What is a vestry?
In the Anglican tradition, the “Vestry” is what other churches might call a “church board.” It’s the leadership body responsible for the parish.
What does “vestry” mean?
“Vestry” originally referred to the room in the church “in which the vestments, vessels, and other requisites for Divine worship are kept and in which the clergy robe” (The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church). However, since the vestry was the room in which church business meetings took place, the word also came to mean “an elective body…composed of the rector and a group of elected parishioners administering the temporal affairs of the parish” (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary).
What does the vestry do?
(I’ve written a whole book on this topic! Read The Rector and the Vestry to learn much more!)
Tonight I have another Vestry meeting; maybe my 350th monthly meeting of the elected leadership of Christ Church. The Vestry in an Anglican church meets routinely, usually monthly, to give leadership and oversight to the mission and ministry of the congregation.
Over the years, Christ Church has been through many different phases of Vestry development, involvement, and leadership…not all of them have been easy or effective. There are Canons to be followed, to be sure. And certainly, we (the Vestry and I) have grown and changed over the years. I have made too many mistakes in my leadership.
But the Christ Church Vestry and I have come to a point of clarity about our roles and responsibilities which I would like to summarize in these 10 ideas:
- 5 for the Vestry (see below),
- 5 for the Rector (my next post).
The 5 Roles of the Vestry
1. Protect the Vision
The Vestry’s primary role is to protect the stated vision of the parish. Each member of the Vestry should be able to articulate and safeguard the primary visionary direction of the congregation. They should each know the answer to this question: What is it we are trying to do here? How to discern and articulate the Vision that God has for the parish deserves its own blog post, but once the Vision is understood and prayed through, the Vestry should guard and protect it. It shouldn’t change with the seasons or passing of years.
2. Insure the Values
The next function of the Vestry is to insure the values of the congregation. That is, while the Vestry may know the direction and what they are trying to do as a parish, the Values question is this: How are we actually trying to live out our vision? What are the means and programs by which we are working toward our Vision? Where do we focus our efforts? What are we going to do now? Adult Discipleship. Worship. Evangelism Ministries, Small Groups. Student Ministry. Compassion Ministry. Local Mission, etc. These are not choices to make…one instead of the other…but areas to build up and maintain.
3. Uphold Financial Integrity
The Vestry is also charged with protecting the financial integrity of the church. Through a designated Finance team, the Vestry should scrutinize the finances on a monthly basis. They should provide for an annual audit of all funds; approve budgets and make routine reports to the congregation. They should approve long-term financial contracts and basically act as guardians of the financial life of the parish to insure that the church has a long-term future and is operating in a trustworthy way with all funds that have been given or borrowed.
4. Support the Rector
Supporting the Rector is the fourth key role of the Vestry. The Rector is the main agent of the Vestry to accomplish 1, 2, and 3 above. The Vestry’s primary role then is to help the Rector accomplish these things. Vestry leadership is never honorary; they are not rubber stamps for what the Rector decides is best. But they are not either to be ‘devil’’s advocates’ (who needs that!?), the loyal opposition, or representatives of any special interest groups or programs in the parish. The Vestry have one job in a sense: find the Rector to lead the parish in 1, 2 and 3 (above) and support him however they can.
5. Model Sacrificial Giving
The final role of the Vestry is to model sacrificial, tithe-based giving to the parish. The Vestry should be among the most generous and financially committed members of the church. Why? Obviously, the leadership should never ask members to give beyond their own willingness to give; their own personal level of commitment. Leaders lead in every area. That makes sense. But the Vestry should be strong givers because people who are sacrificial givers…tithers…have usually discovered in themselves a heart of generosity that will help create a parish-wide culture of generosity in the years to come.
My next post will summarize the Role of the Rector. But I want to quickly add to this post: Like all things Anglican, these ideas must be locally adapted to custom, temperament of the people, and the church and its traditions. Many effective leaders may disagree with these five points…or add a sixth or seventh. But this is what I have learn as I get ready for yet another meeting tonight with one of my favorite groups in the church: the Vestry.
(Next post: The Role of the Rector)