The Episcopal News Service recently reported that the “2018 parochial reports show a 17.5 percent decline in baptized members and a 24.9 percent decline in average Sunday attendance across the church between 2008 and 2018….If the rate of decline experienced over that decade continues, The Episcopal Church will have no Sunday attendance in 30 years and no baptized members in 47 years.”
“It depicts a church that appears to be dying,” said Kristine Stache, interim president of Wartburg Seminary.
Here’s a very simple question: Why can’t a good group of great people grow their church and get awesome stuff done? The Episcopal Church has many excellent clergy and lay leaders. Plus, we have deep resources. Why is our church dying?
 Egan Millar, “Executive Council approves readmission of Cuba, selects Louisville for 2024 General Convention” The Episcopal News Service, 17 February 2020 https://www.episcopalnewsservice.org/2020/02/17/executive-council-approves-readmission-of-cuba-selects-louisville-for-2024-general-convention/
Well-functioning vestries are critical for healthy, vibrant congregations. Whether the issues are financial, building maintenance or clergy related, unfortunately many vestries are unprepared for their role. There are vestries that are not informed, others overwhelmed and those who are in many ways dysfunctional.
At a recent all day “Vestry Best Practices” retreat, we tackled a few of these issues and shared some practical solutions for moving forward.
This month we offer five resources on lay leadership. Please share this digest with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and the monthly digest.
1) Growing up evangelical Pentecostal gave Jade Mohorko Ortiz a unique appreciation of vestries in the Episcopal Church. In Trust the Process, she explains why having a vestry is so significant and shares helpful suggestions, especially for churches that are multicultural and multilingual.
They may not have the fragrance of frankincense or the mystery of myrrh, but here are three gifts worth their weight in gold to your faith community.
Bless your church treasurer, rector or your entire Finance Committee or Vestry with copies the recently released Finance Resource Guide. According to the Episcopal Church Foundation, this book is of value to newly ordained priests, veteran parish treasurers, and everyone in between.
The Finance Resource Guide offers a basic, practical, and theologically grounded resource for lay and clergy leaders to navigate the complex but essential tasks of raising, stewarding, and expending financial resources for local mission and ministry.
Weeks or maybe months ago, someone asked you to consider serving on your church’s Vestry. You thought about it, prayed about it, talked with your family and friends about it. You know you have gifts to share, and you love your church. You want to serve God and help your congregation. But you’ve also heard stories from past Vestry members – the late nights, the struggles, the big questions, the anxieties, the mountains turned into molehills.
Serving on the Vestry is an amazing opportunity to grow, but like all opportunities it’s not without challenge and growth areas. Vestry is the place where faith meets structure, where character matters, where leadership counts. Serving on Vestry can help strengthen your walk with Christ. Instead of a Top Ten list for things to do or think about as a Vestry leader, I’m more concerned with ways in which Vestry service helps individuals thrive and a congregational culture take off. As I prepare to gather our new Vestry, here’s my Top Ten list of ways to thrive as a Vestry Leader.
Serving on the vestry can be both rewarding and challenging. This month, we share resources that will help you feel more equipped to lead with confidence. Please share this digest with other members of your vestry and clergy, and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and the monthly digest.
1. Have you or your vestry ever said that they wanted to do something, recognize the importance of doing it, but don’t really make any traction toward getting it done? In Overmaking Decisions, Anna Olson suggests things your vestry might consider in “right-sizing” your decisions and moving forward more intentionally.
It’s that time of year again when many vestries are orienting new members. This month, we are offering five resources to help vestries start the year off strong. Please share this digest with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and this monthly digest.
1. Has your congregation shared ECF’s Vestry Resource Guide with every one of its vestry members? Whether you are a vestry veteran or an initiate, this guide will help you clearly understand your role and help the vestry and clergy leadership become a cohesive team.
In celebration of ECF Vital Practices’ eighth anniversary, we went back through our archives to bring you some of the most popular articles from our past eight years of being an online resource. Each of the following articles was among the most read during a specific year. We curated them to have a variety of topics and writers, and are happy to share them with you here. We hope you enjoy them!
When was the last time a delegation of 5 or more people from your church attended an event that addressed an area of vital importance to your congregation? These important areas may include: 1) Evangelism 2) Stewardship 3) Formation 4) Anti-racism 5) Vestry Leadership Development 6) Church Planting/ Replanting 7) Outreach or 8) Communication.
These events may have been sponsored by the Diocese, the Episcopal Church or a national Episcopal organization. These entities have invested much time and effort to be a resource in the areas listed above and others not mentioned. Additionally the National organizations have dedicated their whole ministry to deep expertise in these areas. Examples of these organizations are Forma, Episcopal Church Foundation, and Church Pension Group.
“Wait? This isn’t the last budget revision we’re doing?” our church’s treasurer recently asked at the finance meeting. To his point, he’s the one who plugs in the numbers. He did it in November, preparing for our December annual meeting. He did it in December, when the Vestry wanted to revise some areas. And he was doing it in January and February, when the finance committee started to take another whack at it.
Ascension and St. George’s, the two congregations I serve as rector, are doing a lot of amazing things and one of the most impressive things, I tell them, is that they’re facing financial uncertainty. A few years ago, before our collaborative sharing began, Ascension looked at their numbers and calculated they had three to five years left. St. George’s, too, recognized that the numerical and financial growth it was experiencing was, ultimately, insufficient to create a sustainable model of ongoing discipleship and growth. And each congregation, unto itself, faced those financial uncertainties. They stared financial uncertainty in its ugly, nasty, scary face. They wouldn’t let it dominate them. They didn’t run away and pretend it didn’t exist. They faced it, plain and simple, and they let that uncertainty take them to the limit of the old business model.
How many committees should your church have? Two, I believe. An Episcopal church should have two committees and, technically, they are sub-committees of the vestry. I also believe that this, and the other considerations in this blog post, should be spelled out in the parish by-laws.
For starters, our polity has set it up that the business model of every Episcopal congregation is overseen by one elected body – the Vestry. The Vestry is the overarching committee, the Committee of all committees.
Also, the Canons are clear, and rather limited, at that, when they speak about the powers and responsibilities of a Vestry. When a parish is not otherwise in clergy transition, a Vestry is fundamentally in charge of the fixed assets of the parish (“…agents and legal representatives of the parish in all matters concerning its corporate property”) as well as something like a council of advice between the clergy and the congregation (“…and the relations of the Parish to its Clergy,” Canon I.14.2). The Vestry is in charge of money and the oversight of fixed assets.
It’s Lent – a great time to start constructing your congregation’s annual giving campaign – and, no, not as part of your penance. It’s a great time because it’s early in the calendar year and, for most churches, the fiscal year too. There is ministry happening all over! Take advantage of opportunities now through the summer to document how current year giving is making impacts. Here are three steps to get you started:
In addition to my church work, I serve as President of the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) at my daughter’s Montessori school. It’s a way I can help give back to a great school. Also, the President of the PTO has far fewer responsibilities than Rector of a congregation, and I love simple, straightforward jobs.
As it turns out, the PTO was re-started a few years ago with a strategic aim. Like many small, private Montessori schools, our school was started by a visionary Montessori educator who wanted, herself, to start a school. She and her husband literally built it out of nothing. And in recent years they began to sense it was time to retire, which meant: time to sell the school. I knew this all along, and I knew as well that re-starting the PTO was envisioned as a helpful contribution to this overall transition. Kickstart a PTO so parents and teachers and the school community have a sense that there’s a place they can go when they have questions. Transitions are difficult enough for everyone.
“Your church passed,” the visitor told me.
As part of her ministry, this person visits different church almost every Sunday. Invariably she thinks about the health of the congregation. But she doesn’t use typical parochial report measures—and for that matter, neither do most visitors! Big numbers of people in worship doesn’t automatically merit a passing grade. Neither does an inspirational sermon. She doesn’t count the breadth of announcements for events or the number of heads in the children’s choir.
Nope. One of her key measurements is the cleanliness of the bathroom.
Are you a vestry member or church leader interested in practical, spiritually grounded resources for your congregation? Subscribe to ECF Vital Practices for articles, tools, and resources by and for congregational leaders. With a subscription, you’ll receive 12 issues of Vestry Papers as well as the monthly digest delivered to your inbox, all for free.
This email introduces you to our digest for January, featuring 5 ways to help your newly forming vestry get off to a strong start.
1. The Vestry Goes On Retreat
The Vestry Goes On Retreat shares how to make the most of this invaluable time for fruitful work, honest conversations, and relationship building.
ECF Vital Practices seeks to build online communities of Episcopalians who share their stories, experiences, and best practices, who learn from one another, and who discover support to help sustain their leadership and their ministries. Late last year, we asked the church leaders on our Facebook page a question: What do you wish you had known when you first joined the vestry?
Below are their answers supplemented with ECF Vital Practices resources to help you take concrete first steps towards effective vestry leadership.
Here is a creative way to get visionary juices flowing at your next Vestry planning retreat: Start writing your congregation’s 2023 Annual Report. You’ll need sticky flip chart pages and markers, and room to work in small groups.
Step 1 – Determine 3 or 4 topic areas that seem to be the most pressing right now. Examples might be finding Christian Formation teachers, increasing outreach ministry, and - just a wild guess on my part - finances.
Step 2 – Divide into groups – one group per topic. Assign a recorder (to capture the group’s final work in writing, preferably on flip chart pages easily read by all assembled), and a reporter (to verbally report the group’s findings).
This month we’re sharing five of the most popular posts in 2017 on ECF Vital Practices. Help your parish leadership get connected to more great resources by sharing this digest and an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and the monthly digest.
By this time, the well-organized among us will have carried out our carefully laid stewardship campaign plans and will be reaping the harvest of generous pledge cards. The rest of us will manage somehow to keep things flowing for another year, using whatever combination of grit, habit, late mailings and frantic or low-key appeals.
In the pledge-driven madness, let us not forget the other half of good stewardship: faithful and realistic budgeting. Whether we have had glorious pledge campaign success or more of a white-knuckle experience, the church budget -- now under preparation in most of our congregations -- can elevate or sink the best efforts at generating support for our ministries.
To be useful, budgets have to be realistic. This might seem to go without saying, but I have seen many churches trim ruthlessly on the expense side, while taking a wildly optimistic (if not downright fantastical) approach to the income side of the church budget. Heck, I’ve done it myself in more than one place, on more than one occasion.
Here are a couple of guidelines to start with.