Last week we looked at proper leave-taking, this week we look in the other direction, at how to begin well, specifically when it comes to leading meetings. How do we lead in light of the expectations and structures that are already there? How do we decide when it's time to challenge those expectations or change those structures? Our question this week is a specific one, but it has to do with these broad issues to which all of us can relate. (We were not able to address this question in time for the meeting to which the question refers, but we hope our responses might be helpful for future meetings.)
I am chairing my first vestry meeting this Sunday. The parish traditionally holds it straight after the Sunday Eucharist. I want to use the Eucharist service as a time of prayer for the coming meeting and would welcome some ideas of prayers, intercessions, or any other good advice!
Because I am new to the parish, I tend to do things differently (more through ignorance than anything else!) so people get a bit unsettled though there is no overt criticism.
This may be my first chairing of such a meeting but I have been to many in my life and some have been absolutely horrendous.
You are the new kid on the block, so pay attention to WHY they are having their vestry on Sunday immediately after the Eucharist. I never have had vestry or council meetings regularly on Sundays because I precisely wanted the parishioners to detach worship from the business meetings. An irregular or emergency meeting is one thing but regular meetings is something else.
The parish I attend now has their meetings on Sunday afternoon which allows people to go home and have lunch, change their clothes, read the funny papers - including the rector. So there is a gap between worship and business.
Did you sit down with your vestry when you first came and ask how they did things? Always a good move. And if this is your first vestry meeting with them, this is the time to do so. If it is "we have always done it that way" then perhaps you need to ask them if it is convenient for them or if it interferes with the way that they worship. Be willing to share what you would like changed. If you are a brand new priest and doing things you are unfamiliar with, discuss with them how it would be if you tried some things. A parish is much more willing to try new things if they know that they are helping their new priest get settled. Everything should be negotiated.
I understand that this is now advice-after-the-fact. No matter. Unless the parish is badly conflicted or there has been a difficult interim, the parish is going to allow you to make mistakes as long as you are willing to learn for the first 3 years. After that then you will have to negotiate changes. All changes need to come with discussion with the body you are dealing with. And for Gawd's sake, don't move the Altar until it is a request of the Vestry! 8>) (personal experience)
What I have done when I have entered a parish is sit down with the Altar Guild and the Acolyte Master and then the wardens first of all and ask how they do things. If you can live with that or have other ways of doing things, discuss it then. As long as they know that you are willing to work with them and respect their customary, then you are able to make some changes that work better for you. Any time you find yourself imposing your will, you need to check your motives - you may be right, but this isn't about what is right or wrong. It is about getting to know may be right, but this isn't about what is right or wrong. It is about getting to know folks who offer you lots of care and work in return for their devotion.
Blessings on you in your new parish. I pray that your ministry will be ultimately as joyful as mine has been.
Thank you so much, dear matriarchs, for this very thoughtful advice. What about the rest of you? Do you have some thoughts to share? Feel free either to respond to the specifics of the original question or to offer your thinking on the broader issues of negotiating expectations and initiating change in a new setting. Join us in the comments section!
And as always, if you have a question you'd like the matriarchs to discuss, send us an email at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot[com].