Friday, January 22, 2010

Annual Meetings

Sunday is St. John's Annual Meeting. It will be my 22nd and last. It's only my 21st as Rector, but I was a supply priest at St. John's for 4 months back in Jan-April of 1988 before the parish called an interim Rector. That meeting will be a contrast to the one we'll have Sunday. There was a great deal of contention at the '88 Annual Meeting and since I just said the opening prayer I had no part in trying to calm it down.

Annual Meetings are fictions of canon law. The canons require that they happen. There is business to be transacted to meet the canons--elections and the presentation of the budget and other reports. Beyond that, Annual Meeting really don't have much to do. Those things are important, of course, but they are best done quickly and efficiently.

Some people expect too much of Annual Meetings. In that way an annual meeting of a parish is something like Christmas. People expect too much of Christmas too--things the holy day cannot deliver.

Annual meetings are not like town meetings in a small new England village. The Episcopal Church is a representative democracy through and through--not a direct democracy. The real responsibility for decisions lies with the Vestry, not the A.M. In fact, Annual meetings don't even have the opportunity to 'pass' the budget. The budget is prepared, approved and presented by the vestry. People at the a.m. have an opportunity to ask questions and make comments, but the budget is a faite-comple (which neither my spell check or I can spell--you know what I means...something already complete). We do vote for officers and vestry members, but most often their is a 'slate' presented of the number needed to be elected and I never remember any one to nominate anyone from the floor, though it could happen.

So you see, Annual Meetings are not intended to be debating societies or policy setting forums. It is a requirement of canon law--simply that.

I like them short and sweet and I'm sure some people thing I ram them through, and they would be right. You want to argue policy or have input, come to vestry meetings where everyone in the parish has a voice.

The only time they can get out of hand is if they are not scripted closely enough. I remember one year shortly after I arrived, a committee had recommended interring ashes in the church Close (fancy Episcopal name for 'courtyard'). Everyone loved it and the vestry thought it would be a no brainer. Instead it was a donny-brook! A few people objected, others objected to the objections and people got testy. I finally asked for a motion to table and we went back and gave more information and had a special meeting to have the parish approve.

Luckily, I was so surprized by the turn of events that it didn't occur to me to say to the meeting what I told the Sr. Warden immediately afterwards: "that was a lot of argument over a few 'ash holes...."

Lucky indeed for me....

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.