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Vorbrich lives out calling as lawyer

Vorbrich volunteering at school

At age five, he dressed up as a lawyer for career day. Today, Andy Vorbrich dons his suit as an attorney in Kalamazoo and chancellor of The Michigan Conference.

Michigan Conference Communications

In 1 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul compares the church to a human body. Individuals with many different gifts are essential to the functioning of the community of faith. Pastors, missionaries, teachers, and musicians quickly come to mind. The church needs scholars, stewards, mentors, and people who pray. There are times when the church also needs a great lawyer.

In the Michigan Conference of The United Methodist Church, a lawyer is nominated by the bishop and elected by the annual conference every four-year quadrennium as its chancellor. For the past 14 years, Kalamazoo attorney Andrew Vorbrich has served as the chancellor of The Michigan Conference.

Andy Vorbrich and family
Andy Vorbrich and his family enjoy a fall day. ~ photo courtesy Andy Vorbrich

Recently, Andy was nominated by the Council of Bishops as one of this year’s candidates for election to the Judicial Council, The United Methodist Church’s top court. Delegates to the upcoming General Conference, which begins April 23, 2024, in Charlotte, NC, will elect new council members. Andy is excited to be considered for this new ministry opportunity.

Growing up in Iowa, Andy remembers always wanting to be an attorney. At age five, his school had a career day where students could dress up in the costume of their dream job, and Andy dressed as an attorney. His outfit included a suit, briefcase, and clip-on tie. Andy says, “I don’t know if this is my calling from God, but I do know that I have never wanted to be anything else but an attorney.”

After graduating as valedictorian from high school, Andy received his bachelor’s degree with departmental honors in history from Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, PA. He earned his law degree with high distinction from the University of Iowa. Following a law internship in Chicago, Andy moved to Kalamazoo in 1990 with his wife, Sally. They have been married for 35 years and are proud parents of two sons.

To set down roots in their new community, Andy and Sally made a long list of churches they wanted to visit to decide where they would settle.

The first church on their list was First United Methodist Church in Kalamazoo, where Rev. Dr. Royal Synwolt was the pastor, and Sally’s sister was a member. Andy says they had such a positive experience on their first Sunday that they never went anywhere else. Today, Andy is a gifted tenor in the church choir, a lay reader, and a member of the endowment committee.

Andy Vorbrich fishing
When the suit and tie come off and the briefcase is set aside, it’s time for some recreation. ~ photo courtesy Andy Vorbrich

In 2010, following the death of longtime West Michigan Conference chancellor Thomas Shearer, the Rev. Terry Euper, then clergy assistant to Bishop Jonathan Keaton, recommended Andy for the post. Keaton interviewed Andy and subsequently submitted his name for ratification by the West Michigan Conference. Andy has continued in this position in the Michigan Conference.

During his years as chancellor, Andy has established files on over 300 cases and estimates that he has offered helpful opinions in over 750 instances where the Michigan Conference sought his legal expertise.

When asked for examples of the kinds of cases he handles for the conference, Andy mentions helping to settle property disputes and resolving church volunteer and employee misconduct issues. He helped solve contested church versus state tax issues, provided guidance for church disaffiliations, and advised the conference and local churches on the national Boy Scout sexual misconduct scandal.

Because of his unique expertise in federal, state, and church law, Andy also works with local churches needing legal counsel on various matters. In the past, he has negotiated a contract with a county regarding the public use of a church parking lot, dealt with clergy conduct issues, and addressed the mishandling of church funds. He also enjoys sharing his expertise by leading connectional training events for trustees and offering webinars on church legal matters through Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.

Andy is sincere about the central role of his Christian faith in his life and legal practice. He notes that when people call him needing legal assistance, they usually are not having their best day. He knows that compassionate listening with understanding is a high priority, so he can give those who seek his help the best advice for their unique needs.

Vorbrich and United Methodist chancellors
Andy Vorbrich (back row left) participates in an organization that includes 90 United Methodist chancellors from around the globe. This gathering of the executive committee took place in April 2019. ~ photo courtesy Andy Vorbrich

When asked about his Judicial Council candidacy, Andy knows he can act as a good judge. He comes to each case he handles well-prepared. He knows how to listen, is well-read, and is not afraid of dissent. Andy remembers cases where he stood alone in his dissenting opinion against the majority and others where he was persuaded by relevant information and cogent arguments to change his mind.

Five clergy and four laity will be elected to the Judicial Council at the upcoming General Conference in Charlotte, NC. The nine-member Judicial Council is the United Methodist equivalent of the Supreme Court of the United States. They look to the Book of Discipline to determine the legality of acts or proposed acts of the various general, jurisdictional, central, and annual conferences.

Andy celebrates The United Methodist Church’s broader connectional structure and is glad to be part of it through his role as chancellor of the Michigan Conference. He also looks forward to increasing his connection with and contribution to the denomination if elected to the Judicial Council.

Andy currently serves as president of the United Methodist Church Conference Chancellors Association, a denominational organization that involves 90 chancellors from around the world. These chancellors meet periodically and stay connected to share expertise and information regarding church legal cases globally.

Andy also serves on the United Methodist Denominational Committee for Legal Responsibility and Corporate Governance. This committee of 12 includes three chancellors and advises the General Council on Finance and Administration for the General Conference of The United Methodist Church. They are the committee most involved when litigation occurs anywhere that might affect the whole denomination. Recent matters have dealt with Boy Scout sexual misconduct cases, disaffiliation disputes, and Disciplinary trust clause interpretation cases.

Andy Vorbrich singing in choir
Singing out in the tenor section of the choir at Kalamazoo First United Methodist Church. ~ photo courtesy Andy Vorbrich

In January 2024, Andy completed 11 years of service as a member of the Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary Board of Trustees. Garrett-Evangelical, located in Evanston, IL, is one of the 13 United Methodist seminaries in the United States.

Andy notes that his Michigan Conference chancellor’s role takes about 30% of his professional attention. In addition, he handles casework as president and member of the Kalamazoo law firm Lennon Miller PLC, where he helps his clients with asset protection, estate planning, and estate administration.

Outside his legal practice, Andy invests in helping others in his community through his service and gifts. He served as a weekly tutor in the Kalamazoo Public Schools for 20 years. He is currently involved with other charitable organizations, such as the Kalamazoo Community Foundation and the Kiwanis Club of Kalamazoo. Andy is also past chair of the Community Investment Cabinet at United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region.

Many people would say that church functions best when gifted people are doing what they are gifted at to strengthen the body of Christ for the glory of God. When our conference and local churches need sound legal counsel, Michigan United Methodists are blessed that Andy Vorbrich continues to share his many talents as our chancellor.

Editor’s note: The Michigan Conference originally published portions of this article on April 27, 2021.

Last Updated on April 22, 2024

The Michigan Conference