Top Ten Resources for Vestry Members
Are you a new or returning vestry member this year? Looking for tools and resources to help you and your fellow vestry members? Here is a list of resources for your vestry toolbox that we at the Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF) believe to be particularly helpful.
1. Vestry Resource Guide
The Vestry Resource Guide is the essential guide for leadership in an Episcopal congregation, no matter what the size, location or demographics are for your church. Chapters include the ministry of the vestry, vision and strategic thinking and clergy transition. Included are some helpful templates for job descriptions, a commissioning liturgy and suggested Vestry Papers articles that share how congregations have lived out the topic being addressed. The Vestry Resource Guide is available in print and e-book and in English and Spanish.
2. Your congregation and community demographics
The Episcopal Church provides a great resource through the Office of Research with statistical data on every Episcopal congregation. There, you can find a handy chart that shows your congregation’s average Sunday attendance (also known as ASA), baptized membership and pledge and plate numbers for the previous eleven years. The information is taken from your annual parochial report. You can also download your community demographic data there. A free report, provided each year by the Episcopal Church, the Community Profile provides demographic information based on a three-mile radius around your church. Some congregations will find it more useful than others, but why not see what you can glean from it?
3. Vestry Papers
Subscribe to Vestry Papers and receive free articles, tools and resources for congregational leaders, written and composed by your peers in throughout the Church. In January and February, the focus is always on vestries, and the September and October issue is always on stewardship. Click here to view previous issues. The Vital Practices digest, sent out each month, features a topic related to congregational life and offers a curated list of the best resources from the archives of ECF Vital Practices. Click here for the digest archive.
4. Your parish by-laws, diocesan canons and state nonprofit laws
Do you know if your congregation has by-laws? If you don’t, try asking another congregation in your diocese and state for a copy of theirs. Contact your diocese for the most recent version of your diocesan canons, too. Why is this important? Your congregation must abide by your state’s nonprofit laws and diocesan canons. Typically, diocesan canons cover most, if not everything, needed to comply with state nonprofit laws. Get to know what’s in your by-laws, and consider whether it’s time to update them to reflect the current reality of the congregation.
5. Basics of parish finance
Whether or not you’re the treasurer of your congregation, it’s important to understand the basics of your congregation’s finances. Watch the video of Basics of Parish Finance and read Basics of Church Financial Reporting - Part 1 and Part 2 for an orientation to the essentials of parish finances. The vestry has the legal obligation to present and pass a budget annually. Typically, a treasurer’s report is presented at each vestry meeting, either by consent agenda or at the end of the meeting.
6. Vestry norms and covenant
ECF recommends that every vestry establish norms and a covenant. Norms refer to procedures. A covenant is concerned with behavior. A few examples can be found at this link on ECF Vital Practices. Also consider doing an Internet search on “Episcopal vestry norms” and “Episcopal vestry covenant” for ideas and potential templates for your own congregation.
7. Manual of Church Practices in Business Affairs
This guide, issued by the Episcopal Church, sets the standards for business practices for all Episcopal congregations. Chapters include internal controls, taxes and audit guidelines. At the back of the manual, there is a useful guide for document retention, so be sure to check this first before deciding whether or not to shred those old files in the parish office.
8. History of your congregation and community
You may be surprised at what you can learn about your congregation today from its history and its community. Why do you do certain things? Where did certain traditions come from? Why are some things readily changed while others cause consternation? All are contained in your congregation’s history. Consider ways to share the history of your congregation, its milestones and leaders from years past. Who had the vision to plant your church where it is? Who gave the generous gifts that beautify and enrich the sanctuary? The National Episcopal Historians and Archivists also has publications if you’re looking to start an archive or publish a history of your congregation.
9. Diocesan Safe Church policies
It’s important that all employees and leaders in your congregation are aware of and have received safe church policies and training from the diocese. Safe church generally refers to sexual misconduct training for both children and adults. Each diocese has its own set of requirements, but typically all vestry members are required to receive safe church training. Your insurance, whether from Church Insurance or another agency, may also require this. Consider updating your by-laws and orientation materials if this requirement is not already noted.
10. Job descriptions
Clear expectations start with descriptions of the responsibilities of vestry members, including those with specific roles like the treasurer and senior warden and extending to the congregation’s staff. Is there a personnel file with a signed copy for each staff member? Has everyone running for the vestry received a copy of the job description before deciding to run? Some resources that can be helpful are this article on the role of the rector or vicar and the Vestry Resource Guide for specific roles like senior warden. You can also check with other congregations, whether by Internet search or calling a neighboring congregation.
A bonus eleventh resource:
11. Bible and Book of Common Prayer
Last but certainly not least, every church leader, whether ordained or lay, needs to be engaged with the Bible. Consider having a Bible study at the beginning of each vestry meeting. It can be as simple as selecting a passage from one of the scriptures from the Daily Office for that day. Forward Movement’s Daily Prayer, Satucket’s The Lectionary and Mission St. Clare provide easy access to these readings. Also consider how your personal devotional practice might help ground you as a leader in the Church. Keep a copy of the Book of Common Prayer handy and draw from the great assortment of prayers that begin on page 814 for vestry meetings. You can also access the Book of Common Prayer online at this link.
What are your essential vestry resources? Comment below or send us an email. If you have any questions or need to find a specific resource, please contact us at the Episcopal Church Foundation, 800-697-2858 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brendon Hunter is Program Director for Leadership Resources at ECF, focusing on ECF Vital Practices and the Fellowship Partners Program. He also coordinates all of ECF’s events and partnerships, which includes ECF’s in-person presentations and workshops and online webinars. Brendon is a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and brings a passion for spiritual practices and creative approaches to strategic thinking. He came to ECF having most recently served as Director of Administration for a congregation in the Diocese of Chicago as well as years of work with diocesan convention and communications, young adult ministries, and campus ministries.
- Vestry Orientation an ECF webinar presented by Miguel Escobar and Brendon Hunter, January 14, 2016
- Top Ten Traits of a Terrific Vestry Member by Linda Buskirk, ECF Vital Practices Blog, February 9, 2017
- Top 10 Resources for Vestries by Bronwyn Clark Skov, Vestry Papers, May 2009
- My Top Ten: Vestry Responsibilities by Scott Evenbeck, Vestry Papers, September 2003