Just to clarify what Heartyfisher said, VR will get you 3-4 stops (no more than three in my experience). This means that if you shoot at 1/60th of a second without motion blur, you may be able to shoot at 1/8 using VR. That's all well and good for stopping camera shake, but it won't also stop your subject from moving. Now a church won't move very much in 1/8th of a second (unless your on the San Andreas fault on the wrong day)
People and animals are much less sedentary. For that, you will still need to shoot at large apertures in order to bring your shutter speed up to a level where there is no apparent motion.
As for the two lenses, I'd probably go for the 17-55. Assuming you already have the 18-55, I don't see much point in the 16-85 unless you really need the extra range (in which case you can get more range for cheaper by getting the 55-200. EDIT: Or the slightly more expensive 18-200
I'm a huge fan of constant aperture lenses. I hate it when my aperture changes while I zoom (I usually shoot close to wide open). The only gotcha with the 17-55 is that you will be investing a lot of money into a DX lens. Only you can say whether or not that makes sense for you. DX isn't going anywhere anytime soon, but for me at least, I don't think I'll be buying another one.