According to Wikipedia, “The first service read from the Book of Common Prayer on American soil occurred on 19 June 1579 in a harbor far north of San Francisco, when the crew of Sir Francis Drake’s ship the Golden Hind landed. Drake named the new land Nova Albion or New Albion and claimed it for Queen Elizabeth I.”1 The Episcopal Church, daughter of the Church of England, has been here a long time. “Episcopal” is an adjective which means “bishop,” but, ironically, there were no bishops on American soil until 1785. Samuel Seabury had been consecrated in November of the previous year as the first bishop for the new nation.
— Father James Snodgrass, Priest in Charge
The government of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America reflects the early beginnings of the Church in the colonies. Since there were no bishops, the local congregations were largely autonomous and the laity exerted more influence in their running than would have been found in English parishes of that day. Our constitution and canons retain lay participation at every level of governance, save the House of Bishops. Bishops are limited in their powers, as are priests and deacons. We function more democratically than, say, the Roman Catholics do. Furthermore, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the titular head of the Anglican Communion, has no doctrinal or ecclesiastical say in our governance, save that of wise counsel. Likewise, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church has quite limited power, largely the oversight of the program and budget of the Church as passed by General Convention.
The Episcopal Church’s constitution and its rules and regulations, called “canons,” come from our triennial General Convention of Bishops and diocesan delegates. Only General Convention may modify them or add to them. All diocesan constitutions and canons as well as local parish by-laws must conform to those of the national church.
With all of this said, what is leadership like at St. John’s, Havre de Grace? The Rector is in charge of the spiritual and moral affairs of the parish, while the Vestry and Wardens have charge of the fiscal and property of the parish, according to the applicable canons and by-laws. In actual practice, the Rector, Deacon, Wardens and Vestry work cooperatively to accomplish our mission and keep the buildings, grounds, and institutional organization working. There is give-and-take in leadership and consultation between them, often on an informal basis, such as dividing up practical tasks to be accomplished. “I’ll do this if you’ll take care of that” is often the cooperative stance. It works out well.
In addition to the structural leadership, another level exists informally, as in every congregation. Members express their ideas not only to the leadership team, but with one another, taking the initiative to undertake some project which may or may not need formal approval. In the latter case, the Rector is usually the one who decides whether or not it is something which needs vestry approval.
There is need for devoted Christians to exercise leadership in both spiritual and practical ways at St. John’s. If you have ideas, suggestions, or wish to take part in the Vestry or worship, please make that known to the Rector and Wardens.