Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
October 28, 2001
Sermon: "How do we choose Vestry members?"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
How do we choose Vestry members?"
Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost - October 28, 2001
As you are probably aware the annual meeting for St. Thomas' is right around the corner on Nov. 11th. One important part of the meeting is the election of vestry members. I have been a member of seven Episcopal churches over my lifetime. I have had the privilege to watch this process in all of these churches. While the churches all had various ways of finding candidates for vestry many of them had a flaw in the election. The flaw was not the result of how they found the names. The flaw was not a result of how the votes were counted or being sure who could vote. The flaw was a misunderstanding of the people about offering gifts and talents for an elected position of the people. I also believe the voters did not understand the concept of gifts and talents in the electoral process either. The pervasive understanding was that this election was like any other civic election. Someone volunteered to run for the vestry. Campaigning was done of a sort. The election was held and there were winners and losers. Very little mention was made in most of these churches about ministry, gifts, and talents, even God. And yet, utilizing one's gifts and talents, as an elected leader of the community is what being a Christian is all about.
Today, I would like to share with you a vision for the electoral process for vestry in this church at this time. This vision begins with looking at two examples of how people were chosen for ministry in the scriptures. The first example is in Numbers, chapter 11, 16-30. Moses is the undisputed leader of the people of Israel. They are in the desert after they have crossed the Red Sea and the people are complaining about the lack of food. Moses, as the leader, gets all the grumbling of all the people. Moses is exasperated. Yes, burnout was an issue from the very beginning. He needs help handling the people. So God tells him to choose seventy of the elders and officers of the people. They are to gather in one spot. Then God will take some of the Spirit from Moses and place it on these seventy. These seventy will also be leaders of the people of Israel. Moses did as he was told. He gathered the seventy. The spirit was placed upon them and they began to prophesy among the people. God gave them what they needed to help Moses as leaders of the people. Here is the interesting aspect of this story. Moses chose the seventy as commanded by God. These seventy received the power of the Spirit. In addition to these seventy two others, not chosen by Moses as elders, were also given the Spirit of God. They were added to the elders as leaders. God chose them. Now, on the 11th, we could have the most interesting annual meeting of all time. We could all wait for the Spirit of God and see who would prophecy. Then we'd have our new vestry leaders.
In the book of Acts, we see another form of choosing leaders. In the 1st chapter, verses 12-26, the apostles need to choose someone to take Judas Iscariot's place. As a group they determined the criteria the person must have. The person had to be with them from the time of the baptism of John through the resurrection. They had to be a witness to the entire ministry of Christ. Two men fit the criteria. Then they gathered in prayer and cast lots. Casting lots works in this kind of manner. You get two stones of different colors. The stones each represent one of the two people. They are placed in a gourd and the gourd is shaken. The first stone to pop out is the person selected for the position. Since God is over everything, including the stones, it is God's will as to which stone popped out.
We could do something similar. We could rent a Bingo machine. Every member of good standing in the church would be given a number. We turn the machine on and the first three numbers to pop up are our newly elected Vestry members. Or we could just draw three names from a hat.
While we might find these methods somewhat silly, they do have one thing in common. The people are ultimately relying on the act of God in the process. Now, the Episcopal Church uses a different method. In our method, members of the congregation are asked if they would be nominated for the possibility of being on the vestry. Nominated for the possibility does not insure one's election. Nomination means someone believes that the individual being nominated has identified gifts and abilities. These abilities may be the right ones for the church at this time.
If the individual accepts, they are saying that they are willing to let God use their gifts in this manner at this time. They are willing to use their gifts for God and for this congregation at this place and at this time. They are offering their gifts, abilities and whole person to God and the community if the time is right and if the place is right.
Once the nominees have been identified, the people play their part in this process. They are to prayerfully consider each candidate. We are not considering whether the person is a good person or bad person. We are not even considering whether we like this person or not individually. We are praying for guidance from God. We are asking God to show us which people have the gifts and talents needed by this congregation at this time and in this place.
This election is not a political election. This election is not a popularity contest in schools. This election is looking at gifts, talents, time and place. When a person is elected, the congregation is saying, "Through the Grace of God, we believe you have the gifts and talents needed for this congregation at this time." The person elected responds saying at this time and in this place I am to use my gifts and talents to the glory of God as a member of the vestry. The person who is not elected responds by saying, At this time, God has other plans to use my gifts and talents.
I believe with all my heart this concept is true, If it wasn't true, I would not be here as your priest. In 1985, I went to my priest and said I believed I had the gifts to be ordained. He agreed with me. We went to the Bishop and the Standing Committee of the Diocese of South Carolina. They did not agree. They told me they felt I had gifts for ministry but not the ordained ministry. They didn't tell me I could come back. They asked me what I was going to do. I decided to find out what God had in store for me. What God had in store was an interesting growth period. From 1985 to 1997 I was involved in the following ministries. I was involved in Cursillo. I started a traveling music group. I was involved in prison ministry. I was even elected to vestry. I also found I had gifts in youth ministry. I would not broach the topic of ordained ministry for twelve years. The point is God has a plan and a time for the use of our gifts and talents. All God asks is for us to be willing to serve. The time and the place are not fully in our control. The election process for a vestry should be viewed by all through this lens rather than the political lens of the world.
Then wonderful ministry has the opportunity to bloom and produce marvelous fruits. In two weeks we elect our new vestry. Please pray for guidance and for openness to God.