By Bishop Linda Nicholls
Although February is the shortest month of the year, it can feel like the longest, especially if winter storms add to the dull, dreary days. It is also the month dreaded by many a church secretary, warden and priest as it is the month of the annual vestry meeting.
Barely over Christmas and Epiphany, the leadership team launch into finishing reports, finalizing the budget, finding nominees for elected positions and having the accounts audited. Whenever I hear talk about vestry meetings there is anxiety as February looms.
Our dread is misplaced! A reframing of the purpose and nature of our Vestry meetings may turn them into an anticipated event rather than a dreaded one. Rather than a duty to fulfil the canons it can be an opportunity for celebration, visioning and planning. It begins in the gospel – in God’s Good News of love, forgiveness and grace that needs to be shared. God is already in our midst and in our world longing for our partnership in continuing the story. I trust that your vestry meeting will include time to hear God through scripture and prayer.
First, do celebrate the past year. What were the highlights? Tell the stories of two or three things that the parish took delight in during 2018. Look at your Mission & Ministry Plan and give thanks for all that was accomplished or learned. Give thanks for all the people who served the parish and community. At past parish vestry meetings I was often deeply encouraged by what was done in the previous year! More than I had imagined.
Then look at plans for 2019. They may have been prepared by the parish council or other groups – and may need input from those at the meeting. What is God calling your parish to do and be in 2019? Have the Five Marks of Mission posted prominently on the wall – and ask how the parish will engage in each of them in 2019. Include new ideas – something never tried before – plan what needs to be learned. Tell the story of that vision for health and mission in a way that is joy-filled and passionate about how every member of the parish of all ages can participate.
When considering the budget – be prudent. A deficit budget is a sign of an unhealthy parish. A healthy budget plans realistically for the needs of the parish. Whatever increase in congregational giving is anticipated in the budget is a commitment of every person in the parish once the budget is passed. So it is important to read the budget – ask questions – understand both the sources of income and the costs anticipated and support your parish!
Elect wise and gracious people of faith as wardens and parish council members. They carry the daily life of the congregation through the coming year. They need to work together as a team. They make decisions on your behalf for the health and well-being of the parish jointly with the parish priest. Pray for them – and offer to help! Don’t criticize from the parking lot. Sit down in conversation and work together on solutions. Everything we do and how we do it is a reflection of who we are as children of God.
Elect lay members of Synod who, as people of faith, see the bigger picture of the parish within the diocese and the whole Anglican Church. They are responsible for keeping your parish connected to the work of the diocese and their input into both parish and diocese is essential to our life.
Finally, take time to pray for all you have decided in the meeting. Pray for your rector, wardens, lay member(s) of Synod and parish council. Pray for me, our diocese and the whole Anglican Church. Pray for all that God is calling you to in 2019, for courage and joy in every part!
May God, who will give you the wisdom to choose wisely, grant you the power to accomplish all that you will set out to do in mission and ministry. Amen.