Saturday, March 22nd, 2014 – The Third Saturday in Lent

Christ Church Vestry Meetings

 

A vestry in an Episcopal Church acts, in almost every instance, as the legal corporation for the Church. It is akin to a board of directors. People in the parish are elected to three year terms while two people are elected additionally for separate two year terms to serve as Wardens of the Vestry, in effect the President and Vice-President. People serve out of a love for God and a love for the congregation. Many people serve out of a sense of obligation.

If you were to take a poll of people nationally who serve on Vestries, including clergy, most would not rank vestry service as the most fun they have in a given month. I have one clergy friend who, with ten years left before retirement, started a calendar with all future vestry meetings on it. Every month he would put an X through the month, counting them down like a reverse Advent calendar. He would call me to tell me how many he had left.

Early in my ministry as a priest, I suppose I felt a bit like that. I would listen to the jokes about how difficult or how boring or how long the meetings were and how people would grudgingly arrive to ‘get it over with.’ I didn’t like that way that felt.

Over time, I began to realize the difference between ‘church work’ and ‘kingdom work’ in a way that directly affected how people experience vestry meetings. Church work is important; kingdom work is decisive. The church work of the parish needs to be done and done well. If it isn’t being attended to in a timely, efficient, and transparent manner, the anxiety level of the parish rises, sometimes to a level that is paralyzing. However, no matter how well the church work is handled, it can only relieve dissatisfaction. Only kingdom work can add satisfaction.

In other words the people-to-people contact, the relational aspect of life in parish, is what makes people feel satisfied with life in their church. Which is why we end our meetings now the way we do.

The last 30-40 minutes of our meetings we now reserve for kingdom work. Often, we respond to a question or statement designed to elicit personal information. At March’s meeting, people responded to this: “Talk about someone who has helped you in a way that has made a difference in your life.”

O my goodness. In minutes, people were sharing important stories from their lives, stories that have materially and positively influenced who they have become. Some of the stories were humorous; some dampened our cheeks. The stories, though, put the church work we had covered in context. We came to do the church work; we’ll remember the kingdom work.

Questions for the day: As I move through my life, can I distinguish between the ‘church work’ and ‘kingdom work?’ What merely relieves dissatisfaction and what adds satisfaction?

 

– Christopher Powell

 

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