November 2009
Vestry Retreats

Create holy time away for your vestry

Why do so many vestries go on retreats? Why do they clear their busy calendars and make such time a priority for the health of their congregation? Vestries and clergy intrinsically know the team building and energizing value of taking time away, apart.

We have spent hundreds of hours with vestries in retreat and the common thread is a search for meaning (the universal search!) which informs their ministry as servant leaders in the local church. More specifically, these men and women want to know how to focus and harness their individual and collective gifts to build or keep vitality in their congregation.

With the knowledge that healthy leaders create healthy churches, consider the following elements when planning a vestry retreat.

Time away
Choose a place which is apart from the church. Conference centers are a great choice. Parishioner-owned vacation homes can be an economical alternative. The beauty of nature has a way of letting the hand of God work silently.

Seek full participation from the vestry. For perspective, it is sometimes helpful to widen the circle to include, for example, a youth representative, former wardens, and/or leaders of various ministries.

Resourced parishes may engage a retreat leader who has skills in vestry ministry. Those with limited resources may ask for a leader from the diocese. Any vestry can also have a “paper leader” by using, for example, a selection of articles from Vestry Papers for presentation at the retreat.

Any retreat should be wrapped in prayer. Consider giving each participant a set of scripture to reflect on in advance; utilize in Bible studies and liturgies. Begin or end by celebrating the Eucharist with the homily time previewing or summarizing the time together.

Plan for at least twenty-four hours together. Even better would be two nights to allow more time for interaction and development. A good schedule allows for gathering, worship, presentation/discussion, meals, free time and commissioning/sending. In addition to the annual retreat, consider scheduling a mini-retreat midway through the year.

Ample time for conversation, friendship, and play builds camaraderie, trust and cohesion.

This is a highly variable element of a retreat. Save the business for another time or at least concentrate it into a brief session. Presentations and experiences form a common ground which all share. Every member of the vestry brings a rich experience of leadership in the world. The church is a different place where new skills and approaches, sometimes at odds with the world, are used and may need to be learned.

Principles and Values
Retreats are key times in which to establish the culture of the vestry and the way it embodies the reign of God honoring Jesus’ words that he came bringing abundant life.

There are well-worn paths to both a depreciative culture as well as paths to health and abundance. The vestry chooses the path. Use the retreat to name that which you value. These may include such principles as disallowing anonymous information and communication triangles, using consensus in decision-making, seeking to become tithers, committing to a significant level of outreach, use of appreciative language, and more.

Name your principles, then form them into a paragraph or two as a vestry covenant which all sign and publish in the church. Use the covenant at each meeting to remind each other of the commitment made.

Finally, if there is any overt or covert conflict in the church or on the vestry, it is of supreme importance that an outside consultant be engaged. Resourced parishes may engage a consultant; churches with limited resources will find assistance through the diocesan office.

Baptism is the origin and source of all ministry. The ministry of a vestry serves as a
beacon in every church to shed light on this focus and to energize the gifts of the Spirit given in baptism. Every vestry is called to lead in discerning and building the form and face of the reign of God. Vestry retreats are food for this journey.

The Rev. Dr. Randy Ferebee and the Rev. Alan Akridge, Directors of Epiphany Institute + Consulting, specialize in leadership development in congregations. They are the coordinators for the annual Kanuga Vestry Conference and church consultants. Dr. Ferebee recently retired as rector of Saint Alban’s Parish in Hickory, North Carolina. Fr. Akridge is the rector of Saint Mark’s Church in Brunswick, Georgia.

This article is part of the November 2009 Vestry Papers issue on Vestry Retreats