Each year as our annual parish meeting approaches we ask for nominations to the Church Vestry—which raises the question: “What’s a Vestry anyway?”
The term vestry originally was used for the room attached to the sanctuary where the clergy put on their vestments (liturgical garb) and where the vessels, linens and supplies for the service are kept. In merry old England, leading parishioners would conduct church meetings in the vestry (presumably before parish halls came into vogue), and thus the term came to be applied to a parish meeting and, later, the group of leaders themselves.
For some time, by church law, the business of the Vestry has been confined to the temporal affairs of the church: The stewardship of the finances and the upkeep and improvement of the buildings. In many Anglican jurisdictions (such as our own) the Vestry also occasionally exercises its most important function – the hiring of a new Rector (subject to the Bishop’s approval). But in typical years, the Vestry sets the budget, pays the bills, handles all tax, liability and legal issues, conducts the annual pledge drive and looks after the property.
In some churches the Vestry is seen as the leadership of the church. This is a step beyond their essential function, as there are many church leaders that are not necessarily Vestry members – e.g. the head of the altar guild, small group leaders, Sunday school teachers, the church treasurer and the heads of many of the other ministries of the church.
The Rector, nevertheless, often uses the Vestry as a council of advice when considering the direction of various ministries. And, since funding and ministry often go hand in hand, setting the ministry vision and direction for the church is often a cooperative affair.
Ours is a 12-member Vestry. We elect four members each year to serve three-year terms. Some years we will have just enough nominees to fill the open slots. Other years we will have more nominees than openings which will require a vote at the annual parish meeting to determine who will serve. It is important to note that election to the Vestry is not a popularity contest, or an award of some kind, but rather a question of calling. Nominees are often already exercising leadership in the congregation in one or more areas. The question we all must consider in our voting is who do we feel God is calling to this particular ministry?
The basic requirements for service are that a candidate be a baptized and confirmed member of the church who is actively participating in the life of the congregation. The Rector serves as ex-officio chair of the Vestry and appoints the Senior Warden (head layman). The other officers are elected by the Vestry members themselves and include the Junior Warden (In charge of property issues); Treasurer (finances) and clerk (secretary).