Into the Heart of God
After years of spiritual wandering, I joined the Episcopal Church a decade ago, finding my first home in a large congregation led by a vestry filled with long-time members who had waited for years to be elected. One of those members was the friend who had led me to become an Episcopalian. I found her stories about vestry work fascinating. With the requisite amount of discretion, of course, she talked about all she was learning about resolving personnel issues and disagreements among staff, dealing with budget concerns and caring for an aging building and all it held.
I remember thinking, “What an enormous task. Thank God she is part of this.”
Several years later, I realized that belonging to a congregation so far away from home was limiting my connection to God and community. For years I had driven past St. Mark’s Episcopal, the “beautiful little church on the hill” near my house. One Sunday, my daughter and I decided to see whether it fit.
It fit so well that I was asked to run for vestry a couple years later. I was concerned about the time commitment at first, primarily because of what I'd seen of my friend's experience. After much prayer and several conversations with others, I decided to take the leap knowing God would see me through.
A blessedly different approach
I discovered quickly that serving on the vestry at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Huntersville, North Carolina, is beautifully, blessedly different.
There is business to be conducted, of course. And there are difficult decisions to be made. But the cornerstone of St. Mark’s vestry is spiritual connection and prayerful discernment as we seek to travel deeper, both individually and as a group, into the heart of God.
Our vestry year begins with a spiritual retreat away from the hustle and bustle of our daily lives. The nine of us gather with our rector in a beautiful part of God's kingdom to be still, to pray, to learn from one another and to grow. From the moment we arrive on Friday afternoon, you can feel the Holy Spirit moving among us. Our time is given to fellowship, prayer, discernment and discussion. We conduct no church business during these 36 hours, but focus on our souls, our relationships with one another and our desire to know Christ and make him known.
In 2019, our retreat began with a study of the life and Rule of St. Benedict. Our goal was to become familiar with the basic tenets of his teachings and to commit as a vestry to living them and sharing our experience with the congregation. The commitment to St. Benedict and his teachings that grew out of that retreat has brought us peace as individuals, drawn us closer as a group and allowed us to interact with our congregation in more spiritually meaningful ways.
Spiritual connection and prayerful discernment
Our monthly vestry meetings are similarly structured around fellowship, prayer, discernment and discussion. We start with an individual welcome to each member, a heartfelt prayer and a scripture reading, chosen and read by one of us to help us connect more deeply in the moment with each other and with God. The chosen prayers and passages and the questions that accompany them inspire conversation about scripture and its application to our lives now and in the future. We note the words and ideas that resonate with us and talk about how we see God speaking to us through them.
This discussion, which runs 30 minutes or more, is the cornerstone of our meeting. It leads our minds and our hearts to a place where we can serve our congregation with love and compassion, and it helps us make decisions that are inspired by Jesus and his teachings. These days, we use the Rule of St. Benedict to guide our conversation, mindful that stability, humility and a willingness to modify our thinking are critical to making Christ-led decisions. From here, we move to the business of St. Mark's, respecting the vulnerability shared during our scripture reading and conversation.
As the meeting comes to a close, a member asks for our intercessions and prayers of thanksgiving. We pray for those together, offering each prayer in detail. It takes a while, five minutes or more, and is a lovely and loving way to end our time together before we head back into the world. There is something wonderful about walking out of our fellowship hall knowing that nine other people are praying for each one of us and our specific needs.
Commitment to spiritual growth
I recently ran into the friend mentioned earlier. Her vestry ended several years ago, and she asked how my time was going and whether I’d come to regret volunteering. I was pleased to tell her it’s been the most spiritually rewarding thing I’ve ever done.
My experience on St. Mark’s vestry has been dramatically different from my expectations. The work we do as vestry members on behalf of our church is important, and our commitment to each other’s spiritual growth and needs is critical to our ability to do that work in the image of God. By centering our vestry around prayer, fellowship, discernment and discussion, we are better able to serve the needs of our congregation and our church, and to follow the will of God as we do so.
Beth Hunt has been a member of St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Huntersville, N.C., for six years. She's a former business reporter, editor and media executive, who now focuses on recruiting and developing talent for newsrooms across the country. Beth is a delegate to the North Carolina Diocesan Convention and senior warden on St. Mark's vestry. She is married to Brian and mom to Shannon, 14, both of whom are mathematicians. In her free time, Beth is a chef, jewelry beader, fiction reader and recovering Diet Coke addict.
- Cultivating a Culture of Discernment by Blair Pogue, Vestry Papers, July 2010
- Build a Healthy Vestry by Janie Kirt Morris, Vestry Papers, January 2013
- Build bonds of joy in a spirited retreat by Donald Peeler, Vestry Papers, November 2009
- Moving from Purpose to Spirit-Driven Meetings by Richelle Thompson, ECF Vital Practices blog, June 7, 2012