November 2015
Practical Matters

Managing Resources, Part 2: Administration

This is Part 2 of 2 of a series on managing parish resources, click here to read part 1.

In “An Honest Question About Vestry, Church Organization,” blogger and priest Greg Syler asks,

What if we haven’t actually begun to really pay attention to the actual corporate structure, the business of the congregation? What if we step back and assume, for a moment, that good programmatic work will indeed go on – such is the nature of the People of God; they’ll organize and pull off good ministries – and instead focus our energies, as vestry and clergy, on the duties of running an efficient, streamlined, functional and strong congregation, with all of the expectations of the 21st century?

Vestry service calls for decisions on a broad range of issues, both strategic and practical. And, regardless of the size of your church, your location, budget, or staffing, each vestry, as the legal representatives and agents of a parish, is responsible for ensuring the rules and practices for managing the church’s personal, property, and financial resources are fair, transparent, and in compliance with state and federal laws, church bylaws, and diocesan and church-wide canons. Part 1 of “Managing Resources,” looked at finance; in this article, Part 2, we’ll review topics relating to property and human resource management.

Remembering the vestry doesn’t have to manage everything, they should have a working knowledge of systems, process, and procedures, as well as established and clear lines of authority and accountability that are agreed to and acted upon.


Protection from fire, floods, and lawsuits is not in the Great Litany, but it should be in your insurance coverage. The canonical insurance requirements represent the bare minimum coverage your church needs. A more comprehensive list would include:

Liability Insurance 

  • A base of at least $1 million of general liability for injury and property damage
  • Director and officers insurance (D&O) to protect the vestry for its decisions on behalf of the church
  • Employment practices liability in the event of allegations of wrongful termination, discrimination, and sexual harassment
  • Educator’s legal liability, if you have a school, to insure for claims against your teachers
  • Worker’s compensation, required by law for churches with one or more employees; it is recommended that churches carry coverage for clergy, even where it is optional
  • Network security and privacy liability and media liability

Fiduciary Insurance/fidelity bonding

  • In addition to the canonical requirement to provide a bond for the treasurer, the parish administrator, bookkeeper, and any other staff or volunteers who handle the church’s money should be bonded. A blanket bond is often included in policies from The Church Insurance Company.

Auto Insurance

  • Any automobile owned by a church or church organization should carry insurance with a policy limit of at least $1 million.

It is important to purchase adequate coverage. Strong internal controls and safeguards in business practices combined with proper maintenance and accident prevention programs can help reduce your risk and insurance costs. In exploring insurance, be wary of off -the-shelf business policies that may not fit your faith community. Your diocese can provide further guidance on insurance. The Church Insurance Company, a subsidiary of the Church Pension Group, also helps with assessing risk and provides cost-effective coverage for our churches.


Reporting requirements are a reminder that your faith community is part of the larger Episcopal Church. The annual parochial report, compiled by each congregation for the diocesan bishop and the General Convention, is an important source of vital information on the life of the church. Your vestry will review and approve the parochial report each year before it is sent on to the diocese. Your diocese may also require additional reports as well.

Property Management

In addition to providing a place where the congregation can pray, learn, and grow in faith, our church buildings provide a visible presence and witness to Christ in their local neighborhood. They also serve the needs of the local area in a variety of ways. While some Episcopal faith communities find that their mission does not depend on owning buildings, the buildings and properties of most Episcopal congregations are a primary physical asset. The vestry is responsible for seeing that the building and grounds are managed and maintained.

Two canonical rules have a bearing on the vestry’s responsibility for church properties:

A vestry cannot “encumber or alienate” [or transfer or convey] any property without the written consent of the Bishop and the Standing Committee of the Diocese.
– Title I. Canon 7, Section 3 (summary)

All real and personal property held by or for the benefit of any Parish, Mission or Congregation is held in trust for this Church and the Diocese thereof in which such parish, mission or congregation is located. The existence of this trust, however, shall in
no way limit the power and authority of the Parish, Mission or Congregation otherwise existing over such property so long as the particular Parish, Mission or Congregation remains a part of, and subject to, this Church and its Constitution and Canons.
- Title I. Canon 7, Section 4

As with finances, in mid-to-large congregations, staff generally handles building management and maintenance. In small congregations, the vestry may do that work themselves with the congregation’s help. In churches of any size, the vestry often creates a buildings and grounds or property committee to monitor care standards and maintenance requirements and plan for building needs. The committee reports to the vestry.

Your Buildings Have a Mission
With or without building staff and a property committee, it is easy for the vestry to get stuck in the knotty details of building maintenance, safety, insurance, and terms of use. At such times, it’s important to step back and use big-picture time in vestry meetings to reflect on how your buildings serve your mission and your hopeful vision of the future— and to consider how the buildings might serve them better. Make sure that you’re not spending time on issues that can be delegated to a property committee or a special task force. If you face a truly overwhelming need, your diocese can provide help and guidance.

A Few Building & Grounds Basics
In overseeing your church’s buildings and properties, you should make sure:

  • Appropriate contracts are in place.
  • Maintenance expenses are adequately supported in the budget.
  • Appropriate records are kept—including an up-to date maintenance manual and an inventory of all church properties and their contents.
  • There is planning for routine, major, and emergency repairs—such as a new roof or a replacement boiler.
  • Safety is monitored, safety equipment maintained, and environmental hazards eliminated. The Church Pension Group and Church Insurance offer resources related to risk management.
  • Safety and security procedures are in place.
  • Insurance is adequate and reviewed and updated annually.
  • Carefully considered policies for free and rental use of building space are in place.

It’s important to pay careful attention when you contract with outside employers, especially in regard to their contractual liabilities. Make sure you use only licensed and insured contractors. Unpaid volunteers are covered by your general liability insurance.

Human Resources Management

Human resource management is concerned with recruiting and hiring; compensation and benefits; compliance with fair labor practices and laws; and employee safety, training, and review. Legalities aside, this puts your congregation in alignment with the baptismal promise to strive for justice and to respect the dignity of every human being. Good business practices and faithful discipleship come together in the way we treat our employees and our volunteers.

Valuing Employees
In churches with paid staff, the vestry is responsible for the welfare and safety of the ordained and lay employees of the congregation. These responsibilities include:

  • Ensuring that all employees receive adequate salary and benefits for their position. The canons of The Episcopal Church direct congregations to provide equal access to and funding of health care plans for eligible clergy and lay employees. A canon related to pension coverage for lay and clergy employees is also in place.
  • Ensuring that all employees have a clear understanding of their role through a job description or a letter of agreement, the equipment and training to do what is expected of them, and a process to ensure all employees (lay and clergy) receive regular feedback about their performance.
  • Ensuring that all employees understand that they have the right to a workplace that is safe and free of harassment.
  • Ensuring that children are safeguarded. Most dioceses and congregations require special training for those who work with children.

As a vestry member you do not need to manage these tasks but you need to ensure that they are being carried out.

Guidelines for compensation and benefits are typically outlined by diocesan employment policy. Check with your diocesan office to ensure that you are meeting the diocesan minimum standards for your employees and for help in navigating the differences between clergy and lay compensation packages.

Valuing Volunteers
Faith communities of all sizes are essentially volunteer organizations, and the vestry plays a role in seeing that volunteers are cared for and valued. It is easy to get caught up in worrying about whether you will have enough Sunday school teachers or if you can find someone to serve as treasurer. These concerns may cause you to miss the love and faithfulness of the volunteers who wash and iron altar linens, tend babies in the nursery, change light bulbs, shovel the walk, and plant tulip bulbs. Finding ways to thank people and honor their ministries is important (this is the job not only of the rector but also of the vestry). It is equally important to nurture new volunteers so that tasks undertaken with enthusiasm and dedication don’t begin to feel like life sentences for longtime volunteers.

In churches without paid staff, the vestry is doubly challenged to recruit and oversee volunteers to manage the business end of church life. Finding people with the skills, talent, and commitment needed to manage the church’s finances and property is crucial. In these settings, the vestry needs to walk a fine line that respects the contributions of these important volunteers while making sure they comply with standard business practices and church and diocesan canons and state laws. Provide a clear description of the jobs at the outset and assign a vestry member to provide help and answer questions when needed.

Safeguarding Our Communities

Our churches promise people of all ages a safe place to gather with others and learn about the God who made and loves them. Keeping that promise—and insurance
coverage for a variety of liabilities—means observing safe church policies and procedures.

Prevention of Sexual Misconduct
Sexual misconduct policies are usually set by the diocese and adopted by congregations and organizations. At a minimum the vestry needs to:

  • Establish policies regarding sexual misconduct, appropriate employee and volunteer relations, etc., and procedures to respond to any complaints.
  • Ensure that all employees and volunteers receive adequate and accurate information, comprehensive training in these policies and procedures, an explicit

    o understanding about what constitutes inappropriate behavior, and full knowledge of the consequences for engaging in such behavior.

    o Ensure adequate supervision and oversight are provided to anyone leading a group—especially a group that includes children and/or youth.

Your diocese will have the latest information on safe church policies. Training materials are available from the Church Pension Fund’s “Safeguarding God’s People” series.

Alcohol & Tobacco Policies
Clear policies regarding the use of alcohol and tobacco at church events are also a safety concern. The vestry should make sure that such policies are in place, and that these policies consider the safety of children and include the provision of equally attractive and immediately available alternate beverages at all church events.

Try This:
Policies and procedures are important management tools. These resources, when followed faithfully can reduce confusion and misunderstanding and increase clarity regarding roles and responsibilities.

What is your congregation’s process for the periodic review of policies and procedures, insurance coverage, employee contracts and training, and required reporting? What plans do you have in place for regular review and updating? Who is responsible? If you don’t have a comprehensive plan, what steps might you take to put one in place?

This article is an excerpt from the 2015 edition of the Vestry Resource Guide, an Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF) publication by Nancy Davidge, ECF associate program director and editor, ECF Vital Practices and church communications writer and consultant Susan Elliott. The Vestry Resource Guide helps vestry members and clergy work together to become an effective, even transformational leadership team. With information and recommendations for congregations of all shapes and sizes, this is an essential tool to help vestries focus on what God is calling them to do in the world. Available in English or Spanish, and in both print and eBook formats.


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This article is part of the November 2015 Vestry Papers issue on Practical Matters