Vestry in ecclesiastical phraseology, is a room attached to a church in which to keep the vestments and sacred vessels. The ordinary place of the vestry was at the north side of the chancel at the east end. There was not infrequently an altar in the vestry; and sometimes it was arranged with an additional chapter so as to form a domus inclusa for the residence of an officiating minister.
From their meeting in this room certain assemblies of the parishioners, for the dispatch of the official business of the parish, are called vestries or vestry meetings. Such meetings, however, may be held elsewhere in the parish as well as in the vestry, provided the proper notice of time, place, and purpose of the meeting be given. The officiating minister, whether he be curate or vicar, is ex officio chairman of the meeting. All persons rated to the relief of the poor, whether inhabitants of the parish or not, are entitled to attend the vestry and vote; and this right is also extended to all inhabitants coming into the parish since the last rate for the relief of the poor, if they consent to be rated. But no person is entitled to vote who shall have neglected or refused to pay any rate which may be due and shall have been demanded of him, nor is he entitled to be present at any vestry meeting.
In the year 1831 an act was passed by the British Parliament, which has been very generally adopted, entitled "An Act for the Better Regulation of Vestries, and for the Appointment of Auditors of Accounts, in Certain Parishes of England and Wales." This act 'does not alter the law in any parish by which it is not adopted by a majority of the rate-payers, nor does it interfere with parishes governed by select vestries. The most important provisions are that, in all parishes adopting the act, the vestry shall consist of twelve vestrymen for every parish in which the number of rated householders shall not exceed one thousand; twenty-four where they exceed one thousand; thirty-six where they exceed two thousand; and so on in the proportion of twelve more vestrymen for every thousand rated householders; but in no case is the number to exceed one hundred and twenty. The rector, district rector, vicar, perpetual curate, and church- wardens are to constitute part of the vestry, and vote in addition to the vestrymen so elected; but no more than one such minister is ex officio to be a part of, or vote at, any vestry meeting. One third of the vestrymen go out of office annually, and others are elected in their stead. Select vestries have arisen from a practice which obtained in large and populous parishes, especially in and about the metropolis, of choosing a select number of the chief and most respectable parishioners to represent and manage the concerns of the parish for one year. The practice has been held by the courts of law to be a good and reasonable custom.
In the Protestant Episcopal Church in America the vestry is a committee chosen annually by the parish, who, in conjunction with the church- wardens, manage its temporal concerns.
The term vestry is also applied, by accommodations in other churches, to the rooms provided for lectures, prayer-meetings, and other week-day services.