A vestry is a storage room in or attached to a church or synagogue. A vestry is also an administrative committee of a church.

Architectural vestry

A vestry is a room within or attached to a church which is used to store vestments and other items used in worship. It is usually of sufficient size to allow those using vestments to change into them, and thus in England and elsewhere was often used for meetings dealing with the administration of the local parish. In Welsh chapels it is often the location of a tea served to the congregation, particularly family members, after a funeral, when the congregation returns to the chapel after the burial or cremation.

American Jewish synagogues also contain such storage areas, though only some congregations use the term "vestry."

Administrative vestry

In England, from the 16th century until the 19th century, vestry was also the standard term for what would today usually be called a parochial church council. Vestries were commonly responsible not only for the ecclesiastical affairs of the parish but such items of lay business as the local administration of the Poor Law. From 1837 the provision of poor law was no longer the direct responsibility of the vestry, but came under elected boards of guardians for single parishes or poor law unions. In the London area civil vestries were incorporated by the Metropolis Management Act 1855, distinct from the ecclesiastical vestries. A system of elected rural parish councils and urban district councils was established in 1894, replacing the vestries for all administrative purposes.

Vestries were either open vestries or select vestries, although in practice the division was somewhat blurred. Open vestries were rather like today's parish meetings, while select vestries acted more like the pre-Municipal Corporations Act 1835 borough councils.

In the Episcopal Church in the United States of America the vestry remains a body of lay members, elected by the congregation as a whole, which elects the rector of the church and conducts its secular business. The rector is an ex officio member of the vestry and usually chairs its meetings, but usually only votes in order to break a tie. The leading lay members of the vestry are generally the wardens. In some provinces of the Anglican Communion, the parochial church council is a committee elected only from members of the vestry.


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