November 2002
Buildings and Grounds

Maintenance Helps Mission

Rightly, the Episcopal Church is attempting to emphasize mission and noting that we often focus our efforts on maintenance. As a vestry member, you are familiar with the problem. Here are some suggestions.

Remember that doing maintenance is still vital, but that it needs to serve mission not displace it. In fact, we can’t do mission if we haven’t done the maintenance. People are not drawn to a dilapidated, run-down church.

The Property Committee can gain some excitement about mission if it begins to ask how our buildings can serve our mission. What can we do to make the buildings look more attractive? What can we do to make them more useful to the community? Are the buildings accessible to the handicapped? Is church school space attractive and workable? Asking these questions can change vestry meetings from the dull and constant work of maintaining buildings to a far more interesting and worthwhile concern for mission and growth.

Do "buildings and grounds" take over the agenda? Don’t let them. It is important to have a roof over the worshiping congregation, but it isn’t the only important matter. If it’s important to do something, it’s important to do it well — and that requires good committee work.

You say your congregation is too small and there aren’t enough people available to form a committee? Then divide the vestry into working groups and use meeting time to work separately.

After opening prayer and Bible study and review of the minutes, send half the vestry off to one side of the room to work on property and finances and let the other half work on mission and outreach. Allow an hour for committee work and then come together for committee reports and action. It really isn’t necessary for every member of the vestry to discuss the ins and outs of every gutter and leader. Let half the members do that and then come to the full vestry with a recommendation. That way, mission and outreach won’t get submerged in the pressing issues of money and maintenance. Try it! It works! You will get more done and you won’t let maintenance trump mission.

Help is available
Learn that help is available. There is a diocesan office which can very often provide advice and even money. Vestries often find themselves confronting a particular problem for the first time. Roofs may last fifteen or twenty years and more; few vestry members are likely to have been around the last time the roof began to leak. But around the diocese are other parishes which have dealt with the problem more recently — maybe last week.

The diocese is likely to know about it and be able to put you in touch with someone who can tell you what they learned. In fact, there may be someone on the diocesan staff who already has the information you need or can point you to builders with a good track record, architects who have worked on Episcopal churches, specialists in stained glass, heating systems, lighting, and so on. As Jesus told the first vestry: "Seek and ye shall find." (Matthew 7:7) Sometimes, in fact, you may find that the diocese has funds available. I recently discovered that my diocese has a fund to assist parishes planning to build in our deanery. Hardly had I asked when the check was in the mail. Jesus also said, "Ask and ye shall receive." Try it! What can you lose?

A strong working relationship
All this assumes, of course, a strong working relationship between rector and vestry. As a vestry member you can build that relationship outside meeting time. Take time to chat; find excuses for social contact; let the rector get a more complete picture of who you are. Pray regularly for him or her. Don’t let vestry work become a separate, semi-secular activity apart from the whole life of the community. Offer to take initiatives: Would it be helpful if I got some folks together and made an inventory of our buildings? Could a couple of us search the files to see when work was last done? What if I set up a file on that so we would know where to look next time? Clergy seldom say no to specific offers to help.

Keep control of property problems; don’t let them control your parish life. Be pro-active, not reactive. Keep records. Anticipate needs. Take an inventory. Look for problems. Create a reserve fund. Pray about it. Expect miracles; they do happen!

The Rev. Christopher L. Webber has served inner city, suburban, rural and overseas parishes. He is the author of The Vestry Handbook and many other books, and is now working with several parishes in Connecticut.

This article is part of the November 2002 Vestry Papers issue on Buildings and Grounds