Vestry

Vestry

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A vestry is a room in or attached to a church or synagogue
Synagogue
A synagogue is a Jewish house of prayer. This use of the Greek term synagogue originates in the Septuagint where it sometimes translates the Hebrew word for assembly, kahal...

 in which the vestments, vessels, records, etc., are kept (see also sacristy
Sacristy
A sacristy is a room for keeping vestments and other church furnishings, sacred vessels, and parish records.The sacristy is usually located inside the church, but in some cases it is an annex or separate building...

), and in which the clergy and choir robe or don their vestments for divine service.

A vestry or select vestry is also an administrative committee of a parish whose meetings would once have been held in that same room.
  • This committee is also known as the 'close' vestry.
  • The 'open' or 'general' vestry, which selected many of those committee members, was a meeting open to the general public who were rate-paying residents.


Dating from the 14th century the vestry was a parish parliament chaired by the parish priest or in his absence the churchwarden or, in the absence of both, an elected member of the meeting. Its powers grew with the decay of the hundredal and manorial courts system.

In Welsh
Wales
Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom and the island of Great Britain, bordered by England to its east and the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea to its west. It has a population of three million, and a total area of 20,779 km²...

 chapels the room is often the location of a tea
Tea (meal)
Tea can refer to any of several different meals or mealtimes, depending on a country's customs and its history of drinking tea. However, in those countries where the term's use is common, the influences are generally those of the former British Empire...

 served to the congregation, particularly family members, after a funeral, when the congregation returns to the chapel after the burial or cremation.

Civil parish


In the London area civil vestries
Civil parish
In England, a civil parish is a territorial designation and, where they are found, the lowest tier of local government below districts and counties...

 were incorporated by the Metropolis Management Act 1855
Metropolis Management Act 1855
The Metropolis Management Act 1855 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that created the Metropolitan Board of Works, a London-wide body to co-ordinate the construction of the city's infrastructure. The Act also created a second tier of local government consisting of parish vestries...

, distinct from the ecclesiastical vestries. A system of elected rural parish councils and urban district
Urban district
In the England, Wales and Ireland, an urban district was a type of local government district that covered an urbanised area. Urban districts had an elected Urban District Council , which shared local government responsibilities with a county council....

 councils was established in 1894, replacing the vestries for all administrative purposes.

Ecclesiastical parish


The term vestry continues to be used for a body of lay members elected by the congregation or parish to run the secular business of the parish. Some provinces of the church may also have provision for appointment of members by the rector
Rector
The word rector has a number of different meanings; it is widely used to refer to an academic, religious or political administrator...

 or bishop. The vestry may have additional functions, including selection of the rector
Rector
The word rector has a number of different meanings; it is widely used to refer to an academic, religious or political administrator...

 of the church. The rector is usually an ex officio member of the vestry. In other Anglican jurisdictions, "vestry" may refer to all the members of the congregation meeting to conduct the business of a parish, usually annually.

History



In England, until the 19th century, the parish vestry was in effect what would today usually be called a parochial church council
Parochial Church Council
The parochial church council , is the executive body of a Church of England parish.-Powers and duties:Two Acts of Parliament define the powers and duties of PCCs...

. Vestries were responsible not only for the ecclesiastical affairs of the parish but all the other administrative requirements of lay business. Records of parish business would be stored in a parish chest kept in the church and provided for security with three locks, the keys to which would be held by the incumbent and the churchwardens.

In 1835 more than 15,600 ecclesiastical parish vestries looked after their own:
churches and burial grounds, parish cottages and workhouses, their common lands and endowed charities, their market crosses, pumps, pounds, whipping posts, stocks, cages, watch houses, weights and scales, clocks and fire engines.
Or to put it another way: the maintenance of the church and its services, the keeping of the peace, the repression of vagrancy, the relief of destitution, the mending of roads, the suppression of nuisances, the destruction of vermin, the furnishing of soldiers and sailors, even to some extent the enforcement of religious and moral discipline. These were among the multitudinous duties imposed on the parish and its officers, that is to say the vestry and its organisation, by the law of the land.


The vestries spent not far short of one-fifth of the budget of the national government itself.Sidney Webb & Beatrice Potter
Beatrice Webb
Martha Beatrice Webb, Lady Passfield was an English sociologist, economist, socialist and social reformer. Although her husband became Baron Passfield in 1929, she refused to be known as Lady Passfield...

 (1906) English Local Government from the Revolution to the Municipal Corporations. London: Longmans, Green and Co.


From 1837 the provision of support for the poor was no longer the direct responsibility of the vestry, but came under elected boards of guardians for single parishes or poor law union
Poor Law Union
A Poor Law Union was a unit used for local government in the United Kingdom from the 19th century. The administration of the Poor Law was the responsibility of parishes, which varied wildly in their size, populations, financial resources, rateable values and requirements...

s. In the London area civil vestries were incorporated by the Metropolis Management Act 1855
Metropolis Management Act 1855
The Metropolis Management Act 1855 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that created the Metropolitan Board of Works, a London-wide body to co-ordinate the construction of the city's infrastructure. The Act also created a second tier of local government consisting of parish vestries...

, distinct from the ecclesiastical vestries. A system of elected rural parish councils and urban district
Urban district
In the England, Wales and Ireland, an urban district was a type of local government district that covered an urbanised area. Urban districts had an elected Urban District Council , which shared local government responsibilities with a county council....

 councils was established in 1894, replacing the vestries for all administrative purposes.

Open or Close or Select vestries


Vestries were either open vestries or select vestries, although in practice the division was somewhat blurred. Open vestries were rather like today's parish meeting
Parish meeting
A parish meeting, in England, is a meeting to which all the electors in a civil parish are entitled to attend. In some cases, where a parish or group of parishes has fewer than 200 electors, the parish meeting can take on the role of the parish council itself, with statutory powers, and electing a...

s, while select vestries acted more like the pre-Municipal Corporations Act 1835
Municipal Corporations Act 1835
The Municipal Corporations Act 1835  – sometimes known as the Municipal Reform Act, was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that reformed local government in the incorporated boroughs of England and Wales...

 borough councils.

An open vestry was a general meeting of all inhabitant ratepaying householders in a parish.

A select vestry or "close" vestry was the governing body of a parish the members generally having a property qualification and being recruited more or less by co-option
Co-option
A co-opting or less frequently co-optation most commonly refers to action performed in a number of fields whereby an opponent is nullified or neutralized by absorption but there are other distinct senses as well....

. The open vestry elected the bulk of the select vestry members or, if dissatisfied, could exercise their power to do so.

Origin of parishes and their vestry meetings


The original unit of settlement among the Anglo-Saxons in England was the tun or town. Initially simply an enclosure surrounded by a wall or hedge. The township became the area claimed by the town.

The organization of the township was carried on by the inhabitants and they met to carry out this business in the town moot
Moot
Moot may refer to:* from Moot as an Old English language term for meeting:**Folkmoot**Jamtamót, the old assembly of Jämtland**Witenagemot, the High Council of Anglo-Saxon England...

 or meeting. At this meeting they appointed the various officials and the common law
Common law
Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action...

 would be promulgated. Later with the rise of the shire
Shire
A shire is a traditional term for a division of land, found in the United Kingdom and in Australia. In parts of Australia, a shire is an administrative unit, but it is not synonymous with "county" there, which is a land registration unit. Individually, or as a suffix in Scotland and in the far...

 the township would send its reeve
Reeve (England)
Originally in Anglo-Saxon England the reeve was a senior official with local responsibilities under the Crown e.g. as the chief magistrate of a town or district...

 and four best men to represent it in the courts of the hundred and shire.

The reintroduction of Christianity and its development under Ethelbert of Kent
Ethelbert of Kent
Æthelberht was King of Kent from about 580 or 590 until his death. In his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, the eighth-century monk Bede lists Aethelberht as the third king to hold imperium over other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms...

 required an organization for ecclesiastical purposes. From the Greek paroikia, the dwellingplace of the priest, Archbishop of Canterbury Theodore of Tarsus
Theodore of Tarsus
Theodore was the eighth Archbishop of Canterbury, best known for his reform of the English Church and establishment of a school in Canterbury....

 applied to the township unit the ecclesiastical term parish. Generally the township and parish coincided but in the North some townships may have been combined and in the South, where populations were bigger, two or more parishes might be made of one township. Townships not included in a parish were extra-parochial.

However the independence created by the Saxon system was lost to the township by the introduction of the feudal system
Feudalism
Feudalism was a set of legal and military customs in medieval Europe that flourished between the 9th and 15th centuries, which, broadly defined, was a system for ordering society around relationships derived from the holding of land in exchange for service or labour.Although derived from the...

. The feudal manorial
Manorialism
Manorialism, an essential element of feudal society, was the organizing principle of rural economy that originated in the villa system of the Late Roman Empire, was widely practiced in medieval western and parts of central Europe, and was slowly replaced by the advent of a money-based market...

 Court Leet
Court leet
The court leet was a historical court baron of England and Wales and Ireland that exercised the "view of frankpledge" and its attendant police jurisdiction, which was normally restricted to the hundred courts.-History:...

 replaced the town meeting.

The resistance of inhabitants to these changes led to a new form of township or parish meeting. It also dealt with ecclesiastical affairs. This new meeting was supervised by the parish priest, probably the best educated of the inhabitants, and it evolved to become the vestry meeting.

With the decay of the feudal system the vestry meetings succeeded in acquiring greater responsibilities, they having the power to grant or deny payments from parish funds. They were later given the task of administering the Edwardian and Elizabethan systems for support of the poor
Tudor Poor Laws
The Tudor Poor Laws were the laws regarding poor relief in Kingdom of England around the time of the Tudor period . The Tudor Poor Laws ended with the passing of the Elizabethan Poor Law in 1601, two years before the end of the Tudor dynasty, a piece of legislation which codified the previous Tudor...

. With their resumption of civil responsibilities the ecclesiastical parishes acquired a dual nature and might therefore be classed as civil as well as ecclesiastical parishes. However those described here as Civil parishes are of a single nature, purely civil without any ecclesiastical responsibilities.

See also

  • Civil parishes in England
  • Sacristy
    Sacristy
    A sacristy is a room for keeping vestments and other church furnishings, sacred vessels, and parish records.The sacristy is usually located inside the church, but in some cases it is an annex or separate building...

  • Vestry is a town in the MAR
    MAR
    Mar, mar or MAR may refer to:* Earl of Mar, an earldom in Scotland* Mar, an area of Scotland now known as Marr* MÄR, a manga and anime series-MAR as an abbreviation:* The Marathi language's ISO 639 code...

     manga
    Manga
    Manga is the Japanese word for "comics" and consists of comics and print cartoons . In the West, the term "manga" has been appropriated to refer specifically to comics created in Japan, or by Japanese authors, in the Japanese language and conforming to the style developed in Japan in the late 19th...

    /anime
    Anime
    is the Japanese abbreviated pronunciation of "animation". The definition sometimes changes depending on the context. In English-speaking countries, the term most commonly refers to Japanese animated cartoons....

    series.