by the Rev. Christopher Potter, Vicar

If you search either online or off, on the role and purpose of a Vestry (or in the case of St. John’s, a Bishop’s Committee), you might be surprised at how empty your results are. Even when you dive into the Canons of the Episcopal Church, you’ll find very little defining the role(s) of the BC when everything in the parish is working smoothly. Let me explain.

In Title I. Canon 14 Sec. 2, you’ll find this as an explanation of the “regular” work of the Vestry/BC:

  • Except as provided by the law of the State or of the Diocese, the Vestry shall be agents and legal representatives of the Parish in all matters concerning its corporate property and the relations of the Parish to its Clergy.

And that’s it! That’s the extent of the role of the Vestry/BC as defined in the Canons of the Church.

Contrarily, the Canons are super-detailed on the role of the Vestry/BC when there are problems in the church (e.g., misconduct, the pastor leaves office unexpectedly, when there is disagreement between pastor and Vestry…). The rules define who the Vestry/BC is to contact when the relationship between the parish and the pastor is at risk, some approaches to handling disagreements, and the requirement that the Vestry/BC remain in alignment with the Bishop Diocesan.

There is also a provision that when a parish priest vacates the pastorate, the next person/people who must step-in with full authority for the administration of the parish are the Senior Warden (Bishop’s Warden here) and the Junior Warden (People’s Warden). I know this intimately since, when I was at St. George Parish in Riverside and there was a gap between Rectors, I was the Senior Warden with a sudden increase in responsibilities. I had two calls a week from one of the Bishops at the time (Jon Bruno and Bob Anderson) who checked in on us, taking a personal interest in the welfare of the community and in my well-being in the interim. It was my responsibility to be sure the bills were paid, required maintenance fulfilled, that a priest was contracted to celebrate Eucharist on Sundays, and to be the ‘point person’ if there was a pastoral emergency.

A quick word about the difference between a Vestry and a Bishop’s Committee.

A Vestry exists in each Episcopal PARISH – a church that exercises its own governance and operates financially independent from the Diocese. A Vestry vets, interviews, and hires its Rector. The relationship between the Vestry and the Bishop Diocesan is intended to be very close and interdependent. While legal title of each parish is (generally speaking) held in trust by the Bishop, the Bishop also has ultimate jurisdiction over ownership and things theological.

A Bishop’s Committee is in place when the Episcopal Church is a MISSION of the Diocese. Generally, this means that the church is dependent upon the Diocese for some financial support to accomplish its Gospel  mandates. The pastor-of-record for all missions is the Bishop of the Diocese. For a Mission, the Bishop chooses a Vicar – the one who ministers on behalf of the Bishop, who is in place as long as desired by the Bishop. In the case of St. John’s, we are not dependent upon the Diocese for financial support. (As I understand it, we are only one of two missions in this Diocese that does not receive financial support from the Diocese.) However, because there is a debt on St. John’s property (extending back to when WE first built the school), and because the Diocese is co-signatory on the loan, the Bishop/Diocese insists on this level of inter-relatedness between us.

Because the Bishop is the pastor of the mission, all actions by the Bishop’s Committee must be ratified by the Bishop.

Every action taken by the BC, every financial statement produced, every contract, all minutes of our meetings are voted on locally and sent to the Bishop for approval. In Mission parishes, the Bishop is the fiduciary, where for parishes, it is the Vestry.

Now, as to the functions of the BC/Vestry: The genius of the Church Canons in defining the role of the BC/Vestry very broadly is that it gives each pastor the freedom to assemble and define these roles as needed for the church. For example, some pastors employ the Committee strictly as an administrative body. Those legal responsibilities in Title 1 (see above) are fulfilled as specified. Others may include an advisory relationship between BC and pastor, even though it is not required. All Vestry/BC’s act as “agents and legal representatives of the Parish,” by signing contracts, advising the pastor on matters related to expenditures, and convey any concerns of the parish membership.

Other pastors, while fulfilling the mandated responsibility, ALSO employ the BC/Vestry as a leadership team who explores and implements together the spiritual welfare and direction of the parish community. This is done by conversations about personal spiritual/religious movements in each member of the Committee. In conversation with each other they pray and discern where the Spirit of God is calling the parish to go, be, and do. One expected outcome of this model is that the Committee learns how to discuss similarities and differences without hostility or division. They learn to respect the observations of others and explore how they might weigh their insights into their decision processes. It also encourages decisions made by consensus; where though there may be disagreement, there is unanimous agreement to accept the movement of the Spirit and to move forward together for the benefit of the Community. Such a body (BC/Vestry) becomes the model for the rest of the community as it too works to fulfill its baptismal covenant to “Respect the dignity of every human being” – even when we disagree with each other.

As the BC at St. John’s can attest, the latter is the model we have chosen. We explore our spiritual selves during the meeting, listen for where the Spirit may be calling us, address and complete the administrative tasks, and go home feeling closer to each other in love and dignity.

Next week: Bishop’s Warden/People’s Warden

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Here’s the worship bulletin for Sunday, August 8. St. John’s is eco-friendly! Help St. John’s save on paper and toner; please print the bulletin at home or use your device to follow along during the service.

Here’s What’s Happening at St. John’s
For each event’s full details, including contact person, sign-up deadlines and more, head here.
+ Saturday evening In-person worship is at 5 p.m. today. Join us!
+ Godly Play, Sunday School, and the Nursery are open to receive your children!
+ Dates to Save: August 21 and 23 Pacific Chorale event via the Segerstrom Center. September 11 “Lest We Forget” — a free concert at St. John’s with the St. John’s Choir and The Festival Singers. September 12 the St. John’s BBQ (now with Tri-Tip!) and Bishop’s visit. November 6 our annual fellowship event and fundraiser. Details for all the events in the News.
+ You can drop food donations for RSM Cares Food Pantry at church on Sundays. Items needed include soup, chili, beans; pasta, pasta sauce; peanut butter, jelly, and also grocery store gift cards.The next pantry distribution is August 18.
+ The next Book It On Mondays! meets August 30. The book is Lynne Martin’s Home Sweet AnywhereMore info available from Christy Morinello.
+ Join the Altar Guild! Learn more, by contacting Christy Morinello.
+ Altar Flowers: remember loved ones with altar flowers! More than one donation can be submitted per week. Send your commemoration along with your name and mail it to the Church Office or drop off on Sundays while at church. Sixty dollars is the  suggested flower donation.
+ Youth Group is on a brief Summer break, but usually ZOOMS on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. Watch this space for more info. 
+ Women’s Hybrid Bible Study is on hiatus for August. Look for it to resume in September on Wednesday mornings, 10:15 – 11:30 a.m. at DJ Gomer’s home. Hybrid = in-person and on ZOOM.
+ Join us for coffee after the Sunday service on the lower courtyard (Learning Commons Courtyard) which is the perfect spot to hold coffee hour where tables, comfortable seating, and shade abound. We even have an elevator you can use to get there!
+ Women’s Ministry: Meet Saturday, September 18 Kathy O’Connor’s home in Pasadena (aka The Bishop’s residence) for lunch and a presentation by author Lian Dolan discussing her book, The Sweeney Sisters. Watch this space for more info.
+ More news/events/volunteer opportunities available in the News by clicking below on the Youth Group ZOOM pic.
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We’re back on campus:
Clergy and staff are back in the Church Office. Schedule a time to come to the church office and meet face-to-face. Contact Rev. Christopher or 949.888.4568, or Rev. Karen or 949.888.4595, x239.

In-Person Worship Schedule:
• Evening Prayer or Compline ZOOM services continue to be held Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8 p.m.
• Sunday morning worship will be held in-person at church and on ZOOM at 9 a.m. 
• Saturday in-person worship in the church August 7 at 5 p.m.
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