January 2008
Vestry Meetings

Why not, if it is for Christ?

Allow me to tell you about a member of a parish where I was rector. He was a man who possessed incredible faith. “Roy” would sit at vestry meetings and listen to all the plans and dreams and proposals presented. Then he would ask searching questions. After he was satisfied, he would always say the same thing, “Why not, if it is for Christ and his kingdom?”

His words were so predictable that some of the vestry decided to see how far they could go and still get the same response. They came up with a lavish proposal, an idea that seemed totally ridiculous. No way could the parish ever work hard enough to see the proposal accomplished. But they presented it and this man listened. He asked his searching questions, and when they were through, he said, “Why not, if it is for Christ and his kingdom? If we are doing this for Christ, and God is a part of it, why not?”

Roy shared with us all the longing to invest in things that matter, and to have the parish in which we serve be successful. Our hope is to insure that when we step aside, our congregations exist stronger and more faithful for the next generation. No easy task in today’s environment.

In essence Roy had a discerning heart — if the parish is doing this for Christ, why not! Discernment is the spiritual discipline of seeking clarity in identifying the mission of the parish and how the parish (vestry) will respond to God’s call. Discernment means that every member of the vestry comes together not for his/her own purpose, but for the well-being of the larger community, putting it first in both vision and decision making. Discernment means making a habit of noticing and reflecting on what each member hears God calling the parish to be and to do.

Discernment does mean prayer. Not just a hurried prayer “lifted up” just prior to making a decision, but an established life of prayer.

Discernment involves a commitment to keep going so that the good of all people is represented by the decision — where little or no self-centered motivation is observed in the decision making process. Discernment brings about a sense of peace and “rightness” for the whole vestry and parish once the decision is made.

So how does this apply to such mundane things as spending money, repairing buildings, mutual ministry reviews? The spiritual discipline of discernment impels vestries to first look at its ministry/mission and then evaluate all aspects of stewardship in light of that mission.

Discernment values the gifts of time, talent and treasure are valued more from the dynamic process of “can do” than one of limitations. Discernment leads vestries and congregations into the process of valuing people more than buildings and programs.

Discernment leads vestries into being mutual ministers of the spiritual life of the parish with their priest. Discernment does not allow for sacred cows/bulls (buildings, groups, programs). Rather, the faithful are led in their call to be disciples of the Savior. Vestries actively involved in the discernment process of decision making are more willing to try the new and are more willing to step out in faith and take the risks that God will guide them in that boldness of faith.

Ultimately that is the bottom line of discernment — not the bottom line as pertains to finances or even numerical bodies of people sitting in pews — but the bottom line of discernment as the call to faithfulness in discipleship and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Practical? Not to the world and the way it accounts for things! Fiscally responsible? Absolutely — in that we show the ultimate stewardship for the whole life of a parish! After all, it is for Christ and his kingdom. Why not?

The Rev. Canon Dr. Denis C. Brunelle is the Director of the George Mercer, Jr. Memorial School of Theology in the Diocese of Long Island. Denis began his ministry as a retreat director in the Cleveland, Ohio area. Ordained in 1978, Canon Brunelle worked for four years out of the MSC Center in Shelby, Ohio and the Jesuit Retreat House in Parma, Ohio and is a certified spiritual director. He has served parishes in Ohio, Illinois, California, West Virginia and Long Island.

This article is part of the January 2008 Vestry Papers issue on Vestry Meetings