January 2008
Vestry Meetings

In YOUR eyes, what works?

With the help of the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes and the Office of Congregational Development at the Episcopal Church Center, we asked the following questions of vestries and bishop’s committees, large and small: What makes for a good meeting? What are your hopes and expectations? How can such a meeting both accomplish church business and be faith-centered? Here are some of the responses, edited for space...

My greatest concern, as manifested at our vestry meetings, is that each member of the vestry show up prepared to discuss the issues, and having made the previous minutes part of their preparation. Vestry is not a “walk in the park” and too many folks are not prepared to make the time and energy commitment. And we all sometimes lose sight of what we want to do as a church and the decisions we are making, in relation to our mission statement.

John Gasser, Junior Warden
Trinity Church, Portsmouth, Virginia

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Starting on time is critical. People have busy lives so “the train leaves the station” at 7 PM and begins with Compline led on a rotating basis by a member of the vestry. We then discuss a chapter of a book we have agreed to read for twenty minutes. The last book was Heifitz’ book, Leadership with no Easy Answers.

Then we follow the normative Robert’s Rules with welcoming guests, additions/corrections to agenda, approval of minutes and hearing reports. All staff members’ reports, including mine, are sent in by e-mail to the clerk of the vestry by Sunday ahead of our Tuesday meetings to cut down on extraneous speech making. Committee reports follow and then old and new business, followed by our holding hands, saying the Lord’s Prayer and adjournment. At Christ Church, vestry members work together to develop trust in a myriad of ways such as an annual retreat, small committee meetings, etc. So when the big decisions come before them, they all reflect together and all have voice which they exercise without restraint!! And, it works for us.

The Rev. Robert G. “Skip” Windsor
Rector, Christ Church
Needham, Massachusetts

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We have divided all reports into: mission, ministry and money and talk about them in that order. If committees do their jobs, most things run smoothly.

The Rev. Ernie Matijasic
Rector, Grace Church
Sandusky, Ohio

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With the ease of electronic communications, vestries should handle all preparatory material via e-mail. This can include sending out ahead of the vestry meeting the budget report, any ministry reports, the warden’s report and other news. The vestry should commit to the practice of reading all materials so that meeting time can be spent discussing issues and making motions for vote.Another healthy practice is to divide discussion between speculation (open conversation about a topic) and clarification for vote. The warden should time the speculation period, close it, and ask for a vote. The only discussion after the motion is for clarification. Most important, vestries should be clear about their role in the church and structure vestry meetings to support that role. For larger churches with professional staff, the vestry should be focusing on vision and direct conversations to that end.

Cary Gray Kelly
Former Senior Warden
Christ Church, Alexandria, Virginia
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We end with the evangelism question, “How is God working in your life?” Each member has the opportunity to talk about their spiritual experiences (or not). We often offer prayers for individual members or members of their families/friends, ending on a prayerful, caring note.

Mary B. Hagner
Senior Warden
Christ Church Cathedral
Cincinnati, Ohio

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My only suggestion for how to run a better vestry meeting comes from a Vestry 101 Training Session put on by the Diocese. The tip was to not begin every meeting with the treasurer’s report. While this is key information, when it starts the meeting it tends to set limits on what the vestry may feel like it can do. This, of course, is balanced by trying to convenience the treasurer who already puts in long hours of service. We are trying to vary the times for his report, but it’s tough.

Charles Hendrix, Senior Warden
St. David’s, Minnetonka, Minnesota

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 We have a consent agenda which includes the rector’s report, senior warden’s report, junior warden’s report, deacon’s report and the minutes of the last meeting. All of these reports are distributed for review at least a week prior to the vestry meeting. We open with prayer and close with Compline. The rector facilitates the meeting so it moves efficiently. We have the chair of one ministry or committee report at each meeting.

Frank Connizzo, Senior Warden
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Manhattan, Kansas

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