID has forced every congregation to figure out new ways of being a church. This applies to the roles and meeting plans for the Vestry. Zoom meetings are old hat now, but every church will be different.
  2. The election and selection process for new Vestry members is not standardized across the Anglican Church in North America, much less across the global Anglican Communion.
  3. I wrote The Rector and the Vestry as an orientation guide for the roles and purposes of Vestry members and Rectors. It is a manual for Rectors and Vestries and can be used at every meeting of the Vestry. (LeaderWorks is offering these books at a discount to help every church provide copies for the Vestry leaders. Go here for information and bulk orders.)

9 Best Practices for Your Church Vestry

With that said, here are 9 best practices to consider. Some or all of them might help you and your church.

1. Prayer

It should be mentioned that a church is not a business and the Vestry is not a board of directors. There are spiritual and pastoral priorities for every congregation that must be placed above temporal concerns. Therefore, it is essential that every meeting be led with prayer and ended in prayer.

2. Orient New Vestry Members

Here are a few ideas about how to orient the new Vestry people joining the Vestry

  • Before the first Vestry meeting of the new year, prepare and distribute three months of prior read financial reports to new members.
  • The treasurer should meet with the incoming class to review the statements and the financial position of the parish. (This could easily be done over Zoom.)
  • Ask the clerk or the recording secretary of the Vestry to email 6-8 months of minutes or reports to every new incoming member of the Vestry.
  • Schedule a Vestry Retreat with the new Vestry as well as the retiring leaders. At this meeting of the entire group of new and retiring Vestry members, ask questions like these:
    • What is the one word you would use to describe your time on the Vestry?
    • What opportunities do you see for our congregation? (This is a question everyone would want to answer.)
    • How have you seen God move in and through our congregation?

3. Thank Retiring Vestry Members

Be sure to give a small token or gift to the retiring Vestry members for their three years of service.

4. Written Agenda

The Agenda for the monthly meeting should be prepared with the insight and agreement of the Sr. and Jr. Warden. Vestry meetings are not a Rector’s forum. The Wardens should have input and awareness of the topics to be discussed at the upcoming meeting.

Vestry members take their role seriously and they need time to consider big ideas and important decisions. No Vestry member will like the idea of approving or endorsing an idea that is ‘sprung’ on them one night. Hurried decisions are usually bad ones.

5. Email Minutes

Email monthly minutes one week ahead of time. Assume that the members of the Vestry will read these minutes and come prepared agree on them with only a few minutes of discussion or clarification.

6. Agenda Order

Avoid what’s sometimes known as the “Bikeshed Effect” or the “Law of Triviality” by planning ahead to discuss the most important items first in a meeting.

In the monthly meeting agenda, it is often helpful to put the financial reports at the very END of the meeting. They are NOT the most important report and leaving it at the end of the session will often avoid detailing or nitpicking minutia.

However, if finances are the most important topic to be discussed due to a shortfall or a windfall, then having the report earlier in the meeting would be better.

7. Keeping Time

Begin the meeting on time and, most especially, END the meeting on time. A good Vestry meeting is usually 2 hours. If much more time is needed it is likely that the Vestry is too involved in the details or the Rector too uncertain about where the Vestry’s input is most needed.

8. Rules of Order

Many churches are very informal when it comes to motions and seconds and any other form of Robert’s Rules of Order. However, the most important reason for keeping accurate minutes are keeping accurate records of what has been decided.

9. Keep Flying High

Vestry meetings are notorious for getting too far into the weeds about the day-to-day operations of the congregation. Vestry meetings are not staff meetings. Keep the topics of discussion about identifying problems not solving them.

Every church has challenges that must be addressed and problems that must be resolved. The Vestry and Rector should have a clear view of the challenges they face and what action steps are needed. But if everyone is in agreement on the issues that be addressed, then the Vestry needs to talk more about what’s next, and not about what’s wrong.

It is a privilege to lead a Vestry as a Rector and it is a joy to see God work through a creative, trusted partnership between the two. I hope these ideas and best practices will help you and your parish fulfill your mission.

And once again, I would invite you to pick up a copy of The Rector and the Vestry at Amazon or, if you want, bulk copies through LeaderWorks.