Who Leads Us?
Q: Who is in charge of St. Michael’s Church?
A: In the Episcopal Church leadership of the local congregation is a responsibility shared by the priest, the elected lay leaders, and the members in general. We Episcopalians believe that all members are to work together, according to their distinctive gifts, for the spread of the kingdom of God and the welfare of the parish community.
Q: What are the responsibilities of the priest and deacon?
A: The priest has pastoral charge of the congregation, and exercises final authority over all matters relating to worship, including music. He or she serves under the godly discipline of the Bishop, and is called by the Vestry (the vestry is the governing body of a parish). The priest’s special tasks are to preach the good news of Jesus Christ, to declare God’s forgiveness, to pronounce God’s blessing, and to administer the sacraments. By custom, the priest may also handle certain administrative tasks. If the Bishop assigns a deacon to a congregation, he/she serves under the direction of the priest and will usually have pastoral responsibilities. The deacon’s special task is to hold up before the Church the servant ministry of Christ with the poor, weak, sick and lonely. He/she also assists the bishop and priest in administering the sacraments.
Q: What are the responsibilities of the lay leaders?
A: At each Annual Meeting of the parish five lay members are elected to serve three-year terms on the Vestry. The Vestry has final authority over all matters relating to finance and maintenance of the physical plant. The Vestry is also responsible for calling and compensating the Rector. In addition to their temporal duties, Vestry members exercise spiritual leadership within the parish community.
Q: What are the responsibilities of the parishioners?
A: The lay members of the congregation gather in an Annual Meeting each January to elect new members to the Vestry, to receive information about finance and parish ministries, and to transact
other business. While the Vestry is responsible for adopting the annual budget and calling the pastor, only a membership meeting can authorize purchase or sale of property, major expenditures on capital improvements to the physical plant, and other significant financial commitments.
Q: Is St. Michael’s a “congregational” church?
A: The Episcopal Church has a unique polity (polity means system of government). We are not a congregational church in the sense that a Baptist church is, yet each Episcopal congregation operates with considerable independence. And while the Episcopal Church USA is often described as a hierarchical
church, the Bishop’s authority over the local congregation is, for the most part, rather limited. The canons (church laws) of the Episcopal Church USA and the Diocese of Michigan define these relationships in some detail. For example, St. Michael’s needs the Bishop’s permission in order to call a priest as its Rector. However, once the Rector has been called, he/she and lay leaders are generally free to direct the work of the congregation as they deem best. At the same time, Episcopal congregations are part of a larger community – first the Diocese, then the Episcopal Church, and finally the Anglican Communion whose spiritual leader is the Archbishop of Canterbury.