What is a churchwarden?
- Churchwardens are elected by the laity (non-ordained) members of the parish electoral roll to represent and lead the laity in the parish. Wardens are elected for a one year term of office and they may serve for up to six consecutive terms of office (unless the Annual Meeting passes a resolution to set aside this rule.)
- They are the ‘Bishop’s officers’ in the parish, which means their first responsibility is to the Bishop, usually via the Archdeacon. They work with the parish priest, to be jointly responsible for the day-to-day functioning of the parish.
What do they have to do?
Church of England law (called the Canons of the Church of England) states that churchwardens shall:
- be foremost in representing the laity and in cooperating with the incumbent;
- they shall use their best endeavours by example and precept to encourage the parishioners in the practice of true religion and promote unity and peace among them.
- They shall also maintain order and decency in the church and churchyard, especially during services.
- The church property, in the plate, ornaments and other moveable goods of the church, is vested in them, and they should keep an up-to-date inventory of these items, and deliver them to their successors.
Great. What does that actually mean?
In real terms, Churchwardens should:
- be for and support the parish priest, and be people to whom the incumbent can turn for advice and support
- try to ensure that the incumbent is relieved of superfluous administrative, and other, tasks
- provide feedback, as a ‘critical friend’, for the parish priest
- be concerned for the pastoral care and welfare of the congregation and encourage people in their Christian faith
- help to resolve disputes or disagreements amongst the congregation or with the parish priest, or with the local community
- When any concerns arise, they should consult the Area Dean and/or Archdeacon.
- Meet regularly with incumbent (and potentially other church staff and leaders) for prayer and planning
- Be responsible for the day to day running of the parish (in conjunction with the incumbent)
- Have overall responsibility for safeguarding policy, procedure and practice in the church – although most of the work in this area is done by the church’s nominated Safeguarding Officer, churchwardens are responsible for ensuring correct practice is in place and followed
- Be responsible for keeping order in Sunday services (which includes power of arrest and escorting people off the premises!)
- Ensure that all necessary official reporting is done.
- Ensure that the church’s property and buildings are maintained and a proper inventory is kept of all the church’s movable goods.
How can two volunteers be expected to manage all that?!
The key is delegation and shared responsibility! Like all good leaders, the churchwardens are not expected to do all of the things necessary to make that list of responsibilities happen. Their job is to work with the vicar to make sure that all of those things are happening – but the more the load can be shared and done by others, the better!
In reality, much of the churchwardens’ role can be delegated and St Peter’s has long operated many informal arrangements for sharing out these roles. As we finally start to emerge from the pandemic and pick up the threads of our corporate life together again, part of our vision for the future is about expanding the teams who are involved in working with the wardens. In future, it would be great to see leaders and teams who could take responsibility for areas – eg regular building and grounds maintenance, managing major building maintenance projects, overseeing finance and giving and pastoral care and support – working with and reporting to the wardens but taking much of the delegated responsibility for carrying out the work.
I’m not an Anglican and I don’t know anything about church procedure….
It doesn’t matter – that’s (partly!) what ordained clergy are for! Churchwardens work in co-operation with the vicar, part of whose job is to be aware of the relevant church formalities – even if s/he doesn’t carry them all out themselves. Other church representatives on bodies like the Deanery and Diocesan Synods and the Parochial Church Council Secretary will also be aware of most of what you need to know and can help. The Area Dean (a member of the clergy in the local Deanery which the parish is part of) and the local Archdeacon – or, if desperate, a Bishop (!) – are all also there to provide advice and answers on any formal procedural questions. St Peter’s is blessed to be a large parish with a team approach to running the church and there is always someone else to help and support.
What about time – surely someone with a job and/or a family couldn’t take all that on as well?
The role of churchwarden can sound completely overwhelming but can be made to fit into whatever time the right person has available.
The only regular commitments are to attend staff meeting and Parochial Church Council meetings. Staff meeting currently takes place once a fortnight on a Monday evening, either in person at church or via Zoom – but it is very flexible and can take place at whatever time, day and frequency suits the participants. The PCC meets approximately ten times a year, so roughly once a month, usually with the exception of August and December. Again, it is an evening meeting which rotates around different days of the week.
There is no official rule as to how often a churchwarden must attend church and, again, this is flexible. The responsibilities for ensuring that services are able to run smoothly are a key part of the role, as are being present to get to know the congregation and so be able to care for and support them. However, while there does need to be someone at every service who is responsible for the warden’s role, St Peter’s has long had a team of Assistant Wardens to whom this responsibility can be delegated and so the load is shared and the two elected wardens do not have to be present at every service.
I’m not an up-front person – I don’t see myself as a leader
Lots of the best leaders don’t see themselves that way. God also has a regular habit of choosing the least likely people with apparently the greatest lack of the obvious skills and abilities for the greatest leadership roles – look at Joseph, Moses, David, Peter, Paul – and that’s just for starters! The churchwarden’s job is not a particularly up-front one – that’s why their seats are at the back of the church, where they can keep a careful eye on everyone and everything. The only real qualifications are a sense that God is calling you, a commitment to love and serve the people of the parish and support and work with the vicar and a desire to worship and seek God. The rest will follow when you need it.