By Nancy Jagmin (Vestry Member and Chair, Nominating Committee)
If you attended a meeting of your Vestry sometime (which you are welcome to do), you might be surprised. There is discussion of the financials for the past month, discussion of variances to planned expenditures or expected pledge revenue, and discussion of pressing issues about the buildings, staff, and ministries of the church. Someone may be reporting on the progress of an initiative toward our five-year strategic plan to ensure the vitality of our church. After a few minutes, you may think that you had the wandered into the executive staff meeting of a working organization, and, in fact, you have! We begin with prayer and spiritual reflection, but after that, our meetings tend to be very task-focused.
The Vestry is a working leadership team. We review and discuss new information, lead projects, weigh trade-offs, and make decisions on behalf of the congregation. We don’t just review the work of the paid staff! Our Vestry is called to be reliable stewards of our parish, and the tasks of leadership are becoming more complex. The Vestry administers a large budget, staff, and physical plant. Last year we also created a five-year strategic plan, designed to keep our church relevant and vibrant, and we are now pursuing strategic initiatives to make that plan a reality. The complexity of leading a church of our size should not be under-estimated.
The objective of this brief article is to give you a glimpse into how the Vestry operates and what we are doing to modify the process by which the Vestry is selected.
How does the Vestry Operate?
The Vestry is made up to 12 members; every year a new “class” of four people is elected to a three-year term and four people roll off the Vestry.
The work of the Vestry is organized into three committees:
- Budget, Finance, and Administration (BFA)
- Building, Grounds, and Technology (BGT)
- Mission and Ministry (MM)
Every Vestry member is assigned to a committee, led by a Chair. Each committee meets monthly, before the next meeting of the total Vestry. A typical Vestry meeting includes reports from each committee and a discussion of issues or plans under consideration by that committee. Sometimes that committee makes recommendations which require a vote of the total Vestry, so all Vestry members need some working knowledge of the work of all three committees.
Every committee assignment requires common sense and a sincere willingness to serve our parish. Members learn a lot about the work of the committee by serving on it, but it is helpful when new members already have some expertise in one of the three domains of work. This enables them to better equipped to effectively chair that committee by their third year on Vestry. In addition, each year we need to two people who are ready to handle the significant leadership demands of being Senior Warden and Junior Warden.
How was the Current Vestry Selected?
The current Vestry selection process begins in the summer with the selection of a Nominating Committee Chair, drawn from the BFA committee. The Nominating Committee Chair recruits a committee to help surface well-qualified candidates. Self-nominations to Vestry are solicited in the Notices, but in the past few, if any, were received. As a result, the Nominating Committee has typically needed to recruit nominees, a task that involves consideration of functional/technical and leadership skills, as well as involvement in church activities.
Most years, the Nominating Committee has a difficult time gaining the consent of six candidates to run for the four open positions. Not infrequently, individuals have by-passed the Nomination Committee to enter a self-nomination right before the election.
The election is held in October, but typically less than 20% of elibigle voting members cast ballots, despite the recent addition of absentee balloting.
Why should we change the Vestry Selection Process?
As we move into the future, it will be important that the Vestry possess functional/technical expertise to best equip its efforts to lead our church. There are many life experiences, in and outside the church, that can prepare a person for Vestry, but we also need specific types of expertise and skills to create a well-rounded and effective team. One of the objectives of our recent parish survey was learn more about the expertise in our parish. This past summer we also completed a project to ask Vestry members about the skills and experiences that prepared them of the work of Vestry membership. We will share that compiled information to facilitate the work of the Nominating Committee.
In conjunction with this skills analysis, there are a few steps in the selection process that we want to change. Ideally, the Vestry selection process should be open, inclusive, and effective, yet we are only partially achieving these objectives now.
- The process is effective if it yields a Vestry class with a good representation of needed expertise and experience. However, in our current process, voting members may not fully understand the leadership needs of the Vestry for the incoming class, and thus not make choices that best equip the team.
- As for inclusivity, only a fifth of the congregation typically votes, so there is no reason to assume that the chosen candidates are truly representative of the entire congregation.
- And finally, the process doesn’t feel properly open to candidates who were recruited by the Nominating Committee because of their expertise and experience, yet weren’t elected by the small percentage of voters.
How is the Vestry Selection Process Changing?
This past summer, a sub-committee of Vestry members considered how to modify the election process in a way which would help us select the leaders we need to lead our church in the future. They made modifications to the proposed process in response to feedback from the Rector, Vestry, and Parish Council. The following chart summarizes how our Vestry selection process is changing.
|Old Process||New Process||Benefit|
|Nominating Committee||o Committee chair selects committee||o Committee formed largely from self-nominees
o Includes three previous Sr. Wardens
|o Improved openness, inclusivity|
|o All candidates must be a church member in good standing||o Helpful expertise, leadership skills, and typical experiences on the path to church leadership also are specified||o Clarity and transparency around expectations for Vestry service|
|Candidate Slate||o All members in good standing who self-nominate are on the ballot||o Nominating Committee reviews all candidates and recommends a slate of four, designated as such on the ballot
o Self-nominees who were not recommended may also choose to be on the ballot
|o Most qualified candidates are “recommended”
o Ballot is still open to everyone who self-nominates
|Final Candidate Selection||o Vestry members elected by congregation via a written ballot||o Vestry members elected by congregation via a written ballot
o Nominating Committee recommended slate is indicated on ballot
|o Clarity about who the Nominating Committee recommends, based on their evaluation and knowledge of needs
You saw appeals to volunteer for the Nominating Committee during the summer. Now, the process of inviting individuals to nominate themselves for Vestry and build a recommended candidate slate is underway. We are looking forward to the congregation’s full participation in the new election process in November!