Church Governance

Vital congregations operate effectively within Episcopal Church governing structure. It is important that clergy and experienced laity teach about Episcopal governance. It is equally important that laity assuming leadership positions fully understand, appreciate, and honor the Episcopal Church’s governing structure. Nonetheless, with so many rapid changes happening to the Church, we need to be open to conversations about leaner and more fluid and adaptive ways to govern in order to thrive now and into the future.

Following is an excerpt from an excellent article by the Rev. Dr. Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook on the values of Episcopal Church governance:

“The governance of the Episcopal Church today shares many of the same values as our eighteenth-century ancestors. We are a church that values representative government and democratic participation by all the orders of the church. We value spiritual freedom and shared authority. We trust that people in churches can govern local affairs. We respect diversity, and at the same time strive to build unity across our differences. We believe in the importance of the legislative process, and through the General Convention, we gather every three years to govern our church as one of the largest legislatures in the world. The Episcopal Church invests a great deal of confidence in its people’s ability to govern. In a real sense, to be Episcopalian is to participate in the governance of the church. At the same time, it takes practice to effectively participate in the structures of the Episcopal Church. That is why it is so important that we preach and teach our unique heritage as a means to furthering democratic participation in the governance of the church. (Reference: “Our Story”, Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook, May 2012 Vestry Papers. Read entire article…)

Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook is a priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, an educator, historian of religion, and practical theologian. She is currently professor of practical theology and religious education at Claremont School of Theology, and professor of Anglican Studies at Bloy House, the Episcopal Theological School at Claremont. In addition to her work as a teacher, workshop, conference and retreat leader, she is the author of a dozen books and numerous articles, reviews and curricula.


As we incorporate new members into full life in the Episcopal Church we need to include instruction on our way of governance. Candidates for Vestry need to possess this knowledge (and a quick refresher at annual vestry orientations probably isn’t a bad idea). It is particularly important that leaders in the congregation understand what is required with respect to fiduciary responsibilities. This is part of ensuring trust, transparency, and accountability to the stewardship of resources.

A great resource for developing education and training on Episcopal Church governance is the May 2012 edition of Vestry Papers which focused on governance. In fact, the Episcopal Church Foundation is a great resource for various topics related to Episcopal Church governance. I have drawn on these resources in developing educational resources and training in my own ministry in congregations over the years.


Resources for Creating Education and Training on Episcopal Church Governance:

A Primer on the government of The Episcopal Church and its underlying theology (House of Bishops)

Church Governance (The Episcopal Church)

Vestry Papers: Governance (May 2012)

Diocesan Websites (should have a section on governance)


Episcopal Church Foundation Topics related to Governance


Buildings & Grounds




Vestry Resource Guide

Top Ten Resources for Vestry Members

Episcopal Church Governance Documents

Constitution & Canons of the Episcopal Church

Manual of Business Methods in Church Affairs


Leaders need to also be aware of governance resources in their respective dioceses as well as any particular state laws governing non-profit organizations that may apply to churches.