Church leaders who oversee church money have a fiduciary responsibility. The money is not their own – it belongs to the church – so there are certain standards to follow. That is, you can be as carefree as you want with your own money, but not with someone else’s money!
Most church leaders know about their fiduciary responsibility – it is the same principle that applies when acting as a trustee or executor, or when serving on a corporate board or finance committee. But what’s different at a church – or any nonprofit organization – is an added duty to consider the church’s mission.
Let’s review fiduciary responsibilities generally and explain how to carry them out at a church.
Monday Night Football doesn’t often trigger an agenda item for vestries. But the match-up on January 2 between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Buffalo Bills should. Most of you probably know the details by now: a few minutes into the much-anticipated game, Bills’ safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field, apparently suffering from a cardiac arrest. Although doctors are still determining what caused the often-fatal event, what is clear is that his life was saved by fast-acting medical personnel who delivered CPR and administered electric shocks from a defibrillator.
And here’s the agenda item for vestries across the church: schedule training for CPR AND buy a defibrillator. You may be thinking that this was a unique situation, and there’s no need to invest the money or time for such life-saving measures in the local congregation. You’re wrong.
In Part 1 we reviewed where to have the retreat and the importance of setting the proper tone with meaningful passages from scripture. In Part 2, we’ll look at some essential components to create a successful experience.
First, begin with making agreements with each other for the day. As with everything that will follow, you can create whatever makes sense to you; you are also welcome to use what is provided here.
Essential Agreements for Meetings:
I always state the request and ask people to audibly answer yes. This immediately creates trust and allows people to share more deeply than they otherwise would.
Recently, the Vestry of All Saints’ Phoenix gathered for a one-day retreat that I was honored to lead. Without discussing any specific comments, I’d like to share with you the essentials of the retreat, and invite you to gather with your Vestry to create a vision for the future.
Now, more than ever, as we emerge from a pandemic that still lingers and face the prospect of an expanding war in Europe, we must create a powerful vision for the future that calls our congregations forward into new life.
In Part 1, we’ll discuss the logistics and the way we framed the conversation. In Part 2, we’ll review the structure we used to guide our visioning.
This month we offer five resources on vestry roles and responsibilities. Please share this digest with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers, blogs, and the monthly digest.
Every month ECFVP offers five resources on a theme. This month we've asked Paul Klitzke, Rector at Church of the Ascension in Dallas, TX, to offer a vlog sharing how he uses the different resource types on Vital Practices. Please find his choices below. Please share this email with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and this monthly digest.
Change is inevitable; and, vestries are the key to the transformation. Governance for the sake of governance gives little attention to transformative leadership; but governance that focuses on missional ministry brings not just new structures but also new meaning. By leading such transformational change, the vestry creates the opportunity for the church to find not only vitality but growth. “The transformation of the church can be accomplished without losing what is precious to it, but it cannot avert change …the real work is to live into and through the dissonance that automatically comes with change, emerging with an even stronger faith.”
At our 2019 Diocesan Convention, citing Jesus in Luke 5, Bishop Gutiérrez urged us to ‘take our boats into deeper water to catch more fish’. Staying safely by the shore, maintaining the status quo, doing only what we knew how to do was not going to bring in the catch we were seeking. Instead he instructed us to “live fearlessly, and …continually reassess if our current structures are working. Let’s reassess and if they are slowing us down, if there are obstacles, if they keep us close to the shore, throw it overboard. Review what people are doing around the world and develop new structures that will help us to be innovative, agile, and keep going deep.” The charge of the transformative vestry is to go deeper into the un-chartered waters of ministry, following the missional template that Jesus gave us, only to discover a church we may not know but to which our faith will lead us.
Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” Matthew 9:17
As the Canons for Growth and Support in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania, we are called to assist churches in transitioning from the traditional model of church (membership-driven with a financial base in which endowment, capital improvement, and parish administration are primary components) into envisioning and articulating a new way of “being church”. Whether a church was founded as a result of suburban ‘white-flight’ from the city or remained tied to its historical urban roots, these churches have a common denominator, namely that they have lost their connection to the community. The reasons for this disengagement are many and a topic for another discussion, but changes in both the neighborhood and church membership have resulted in the disconnection.
In my previous post, I put forward the idea that the The Vestry is a thing, an entity in our church which needs serious re-examination and balance. I believe that at least one of our problems lies in our unspoken, unexamined but nevertheless shared core concepts around The Vestry. Frankly, too many people in too many congregations feel responsible to do nothing more than replicate an outdated oversight and management model year after year after year. Put that way, The Vestry is far from the kind of body which would help the Body of Christ keep the main thing the main thing. I believe the problem is much deeper than any of us realize, and it’s deep in the engine room of The Episcopal Church.
The solution? I’ll say it as simply as I know how: we need to better align the Vestry with the methods of a missionary church. It’s about alignment, not a new program or crafty idea. It’s about making The Vestry work for Christ’s Body, and not the other way around. It’s about making The Vestry as healthy and gifted and inspired as our healthiest, most gifted, most inspiring member.
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.