The Role of the Vestry
Nearly 25 years ago, when our children were 10 and 6, we sat them down and told them that the family was moving to Montgomery. Both of them immediately burst into tears and were crushed. Meg said, “But they are expecting me at school!”. Rob’s concerns were more basic, “Will we be able to eat there?”, imagining some wilderness experience. We assured them that we believed the decision to move was a good one and that we understood how hard it would be on them. We also assured them that we would help them get accustomed to the decision and be with them as we all adjusted. Carrying out the decision was not easy at every step but we proceeded knowing we had made an investment in our future as a family and were responding to what we believed in our hearts that God was calling us to do. In time our children came to accept the decision as a good one. It took a while but it led to good things for all of us. And now none of us can really imagine what life would be like had we not made that decision.
Vestries and Rectors are charged with making decisions, big and little, for their parishes. In a way they function as parents. They take on the responsibility of considering and studying matters that concern the congregation as a whole. That sounds a little top-down, hierarchical, and even patriarchal or matriarchal. But it’s important to remember that those Vestry roles are held temporarily and by election. Vestry members are charged with parental, top-down, hierarchical, patriarchal/matriarchal responsibilities but the Vestry rotates membership. Different people, over time, serve in these roles of responsibility. Their job is to make decisions for us.
As Episcopalians, the only thing that we vote on as a congregation is the selection of the Vestry members. Then we ask those elected to make decisions that they believe will be in our best interest. Our best interest sometimes involves a course of action that will cost us in the short-run but lead to great things in the long-run. Many years ago, for instance, the Vestry of St. John’s decided to embark on a building campaign that was huge and full of risks. But that group looked into the future as best they could and decided that an investment was needed in order for us to grow. Every year the Vestry seeks to make an investment for the future of the parish.
Very soon we will know the names of those who have been nominated to stand for election to the Vestry at the Annual Meeting on January 26. You will be asked to prayerfully consider those nominees and then cast your ballots. 7 people will be elected to serve and will join 14 others previously elected. Very soon after the election, the Vestry will go apart for a planning retreat. There they will begin to make decisions together for the year and years ahead. We ask you to take this process seriously and vote for the people you believe will make the best decisions for the future of the parish. We ask you not to just vote for the people you like or the people who think like you think. We ask you to vote for the people who will best fulfill their responsibilities for the future growth of St. John’s. And then we ask you to pray for those elected that they may be equipped for their duties.
This coming year the Vestry will decide who will serve as the next Rector of St. John’s. That’s a big decision. When I was introduced to you in 1995, none of you knew who I was or anything about me. No conversations were held with you about how open you might be to a short, skinny, 39 year old guy who wasn’t from around here. The Vestry, with the help of the Search Committee, made a decision they thought was best for the long-term health of the parish. It meant some change. That change took some adjustment. Their decision became a good one over time as the congregation supported the decision and committed themselves to that new and then very young priest. It became a good decision because we prayed and worked together to make it good.
Vestry decisions are not good or bad solely due to the decision itself. They become good or bad based on the response of the congregation. That doesn’t mean that every member of the congregation has to think that every decision suits them personally. It does mean that the congregation works to trust and support the decisions of the Vestry and assumes the Vestry has more information than the congregation as a whole does. Vestries are not in place to do only what we want them to do. Vestries are not in place to make decisions that are only popular. They are in place to do what they believe is best for the long-term growth of the congregation. They are there to do what they believe is in line with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They are there to listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Hang in there with your Vestry in this upcoming important year. Lean into their decisions with compassion, support, and trust. They want to do what is best. And their track record is mighty good. Hang in there with God in this upcoming important year. Lean into God’s guidance with compassion, support, and trust. God wants what is best for St. John’s church. And God’s track record here is mighty good.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.