William Robertson and Jared Spencer*
Terry di Paolo*
Tina Johnson Hattan*
Ken Lee, Treasurer
Barbara Sievert, Recording Secretary
What’s a Vestry and Why do We Elect One?
Much of the Episcopal Church’s governance is based on representative democracy. This starts at the parish level with the election of vestries. A vestry is a group of committed parishioners who manage the budget and business of the parish. A Dictionary of the Episcopal Church goes on to say, “The basic responsibilities of the vestry are to help define and articulate the mission of the congregation; to support the church's mission by word and deed, to select the rector, to ensure effective organization and planning, and to manage resources and finances.” The rector is the authority on the worship and spiritual practice of the parish, and works in partnership with the vestry and wardens. In fact, the legal name of St. Luke’s is “The Rector, Churchwardens, and Vestry of the Church of Saint Luke in the Fields.”
Here at St. Luke’s, there are nine vestry members, who serve terms of three years. They can be reelected once, but then must be off the vestry for at least one year following their second term. The requirements for a vestry member are that they are “of the age of eighteen years or more belonging to the parish, who have been baptized and are regular attendants of its worship and contributors to its support for at least twelve months prior to an annual election.” (from the bylaws) Unlike many parishes, St. Luke’s has customarily held contested elections, in contrast to slates, where there are exactly as many nominees as there are open seats.
Vestry members make a commitment to attending monthly meetings; serving on vestry committees and as liaisons to various parish groups and guilds, and attending an annual retreat. It is a significant commitment of time and energy. It is more than being a member of a secular board of directors—it is a significant leadership role in our community of worship, hospitality, and witness.
So, how do people get nominated? There are a couple of ways. The Nominating Committee, convened by the rector, begins to meet in April. Current members are Julia Alberino, Dorothy Carey, Sean Scheller, Weiben Wang, and co-chairs Mary O’Shaughnessy and Kevin Reilly. They discuss active groups across the parish, and work to identify parishioners who have exercised leadership in a variety of ways. The committee looks at the incumbent vestry members and attempt to discern areas where a potential nominee’s may fill gaps in spiritual gifts and/or skill sets.
The other way for members to be nominated for election is by petition. If a member consents, six other members may sign a petition for that person to be added to the ballot. The petitions are to be submitted to the Nominating Committee: or .
Diversity of vestry members across service attendance, race, age, gender, class, work experience, and length of membership is important to the committee. Other core characteristics include:
- Frequent, regular worship and participation in the life of St. Luke's.
- Demonstrated leadership that is both effective and pastoral, on one or more guilds or committees.
- Healthy modeling of the baptismal promise to "respect the dignity of every person."
- A commitment to working productively across parish social groups and worship services.
- The ability to disagree without being disagreeable.
- A reputation for fairmindedness and critical thinking.
- An understanding of,or the willingness to learn, the polity of the Episcopal Church, at the diocesan and national levels as well as the parochial.
- Experience with life in an Episcopal community other than St. Luke’s.
- Experience in understanding financial statements and nonprofit income and expense flows.
Not everyone will have all of these qualities, of course!
If you would like to read more about vestries and what they do, check out the Episcopal Church Foundation’s site, Vestry Papers, at http://www.ecfvp.org/vestrypapers/. If you have other questions, please feel free to contact Mary or Kevin .