The Phenomenon of Lay Boards

Date: May 29, 2024

The phenomenon of lay boards made up of volunteers who most often are not professionals in the field of the institution, is not unique to America. Its prevalence in the not-for-profit space, however, is peculiar to our country. Our founders and early leaders were wary of professionals and those who inherited leadership roles. There was distrust of the monarchy and nobility, and distrust of the professions such as lawyers, professors and sometimes even clergy. Those early leaders wanted citizen and community interests involved in the leadership of government, colleges, and the church. Citizen legislatures, volunteer trustee boards and vestries proliferated. The phenomenon spread into health care, the arts and service enterprises.

Shared leadership between highly trained professionals and lay volunteers does not automatically succeed. When it does, however, institutions thrive. Good planning takes place. A commitment to intergenerational equity balances responsibility between current and future generations. Thoughtful, strategic and, when necessary, courageous decisions result.

I have had the great fortune to spend my adult life and career working with, for and serving on such boards. I have a basis for comparison. The trustees of Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) and The General Theological Seminary (GTS) exemplify the highest aspiration of those who envisioned shared leadership and governance.

The trustees care deeply for theological education in the Episcopal Church. They recognize the need to do what the Church needs, not merely that which might be best for VTS and GTS. They trust and admire the administrative leaders and the scholars, and they trust and admire one another.

These trustees have made profoundly important decisions that have strengthened the institutions and recognized the changing needs of the Church. They are wise, far-seeing, and courageous. It has been my joy and great honor to serve on the boards of VTS and GTS with these extraordinary volunteers. I thank them and salute them.

David H. Charlton, Ph.D.
Chair of the Board
Virginia Theological Seminary & The General Theological Seminary

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