This parish resource is based on the principles of Active Nonviolence and Creative Problem Solving. It is a leadership Tool for parish vestries that may be used in a variety of ways. The contents lend themselves for use in day long vestry workshops and retreats or in half hour intervals perhaps prior to monthly meetings over the course of a year or two. The leader may be your parish clergy or an experienced teacher or group leader from your parish, diocesan staff, or neighboring parish.
POTENTIAL OUTCOME(S) for PARTICIPANTS:
The goal is to equip elected parish officials with the insight and skills to teach by example the ways of co-operative and effective Christian leadership. When a vestry gains confidence and skill in the use of a creative nonviolent technique as a leadership team, the entire parish begins to catch on. Over time the use of ‘distributive authority’, clarity and co-operation (all tools from the school of active nonviolent issue management) will reach more deeply into the culture of a parish.
[Put this Tool Kit for Vestries to good use. Let us know what proves helpful to you, what you want to know more about, what other resources have worked well for you.]
WHO CAN BENEFIT:
Choirs, Office Staffs, Sunday Schools, and individual household will be transformed and grow in spiritual health and effectiveness. The people involved and the whole parish will be strengthened because the vestry has modeled something empowering.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED:
Supplies are simple and familiar: Bibles, Book of Common Prayer, pens, paper, newsprint, with the odd item like a bowl of mixed nuts!
NUTS & BOLTS:
EXERCISE 1 : DISTRIBUTIVE AUTHORITY
Open with the Prayer for Self-Dedication on page 832 BCP. Allow a moment for silence. Read St. Mark 10:43.
Leader: Ask each person in the group to write down on separate sheets (in their best handwriting) the way they would define the term Authority if they were writing a dictionary entry. (Ask them to ham it up like they were playing the game ‘Dictionary’.) Next have them fold the papers in half and pass them to the leader. Leader please place one real dictionary definition in with the ones from your group. Number each definition. Next the Leader reads each definition aloud and asks the group members to note the number of the definition they believe is the real dictionary meaning. Who got it right? Which made up version was most popular? Question: How is the dictionary definition of Authority helpful/not helpful as you try to fulfill your role as a parish vestry member? (Have members pair off with the person they know least well and discuss the preceding question for 5 minutes.) Regroup them and ask for a brief report of each discussion.
Leader: Ask vestry members and wardens (clerks and treasurer too if present) to listen to the following readings carefully with the following question in mind: Because we have been called to serve the community of Christ, how does each reading describe the type of authority the Savior modeled for us? Read aloud Luke 9:46-48, Mark 3: 13-15, Mark 10:41-45.
Types of Authority:
Authoritarian Authority is the kind of authority that is hierarchical. It concentrates power ‘at the top’ or in a single leader/or small group. Those who work with that leader/group function FOR that leader/group, carrying out his/her/their orders.
Consensus is a type of authority wherein participants in a leadership team ‘agree to disagree’ as they work together to form a consensus based decision and the appropriate strategy to carry it out. In this model the leadership team discusses issues fully until the entire group reaches a compromise solution that everyone can live with.
Majority Authority is the type of authority where the leadership team discusses options by way of parliamentary rules of order. Once a vote is taken on a matter the majority vote rules and the group carries out the measure. ( Note: It is possible, during the discussion phase of a parliamentary motion, for the group to be encouraged to form a consensus if changes in the motion are needed. It may however be necessary to go through the process of making amendments to get the job done.)
Distributive Authority may employ aspects of Consensus or Majority rule, but is based on the Biblical dynamic of Jesus’ teaching in Mark 10:41-45. This is also a major theological component of Episcopal baptismal vows (see BCP 304 +305). See also the welcome to the newly baptized BCP 308 , “Share with us in His eternal Priesthood.” Distributive Authority is what SETS UP A DISTINCTIVE USE OF POWER, A SHARING OF POWER, THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT CONFERRED AT BAPTISM. In a parish vestry it is possible for your leaders to affirm the ministry of servanthood in one another while carrying out the vow ‘to seek and serve Christ in each other’ as they go about their business of developing budgets, programs, outreach, pastoral care, youth work and maintenance of buildings.
‘The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, but Not so with you, whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave to all.’ (Mark 10:43).
The role best suited for a Vestry in the context of the Episcopal Church in the U.S. is that of an elected leadership team chosen to serve the parish within the Canons of the Church by employing the dynamics of Distributive Authority wherever applicable.
Leader: Ask your vestry how the above understanding of authority might complement particular aspects of your parish goals or ministry.
Leader: Ask the vestry what aspects of Distributive Authority and the encouragement of every member to live into their baptismal vows might prove helpful to emphasize ‘from the top down’ in the parish? How might this make a difference in your parish?
Group Exercise – Mixed Nuts : Materials needed – a bowl of mixed holiday nuts in the shells.(walnuts, almonds, pecans, etc – please no peanuts).
1) put the nuts in a large bowl
2) ask vestry members to close eyes and reach into bowl and pick out one nut in its shell.
3) Tell vestry members to ‘get to know their new friend the nut’. Have them devote 3 full minutes to carefully studying the nut they have, size, shape, contour of the shell, distinguishing markings etc. ‘Get well enough familiar that you could pick that nut out in a crowd.’
4) After 3 minutes give the group 10 minutes to introduce their nut to each of the other vestry members. (describe unique features, what makes it distinctive etc). Have fun!
5) Gather the group together and ask them what they learned about the unique group of ‘newcomers’ they just brought together. How might this relate to connecting the people of the parish, long time and newcomers? How might you as vestry members invite/encourage your people to ‘seek and serve Christ in each other’?
6) How might the vestry use Distributive Authority/baptismal identity to invite all members into the mission and ministry of the parish?
7) Evaluation- Name some ‘Next Steps’ we could try in order to practice ‘Distributive Authority’ at vestry. Identify a few ideas to link people to people in the parish over the next couple of months. (What-Who-When + Report back How). Quick responses: Name one thing you found helpful in this session. Name one thing you would change.
INTERACTIVE EXERCISE II – SAY WHAT? –
BEGIN WITH THE PRAYER FOR SELF-DEDICATION PAGE 832, BCP AND READ ST. MARK 10:43
1) divide the vestry in half by counting off by 1’s and 2’s.
2) Place two rows of chairs across from each other, one for each vestrymember.
3) Seat 1’s on one side and 2’s on the other so someone is directly across from someone else about 2 feet apart.
4) Ask the 1’s to respond to the following question read by the 2’s.’What is the area of ministry in this parish that is closest to your heart and why is that so?’ (give 2 minutes for 1’s to respond to the 2’s ).
5) Now ask the 2’s to repeat what they heard the 1’s say with 1’s encouraged to correct them gently until they can encapsulate the message to the 1’s satisfaction. (it need not be word for word, just true to what the 1’s said). Allow 3 minutes.
6) Reverse roles, same question
7) DO THE SAME THING WITH THIS QUESTION:’Name one great thing in ministry you would love to see this parish do in the next 3 years and why this important to you.
8) Optional- Make up a controversial question or issue for 1’s and 2’s to practice listening skills. (Remember, the first goal is to hear accurately and fully with understanding. This must be mastered before any attempt to establish agreement or consensus can be made.)
Suggestion: At vestry meetings perhaps everyone can be mindful to listen carefully to one another. Wardens or rectors are encouraged to ask that one person speak at a time and that everyone be allowed to finish thoughts and sentences without interruption. Additionally, speakers not feeling they are being heard accurately can be encouraged to ask others to say (not interpret) what they are actually hearing. Likewise it is often helpful to ask people to say what they are not sure about in a different way. (ex: ‘Joe, I’m not sure I’m following you fully, could you say that in a different way?’)
Suggestion: Leaders and group members need to remember to ask the quiet ones what they think too in each conversation. You’ll be surprised at the wisdom and insight of your quiet vestry members.
Closing- Ask group members how this exercise may be helpful to them when listening to parishioners and when discussing issues at vestry meeting. Ask them where this technique might be helpful to practice in other areas of their lives. Quick reply to the following: What was helpful in this session. Name one thing they would change.
III. GROUP DISCUSSION: WHAT DOES A VOTE OR DECISION MEAN HERE?
Leader: BEGIN WITH THE PRAYER FOR SELF-DEDICATION ON PAGE 832, BCP AND READ ST. MARK 10:43.
Ask the Vestry –‘Have you ever been part of a group of friends or of an organization where the phrase,”Yeah that’s what was decided but I didn’t vote for it” comes up with regularity? What does this suggest about that group or organization? What does it suggest about the role you are playing in that group or gathering?
Leader: Ask,”What can we decide a decision of this vestry means? “ It is important that a parish leadership team covenant together to arrive at decisions through a mutually respectful process wherein, whatever the final choice, the group members support the process and other parish leaders even when you do not fully agree with the outcome. It is one thing to say,’Yes we made that decision though it was a compromise.’ It is quite another thing to respond, ‘Hey, I didn’t vote for it, go talk to Jill. She voted for it.’ One response affirms respect for the people and effort that went into the decision making process, while the other models the dysfunctional dynamics of blaming and division. LET’S SHARE AUTHORITY AND RESPONSIBILITY. LET’S HONOR THE PROCESS THAT HONORS ITS PARTICIPANTS.
Leader: Ask the vestry to discern what a decision means in this community of Christ. Who do we want to be as a leadership body? Who will we model when we are not of one mind, the distributive dynamics of God or the authoritarian dynamics of Caesar? Remember, concerns and new insights can always be welcome for listening and review. ‘We call blessed those who show endurance.” James 5:11.
IV. ACTION AREAS FOR PARISH MINISTRY
“Faith is an action word.” Read and Respond: ‘Faith without works is dead.’ St. James 2:14-17
THE FOLLOWING SECTION MAY DONE IN SEGMENTS OF 20 MINUTES EACH FOR EACH AREA OF PARISH MINISTRY LISTED OVER A NUMBER OF MONTHS AT REGUALR VESTRY MEETINGS OR IT MAY BE OFFERED AS ONE HALF DAY EXERCISE.
Leader: Put up 9 sheets of newsprint, each with one of the following words written on it.
WORSHIP, OUTREACH, PASTORAL CARE, CHRISTIAN ED, FELLOWSHIP, STEWARDSHIP, YOUTH, BUILDINGS/GROUNDS, PLANNING/VISION.
Leader- Begin with the Prayer for Self-dedication on page 832 BCP. Then read aloud St. Mark 10:43 and invite reflection, then read St. James 2:14-17 and invite reflection.
LEADER: Ask each vestry member, including wardens, to say which two Action Areas of Parish Ministry are closest to their hearts. Write their names on those sheets. Devote 20 minutes to asking each person to briefly say why the mission area(s) they chose are close to their heart.
LEADER + Whole Group- Ask vestry members to name the activities currently going on in each Action Area. Record the present active ministries/activities on the appropriate sheet.
LEADER: Ask vestry what they appreciate about what is on the list.
LEADER: Ask if $ were not an issue what would they add to any given action area for their parish? Record these ideas with a different color marker.
LEADER: If there is an area or two that looks thin or has nobody’s name on it, ask the vestry if they can set aside some time next month to looking at what that might mean?
LEADER- Ask vestry members if each of them would be willing to take on direct oversight* of the area of Parish ministry closest to their heart (or their second favorite if there is more than one or two). *Oversight may be defined as a mentoring role to invite others into service/planning in that area and offering support of those involved in it already. Consider a Vestry Contact designated for each major area of your parish mission.
QUESTION: Does your Stewardship Campaign contain an ongoing yearlong component for inviting people to connect their baptismal vows, their call, with areas of parish mission? What if you developed a Talent Bank listing tasks, opportunities, ongoing programs and activities and invited people to check areas they might be interested in as part of your stewardship campaign? Distributive Authority involves access to fulfillment and service while sharing the power of Holy Spirit throughout the parish. ALSO CONSIDER adding a ‘Wish List’ or “Dream Budget” list to your stewardship vision by listing the items noted by colored markers in the previous exercise. Discuss among yourselves the question: ’What might it look like if we said that when we exceed our stewardship pledge goals we will apply any overage or special gifts to the ‘vision’ items for mission on our parish “Dream Budget” list?
Close by using one of the daily devotions in the BCP pages 137 – 140. Ask each participant to pray for the person on their right before they retire for the evening tonight. It is good to know your brothers and sisters in Christ are praying for one another. Clergy may even want to suggest in a homily that people do this on occasion for whoever is sitting in front of or behind them. This is a great way to model Distributive Authority and power in Christ.
May God continue to guide and bless your ministry of leadership.
Practice your listening skills at meetings, at home and with people who seek you out in the parish. Seek and serve Christ in all persons in your parish. Pray for your people and for your vestry. Make yourself accessible to other vestry members and to your parishioners. Get vestry name tags to wear on Sundays. Sponsor an occasional parish breakfast/info session together during the program year. Practice these effective and proven approaches to leadership and in so doing acquire and model the skills of active nonviolence. May more and more vestries model the way of distributive authority and faithful accountability in the example of Jesus Christ , our pattern and our Savior.
Planning for Action GEM pp 18+19; Developing an Action Plan – GEM pp 20+21 [the Gem document, a detailed “how to” for organizing parish study/action projects, is available electronically from the EPF National Headquarters.}
Jesus and Nonviolence –Walter Wink
Amazing Grace – Kathleen Norris
A Wing and A Prayer- Presiding Bishop Jefforts Schori
Leadership- Ron Heifitz
Becoming A Blessed Church – N.Graham Standish
Woman’s Uncommon Prayers
Engage: Exploring Nonviolent Living – Pace e’ Bene Press
Meditations for Vestry Members – Colleen McMahon, Morehouse 1999
For more information contact the Rev. Bill Exner: firstname.lastname@example.org