Episcopal Church Foundation Vital Practices (ECFVP) asks is it time to get rid of vestries?
A friend recently quipped “I don’t believe vestries are needed for the church today.” He said it as a hyperbole, something to spark conversation, and if for no other reason than it might do that – actually spark a conversation and actually lead us to seriously re-consider our conventional working model – I’ll go along with it. If you’d like a more palatable post, though, let me say that vestries, alone, are no longer needed for the church today.
The … organization can keep the title ‘vestry,’ and the canons of the church don’t have to be revised nor does anyone need to talk about dissolving and merging ‘parish boundaries’ or any other such thing. Those are probably ‘third rail’ issues, anyway. The latter organization can be called, say, the ‘parish council.’ Both can equal claim to the power structures and ways in which budget(s) are established and mission is financed. Both can argue from positions of relative strength, and neither would seek to tear down or disenfranchise the other.
What it would do is create a system of real checks-and-balances on the ground whereas, in reality, our 18th century church has never really had much balance in its local, lived expression. We’ve had plenty of ‘checks’ on the ground. Because our dominant model of church is all about maintaining corporate property and keeping up the establishment, we’ve effectively figured out how to shut down anything that might risk that model: The Episcopal Church in its local, lived expression is very good at stifling new ideas and suffocating relational groupings if it appears that such movements will threaten the establishment. Creating these checks-and-balances between Vestry and Parish Council, then, will lead both groups to become partners in the work of ministry, one paying greater attention to relational matters, the other to those more functional (and necessary) concerns of what it means to be church. Doing so will come with its own hardship and headaches, and this model requires a greater degree of priestly leadership and authority in maintaining balance and keeping everyone accountable to a higher mission, but I believe it can be done.
Read it all here and add what do you think of this idea in the comments.
posted by Ann Fontaine