Vestry as Team
Essentials for a Healthy Vestry Team
Vestries and bishop’s committees in the Episcopal Church are essential for the healthy functioning of our communities of faith. They remind us of the need for lay and clergy leadership in our congregations. They help us recognize that each of our members has a unique function and responsibility and that the way to undertake this work is to be and function as a team.
Teamwork is a process of gathering different ideas and tools from various individuals to produce something new, something that one person would not be able to achieve by him or herself. This is why it is crucial that lay and clergy leadership intentionally invest time, talent and treasure to create good teamwork in their vestries and bishop’s committees.
Each team has two essential functions: complete a task and maintain healthy relationships among the members. Clarity in these functions gives members a sense of belonging and assurance that their time, talent and treasure are well utilized. It motivates members of the congregation as well, encouraging their interest in the vestry/bishop committee’s work.
The opposite is also true. When there is a lack of clarity in these functions, there is chaos and loss of motivation that filters down to the congregation at large. The result is fatigue and the congregation becomes less generous with its time, talent and treasure, since no one wants to commit to something that has no future.
Good teamwork in vestries and bishop’s committees requires clarity in three essential elements: duties, maintaining mutual relationships, and personal needs. These three elements enable vestries and bishop’s committees to function effectively and to be a source of vitality and energy in our congregations.
A look at each essential element
Duties: Our purpose
A team is called to exist or is created to accomplish a task. The duty of the vestries and bishop’s committees is to be the legal representatives of the parish concerning its corporate property, but that definition is not limited. There are additional duties, depending on the context in which a congregation is located and exercises its ministry.
Nothing should be taken for granted. It is important that vestry and bishop’s committee members are made aware and have full knowledge of their main duty. We must be intentional about taking time to help new members become acquainted with their duties and remind veteran members of their role in this important entity in their faith community.
This is best done during an annual retreat to read jointly and individually the rules and statutes that guide their ministry. Other opportunities to reinforce members’ understanding of their duties and purpose can be incorporated into meetings and other events throughout the year.
Maintaining mutual relationships
Effective vestries and bishop’s committees maintain good relationships among their members, so that each member feels safe and free to contribute to the team. Our interpersonal relationships are constantly changing. When members recognize this and consistently help one another, it is easier to accomplish assigned tasks.
A common reality is that some vestry/bishop’s committee members would rather work for their congregations in an individual capacity instead of as a team member. Sometimes people are invited by the clergy to exercise a function based on their individual interests and abilities. They may be recognized as leaders in their congregations for successfully completing a project or initiative. In many instances, those same gifts can undermine the group’s teamwork. It is imperative that we to know how to uphold our interpersonal relationships.
Time to get to know one another individually and to see that all members bring different gifts to the group is important. Icebreakers and other activities help foster team bonding. Tools for personal awareness, like personality tests, can be an important investment in maintaining relationships. Tools like the MBTI can help us know one another and work better as a team.
All individuals in vestries and bishop’s committees bring personal needs to the team. When those needs do not find a favorable atmosphere, a person seeks ways to fulfill them, sometimes to the detriment of the team’s functioning. It is in these instances when we see unhealthy behaviors that tend to disrupt the work and good relations of the group.
In vestries and bishop’s committees, it is important to help members express their personal needs. These can vary a great deal and may be expressed in different ways. Some people need their work recognized and others need to be heard. A common need for many is to feel respected. It is important that lay and clergy leadership are aware of these needs during and outside of meetings. Granting participation and voice are concrete ways of showing respect for each team member.
A balancing act
It is essential that vestries and bishop’s committees balance these three functions – Task, Relationships, and Personal Needs. When one is neglected, the other two are affected and team performance is impaired. To do that, lay and clergy leadership need to invest time, talent and treasure in the good health of their leadership team. Our investment in nurturing these leaders in our congregations is an investment in an entire congregation that will strengthen their trust in their leaders and will motivate them to want to be part of the leadership in the future.
Victor Conrado serves as the Associate for Ministries for the Diocese of Chicago. Before being called to this position, he served for six years as Assistant Rector for Latino/Hispanic Language Ministries at St. Mark Episcopal Church, Glen Ellyn, IL. Victor was a Roman Catholic missionary priest for 11 years in Kenya, Africa. He was received into the Episcopal Church in 2011.
- The Vestry Goes on Retreat by Nathan E. Kirkpatrick, Vestry Papers, January 2017
- Why are we Here? by Linda Buskirk, ECF Vital Practices blog, September 1, 2018
- No Time to Hibernate by Victor Conrado and Louisa McKellaston, Vestry Papers, May 2018
- Relational Matters by Greg Syler, ECF Vital Practices blog, August 14, 2013
- First Steps in Understanding Church Conflict, an ECF webinar presented by Christy Shain-Hendricks, March 9, 2017