July 2010

Discerning Individual Gifts on the Vestry

I therefore, a prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to live a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, in all humility and gentleness. (Ephesians 4:1)

How do you understand your purpose as a vestry member? The parish elected you. Does this mean that God has called you? How do you know what God wants of you during your term on the vestry – or in the rest of your life? To think about these questions I like to visualize God’s call as a bridge connecting me with the world.

This framework builds on James Fowler’s work in Weaving the New Creation (San Francisco: Harper, 1991).

The Love of God
The Creator knows each one of you by name, formed you in your mother’s womb, and calls you as partners. (Psalm 139)

Don is in his eighties. For much of his life he has been thinking, I don’t know what God wants of me. What is my purpose in life? Finally I said to him, “It seems to me that before you can hear God’s call you need to trust that God loves you.” In the following weeks he became less anxious and even agreed to be nominated as a vestry member. By his own report he is less reactive and more open-hearted. He welcomes young couples who are coming to the parish. His newfound serenity was only deepened by a recent heart attack.

What you do well and love doing are gifts from God. (1 Corinthians 12:1-12)

Catherine was senior warden when I first came to St. Mark’s. Her gifts in project management, communication and leadership development had been crucial in helping the parish weather a stormy period. She was an invaluable partner as I began to implement KLESIS, the formation program designed to strengthen the sense of call of each person in the congregation. She mobilized the vestry to be a recruiting team for the first six week course, and forty-three parishioners stayed for two hours each Sunday after the service (our average Sunday attendance is seventyfive). Catherine continues to strengthen pastoral care and our outreach into the wider community.

Your passionate response to the needs of the world can guide you to what God wants for you.(Exodus 2:11 – 3:10)

Shirley is the current senior warden. During the last months of her husband’s life, she visited him faithfully in a local nursing home. She learned to advocate for him, making sure that the staff gave him the care that he needed. She also developed a heart for the other residents of the nursing home, many of whom had no advocate. Now she is a state ombudsman, assigned to nursing homes to monitor the care provided. Shirley is a great role model — she responds passionately to God’s call inside the parish and in the wider community.

Your freedom comes through choosing to be prisoners of the Lord. Your hearts are made to be captivated by God; only when you allow this to happen do you find your true vocation and live in a manner worthy of your calling. (Ephesians 4:1-16)

Justin and Juliette were the only young couple who were at all regular in worship at St. Mark’s. They were “volunteered" to be leaders of the youth group. They stuck with it, found that they had gifts in relating to teenagers and that these teenagers claimed a piece of their hearts. The birth of their first child caused them to take a sabbatical; Justin to his great surprise finds himself on the vestry and committed to advocating for the youth.

You become true individuals only in community, in relation to God and neighbor. In community you discover your gifts and your call. (1 Corinthians 12:14-31)

In recent years St. Mark’s vestry has paid careful attention to making vestry meetings safe and supportive. We have a written agreement about how we will treat each other and we take time to reflect on scripture, to share what is happening in our lives and to pray together. The community we are becoming gives a sense of confidence to vestry members as they discover their gifts and respond to needs inside and outside the congregation. The wider circle of parishioners are being drawn in to the sense of safety and respect that the vestry models. Grounded in community and in the love of God, we find our calling by attending to our gifts and passions. The commitments which follow transform our own lives. May your term on the vestry be worthy of nothing less!

John de Beer is rector at St. Mark’s, Burlington, Massachusetts. The adult curriculum that he created with Sarah Dylan Breuer is found at www.connect-course.org. John (connect.john@gmail.com) and Dylan (dylan@sarahlaughed.net) are both available for vestry retreats and adult formation consultation.

This article is part of the July 2010 Vestry Papers issue on Discernment