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Role of Church Trustees

Information and forms related to the appointment of church trustees. 

Understanding Trustee Roles: Legal Aspects of Property Ownership for Episcopal Churches

Neither the Canons of the Diocese of Southern Virginia nor the Canons of the Episcopal Church say anything about the role of trustees. The role of trustees is found in the Code of Virginia, Title 57, Chapter 2, Article 2. Property Held for Religious Purposes. 


Episcopal churches are unincorporated associations, incapable of holding title to real property.  Therefore, the Code of Virginia requires court-appointed trustees to hold the title. 


The church, represented by the vestry, must apply to the court for the appointment or removal of trustees. Virginia Code § 57-8 covers the appointment of trustees. (Most parishes appoint three trustees.)  


Virginia Code § 57-15 also requires that church trustees be appointed for the purpose of making any conveyance or encumbrance of real property. 


Trustees appointed pursuant to § 57-8 have bare legal title and no power to manage or control the property. They are subject to the will of the governing body of the church – the vestry. 


Virginia Code § 57-11 provides for suits by and against trustees, but those lawsuits are tied directly to the real or personal property held by the trustees in trust.  Trustees have no personal liability on any lawsuit against a parish. 

In Summary:

  • Trustees hold title to real property of the church on behalf of the vestry. 
  • Trustees may be appointed or removed by the vestry, subject to the local circuit court’s approval. 
  • If the vestry determines that the property should be conveyed or encumbered, the trustees must execute all documents necessary. 
  • Trustees are bare titleholders to the property and have no role in its management or use.
  • Trustees have no personal liability on lawsuits against a parish. 

Click here  for a PDF of the information above and three sample forms:

  1. Vestry Resolution Appointing a Trustee
  2. Application for Appointment of Trustee Pursuant to Virginia Code § 57-8 
  3. An Order Appointing the Trustee for the judge of Circuit Court to sign  

If you have additional inquiries, contact Director of Finance and Administration Judy Dobson, 757-213-3386 or  jdobson@diosova.org