Canonical Roles of Vestries and Clergy

By Canon Andrew Gerns
[Taken from a discussion on Bakery]

There is a tendency in this country to run Episcopal Churches according to a congregational (where the whole congregation makes decisions) or a Presbyterian model (where elected committees and officers make the decisions) and in both these the clerics are at best the hired help. The situation you described is apparently one where the lay leadership seems to have fallen into one of those models to bad effect. It is not an uncommon problem.

There is an equal tendency to organize Episcopal Churches along Roman Catholic lines, where the priest is in total charge and the vestry and lay leaders exist solely to raise funds, maintain the property and carry out the priest's vision. This can have the effect of holding lay leadership back from taking their full place in the life of the church.

We Episcopalians, on the other hand, strive for that elusive via media.  Unlike our Catholic or Reformed  sisters and brothers, we assume a partnership between between clergy and laity. In the Episcopal Church, the congregation elects the vestry to work alongside the Rector as both partners in and leaders of ministry and mission. This works on two axes.

The first axis is procedural. The Rector has compete use of the property for mission, and complete oversight over worship including music and has final responsibility for Christian formation.  The Vestry has control over the purse strings, and yet is canonically charged to see to the materials necessary for the worship and mission of the church. That "check and balance" suggests that the process works best when the parties work together as partners.

The second axis is pastoral or theological. We assume in the Episcopal Church that vestry members share in the spiritual and pastoral leadership of the parish with the clergy. We don't specify this in the canons but best practices show us that Vestry members who attend worship regularly, give proportionally and sacrificially to the work of the church, and participate in both the formation and outreach of the church will make the best vestry members. Because ideally vestry members share in the spiritual leadership of the parish along with the priest.

So the mission of the parish belongs to both the Rector and the Congregation through the Vestry. In our tradition, it is the Vestry and the Clergy working in concert that oversees, directs, manages, and envisions ministry.  And we do this in concert with the community of the diocese through the ministry and oversight of the Bishop.

The Rector is not an employee of the congregation but is called to the congregation. The call is made and ratified by both the Bishop--who is the chief pastor of a diocese--and the Vestry. While the Rector has tenure, she or he still represents the Bishop to the congregation, just as the congregation is the living presence of the diocese in the community. The relationship in a parish is a three-way covenant between bishop, priest and vestry.

The rubrics and content of the celebration of a new ministry in the BCP describes this relationship very clearly.

When there is no resident Rector, the Bishop fills that role. The terms "vicar" means "representative" and in a mission church, the vicar represents the Bishop who is the Rector of that parish. In parishes that have priests-in-charge, the same applies. The difference is that missions are generally not self-supporting parishes while congregations that have priests-in-charge are generally self-supporting but without a Rector.

The idea of a priest-in-charge is a fairly new creation of General Convention and (if I am not mistaken) was intended to give canonical authority to interim clergy, who have been utilized in the Episcopal Church for many years but, before this canon, were less than rectors but served longer than supply clergy. While the canon has solved some problems, there have been other applications which have sometimes worked well and other times not so much.

More and more the Priest-in-charge canon has often been used to shorten the search process...a priest-in-charge is appointed by the Bishop with the Vestry's approval of a letter of agreement; and, if all goes well, then the Vestry might nominate and elect that person as Rector. There is considerable debate about the utility of using this canon in this way since, generally speaking, interim pastors do not become Rectors, but many Priests-in-charge do. In any event, the status of a priest-in-charge is similar to that of a vicar: they represent the Bishop (who is Rector in name or in effect) and serves at the pleasure of the Bishop. With both the Vicar and Priest-in-charge, the appointing authority is the Bishop and the person is not "called" in the same sense as a Rector.

Using long term supply, especially without a specific letter of agreement or with mission plans and detailed accountabilities has all the pitfalls that Scott mentions and, IMHO, tends to freeze a parish in place because they might get used to moving from Sunday to Sunday. Any congregation of any size and clerical status can slip into survival mode, for sure, but this might encourage that perspective.

As for the original question, I would suggest some very good resources that describe this in the Episcopal context very well:

Beyond Business as Usual by Niel O; Michell from Church Publishing. Michell offers a way forward for Vestry's to become learning communities and to take their place in the mission and spiritual leadership of a parish alongside their priest.

Back from the Dead: The Book of Congregational Growth by Gerald W. Keucher also from Church Publishing. Keucher has brought together most of the best thinking about congregational development and put it together with his experience in the stewardship and management challenges of parish ministry.

I also recommend another book by Keucher that helps vestries and clergy understand their proper relationship: Humble and Strong: Mutually Accountable Leadership in the Church.

Finally, I appreciate the bringing together of Benedictine spirituality and intelligent organizational wisdom found in Bob Gallagher's Fill All Things: The Dynamics of Spirituality in the Parish Church from Ascension Press. I have trained with Gallagher and have found his approach to be most useful and accessible to congregations.

I hope this helps clarify things a bit.


Diocesan Life March/April 2012

You can download the publication from our issuu site or Download DL0312FinalCORRECTSmall

Prayers for Vestries and Renewal Assembly IV

[Charles Cesaretti]

On Saturday, February 11, 2012 vestry members from across the Diocese of Bethlehem will gather together at a retreat that will include prayer, bible study, conversation, and networking.  Entitled “Empowered Leaders, Renewed Congregations,” the lay leaders of our congregations will look at what God is preparing us to be by focusing on the leadership of the vestry.
The retreat is grounded in the beliefs of the diocesan Congregational Renewal Committee that service on the vestry should be a significant time for spiritual growth and formation for the individual member, and that vestries play a significant role in the spiritual health and renewal of the local congregation.
The goals of the day are to:
Empower the vestry to become more mission-focused;
Develop leadership skills of the vestry members;
Connect leadership style and the parish’s vitality; and,
Discover how to become a learning community of lay leaders.
A mission-focused congregation requires effective leadership from both clergy and empowered, trained laity who work together for the renewing of God’s people.  The Prayer Book reminds us “the Church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members” (BCP, p. 855).
Although this is a retreat for current and future vestry members, every member of the diocese has a significant role – to pray for the vestry members as they prepare and participate in the retreat.
The Renewal Committee asks all parishioners to keep their vestry members in their prayers.  Through personal and corporate prayer, hold up each of your vestry members as they share in overseeing the spiritual and material life of your congregation.  Pray that they may receive the vision God has prepared for your parish, that they may receive the gifts, power, and energy of the Holy Spirit.  Pray for them but also let them know you are praying for them.  Talk with them individually about your prayers and support, send them a note, and email them.
Hold in your prayers the diocesan Congregational Renewal Committee and all those who will be facilitating or hosting the retreat.
“May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing, so that we may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.   Amen.”  (Romans 15:13)
Blessings in peace.
Charles A. Cesaretti
Interim Missioner for Congregational Renewal

Diocesan Training Day on April 2nd

Registration opens today and closes March 23rd. Cost is $17.50 and includes lunch.

A day set aside for learning about opportunities and resources for ministry in congregations, and celebrating ministries we share. There will be 13 different workshops spanning all aspects of ministry to select from this year. Please plan to join us for a wonderful day of learning.

Workshops include:
All Day Workshops (one workshop in both sessions)

#1 Ministry of the Lay Eucharistic Visitor (all day workshop) - The Rev. Edward Erb -- Two-part course leads to licensing. Morning session - Biblical, theological, and historical background. Afternoon session - resources and practical considerations (ex. HIPAA rules, safety, and health concerns)

#2 Understanding and Working with ChurchPost (all day workshop) - Mr. John Goodell, Owner of ChurchPost -- A hands-on guide to using ChurchPost, our electronic newsletter platform, to communicate effectively and immediately with your members and visitors.

Session I - 9:45am to 11:15am

#3 Wardens/Vestry 101 - The Rt. Rev. Paul Marshall and The Ven. Howard Stringfellow - Introduction for new wardens and vestry members or a refresher for experienced vestry members to the roles, responsibilities, and realities of parish leadership.

#4 Bringing Financial Sanity to the Family - Mr. Dan Charney - The program, Financial Sanity, designed by Nathan Dungan, founder and president of Share Save Spend, consists of four one-hour sessions.  This training helps you to become familiar with the program, and will cover session one of the program to give participants a feel for what it is all about.

#5 Transitional Formation in Parishes - Ms. Kim Rowles - In periods of individual transition it is especially important to support and lead members in our communities to an intentional life with Christ, this session will help outline a plan for individual parishes dealing with middle to high school transition, high school to college transition, and couples to family transition.

#6 - Come Let Us Worship - A Workshop for the Laity and Clergy - The Rev. Laura Howell & The Rev. John Francis - This session will explore some of the tools the Book of Common Prayer gives us for daily worship.  It will provide some practical suggestions for parish prayer that may be led by the laity as well as the clergy.

#7 - Evangelism as Prayer and Faith Sharing - The Rev. Jane Bender, The Rev. Doug Moyer,  and Mrs. Carol Keane - The Unbinding the Gospel series doesn't give answers as to how, when and where.  Come learn how many ways this lively resource can be tailored for your use.

Session II -- 1:15pm to 2:45pm

#8 Enabling Ministries: Forward Life Planning - Mr. Charlie Barebo - Develop your parish's capabilities to deliver ministries by strengthening its approach to Forward Life Planning.

#9 Treasurers’ Workshop - Mr. Bruce Reiner -- This workshop will focus on cash receipts, cash disbursements, internal controls, and audits.

#10 - The Confirmation Conundrum - The Rev. Canon Anne Kitch - Explores the rite of Confirmation and the many questions it raises.  Includes an overview of the history of Confirmation in the Episcopal Church and the theology of Confirmation as it is express in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

#11 - Health Ministries - Mrs. Diana Marshall - Health ministry plays a unique and critical role in facilitating the health of clergy, staff and congregations.  Health ministry looks different from congregation to congregation, reflecting the unique needs, interests, and resources of the faith community.

#12 - Incorporating New members into the Episcopal Church - The Rev. Canon Andrew Gerns- The course will introduce a simple, easy-to-understand, process of incorporating new members into a congregation. It will also describe various kinds of visitors and newcomers and show how to integrate the worship and theology of the Episcopal Church into our evangelism.

#13 - Training for Regional Discernment Teams - Members of the Commission on Ministry - This training session is designed to help both clergy and laity understand the purpose and structure of regional discernment as practiced in the Diocese of Bethlehem.

You can click here to register. Download the Diocesan Training Day brochure on our web site here.

The Vestry Meeting, by Archdeacon Stringfellow

The Vestry Meeting
Beyond Majority and Dynamics to Functioning Up
6 April 2010

“Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9).

Every Eastertide, I seek this passage out though the lectionaries put it forward during the season. It seems to describe our circumstances perfectly: we do not see the resurrected and ascended Lord except in the Sacrament and in peoples’ lives transformed by his Spirit, yet we love him and are joyous, and we receive and look forward to the salvation of our souls.

That is quite a lot, more than enough to see the dots of life most every day and to connect them to the resurrection of Jesus. The Epistle is addressed to people in provinces of Asia Minor (1:1), and the head note in a Bible I have suggests it may have been written in Rome for the people in those comparatively remote places.

Again, I think the Epistle describes our circumstances exactly: we do not see the Lord; we were not there when they crucified him or when he appeared to the disciples afterwards. But we know him, and we love him. As we receive the consequence, the result, of our faith, we follow his guiding through his Spirit. The distances, in time and space, I mention are bridged by fidelity to the Lord and by living the abundant life he came to give us and to open to us. All of this remains true any day of the year on any day of any of the seasons of the Church Year.

And so all of it was true when I attended a meeting several months ago. The theological and experiential context I’ve tried briefly to set is true of any of the many meetings I attend. But this context contrasts sharply with what happened, what went down, we might say, at this particular meeting.

Three members of the clergy attended, and five members of the laity were present also. And as often is the case (but often is not understood to be the case), the clergy had a specific role, a role not to take the decision or to determine the outcome of the meeting. Our role was to provide the context as described as an elaboration of the verses from 1 Peter and to try to encourage the people to see their decision as part of the way forward for all the people concerned, a way forward that bridges the distance in time and space between all of us and the Lord, a way forward that we all can see as a step toward salvation, the abundant life that Jesus died and rose to bestow upon us.

The role of laity was no less specific; they were to take the decision, and by that decision they were to take that step toward salvation and abundant life. The decision (I believe) that was in the air, hovering about the heads of us all that would take that step, was a decision that three of the five were prepared to make. Two of the five were not prepared to make that decision, and they found pleasant and affective reasons not to make it. And those two, the minority, held the emotional valence in their hands. To be fair, the majority, the three prepared to take the decision and to move forward, had given them that valence. And there the matter stood for the meeting. Nothing could be done, and nothing was done. We left the meeting accomplishing very little (I thought) except participating in an exercise that was to me an example of what life is like when we let the distance between Asia Minor and Rome, between our direct experience and our spiritual experience of the Lord, and the empty tomb and the recognition of the Lord in the breaking of the bread prevent us from taking a step toward our salvation.

Well-meaning and sincere people may disagree about the issues present at this meeting (or any meeting). But what Christians, I think, should agree upon is that the resurrection of Jesus improves the quality and increases the possibilities in our lives. We are “delivered from the gloom of sin, and are restored to grace and holiness of life,” as we heard proclaimed at the Easter Vigil (Prayer Book, page 287).

A crusty and flinty Scottish headmaster used to admonish with a pithy proverb me and all of my fellow urchins in elementary school: “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink.” This may very well be true of dumb animals, but let it not be true of us, the resurrected and ascended humanity of God.