Church AGM season

At this time of year, most of the churches I know best in this part of the world are having their Annual General Meeting. In some denominations it is called something different, but whether it is the AGM or the Annual Congregational Meeting or the Annual Stated Meeting or whatever, the dynamics are generally pretty similar.

Here’s a secret – most clergy absolutely hate the AGM. It is something that people in my job often dread.

It is perhaps worth thinking about what an AGM is for and even better, what it is not for.

The annual general meeting is a legal device to make sure that the church is being run properly. It is particularly there to make sure that no-one is running off with the money. It is also there to give the congregation the opportunity to elect people to the body (here’s it is a Vestry) which has control of the affairs of the church. This is the group which makes sure that the gas bills are paid, the stipended clergy have somewhere to live and an income stop them having to seek work, the building is secure and insured and things like that. In my own denomination, the Vestry also has a responsibility for sharing with the clergy the spiritual oversight of the congregation. This works differently in different places.

One of the reasons that many clergy feel miserable about AGMs is that they can be used by the grumpy to have a go at other people. It is very easy for someone to get on their soapbox and have an audience for clergy bashing. And clergy often feel the expectations that they will be nice and calm and loving when dealing with people.

Here’s a quick guide to how to upset your clergy at an AGM:

  • Criticise the worship – “Why don’t we keep the Feast of St Eucalyptus that you know is so dear to us?”
  • Criticise the preaching – “I once heard a really good preacher, someone who managed to keep me awake during the sermon…”
  • Criticise the spouse of the clergy person – “Why are we putting in a new kitchen in the rectory for her when she never teaches in the Sunday School?”
  • Criticise just about anything – “It is obvious why no-one comes to this church, it is because….”
  • Criticise what the clergy cost – “Now, if we could move onto the next page and talk about these travel expenses…”

The truth is, there are better ways of dealing with most of the issues that might be bugging you than raising them at an AGM. If you’ve got comments about the liturgy then don’t wait a year to make your point before an audience. Most clergy will be happy to talk about how and why things are done in church. Mostly they have the job of balancing the needs and expectations of a diverse group of people. The thing to remember is that clergy are put in charge of trying to put on worship that will attract, inspire, encourage and move a group of people with needs that differ. Worship in particular isn’t there to meet any one person’s needs and isn’t just about what the clergy want either.

If a church is running well then there’s usually better ways of getting answers to questions than waiting to ask the question at the AGM. “Why didn’t you wear that beautiful ephod that my family gave in memory of my grandmother?” is likely to get a better answer if you ask the priest directly.

The best guideline for AGM questions is to ask whether you need an audience to ask the question. If you don’t need an audience then approach the church treasurer to ask for clarification about something in the accounts before the meeting. If you don’t need an audience then don’t wait for the AGM to ask why the priest never preached on the book of Obediah. You’ll probably get a better answer from her if you have a coffee to talk about it rather than raising it on AGM day.

Some churches manage to reach above all this and have refocused their church AGM as a vision building exercise. I’m impressed by that and want to learn more about it.

And I’ve been saving up a couple of announcements for this Sunday’s AGM which I hope will give joy to the heart. (But my lips are sealed for now).

St Mary’s AGM will take place on Sunday. I’m looking forward to it because it gives me the chance to reflect on the immense thing that we are doing in being the congregation of St Mary’s, Glasgow in our day. The reports and the agenda are all in the Annual Report which is available online. At the AGM I get to look at the people responsible for all that is represented in that report and to be thankful for all that people do. The invitation to those coming to the AGM is for the members of the congregation to read that report and to do the same.