What is the Vestry?

This post was submitted by Nora Adelmann, the vestry’s accounting warden.

A Vestry is the legal representative of the parish with regard to all matters pertaining to corporate property and the relations of the parish to its clergy (Title I, Canon 14 of the Episcopal Church). 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 term “Vestry” comes from England, where the annual election of churchwardens took place in Easter week. The parishioners gathered at the church to hear the outgoing wardens render their accounts and elect their successors. The parishioners assembled in the vestry, the room off the church where the clergy vested. The assembled parishioners came to be known as the vestry. Initially, only adult males were participants in vestries. In Virginia, the parishes were very large, and it was difficult to get all the male parishioners together, so they met once and elected twelve of their number to serve for life. The current vestry evolved from this colonial pattern.

At St. Peter’s, there are twelve Vestry members, four of whom are elected at the annual meeting each January for three-year terms (individuals may serve for two successive terms, and then must be off the Vestry for at least one year before being eligible to serve again). The presiding officer of the Vestry is the Rector. St. Peter’s has two wardens: a Rector’s Warden appointed by the Rector, and an Accounting Warden elected by the Vestry. The Rector’s Warden serves as a lay partner with the Rector in managing day-to-day operations, identifying and nurturing leaders, and empowering members of the congregation to live out the Gospel in their daily lives. The Accounting Warden oversees and monitors financial and accounting activities, insurance, and budgeting, and serves as liaison between the Finance Committee and Vestry. The Secretary records minutes of the Vestry meetings and attests to the Rector and Vestry’s certificates of a candidate’s fitness for ordination (Episcopal Church canons). St. Peter’s has a Treasurer who is elected by the Vestry (not a Vestry member).

Among the Vestry’s responsibilities:

  • Make time commitments and prepare for Vestry meetings, committee/ministry work, and retreats
  • Regularly attend worship and parish events
  • Pray daily for the clergy, staff, and members of the congregation
  • Offer talents to support St. Peter’s ministries
  • Understand and participate in the Vestry’s role in stewardship
  • Be willing to speak their minds, vote their consciences, and work toward consensus
  • Consciously consider and review all deliberations in light of St. Peter’s mission: To embody the love of God as Christ’s heart, mind, and hands