Churchwardens deal with more than bats, bells and boilers. They play a vital part in parish life, caring not just for the church building and the churchyard, but also for the well-being of the church's ministers and members, and for the wider community.
Churchwardens remind the church that maintenance and mission go hand-in-hand.
The office of Churchwarden is very ancient, going back to the 1200s. Churchwardens have always had a duty towards people who live in the parish, not just the congregation. That is why they are elected at the Annual Parish Meeting.
Churchwardens are first and foremost officers of the Bishop. They have been called the ‘eyes of the Bishop’. In that capacity, each year, they present answers to such questions as have been put to them in the Archdeacon’s Articles of Enquiry.
They may include in their response any further matters affecting the parish which may be relevant, always remembering that the aim is to inform the Archdeacon and the Bishop whether all is well with the parish or, if not, what is wrong.
The formal occasion of the annual visitation and completion of the Articles of Enquiry do not mark the limit of the churchwarden’s responsibilities in this respect. At any time the Bishop or Archdeacon may make enquiry of them as to parochial matters, and at any time they can inform the Bishop or Archdeacon of any concerns or irregularities in the life of the parish…. …..they are also only too glad to hear good news!
What Churchwardens do
- Act as guardians of the parish church and its services in cooperation with the parish priest.
- The plate, ornaments and other movable goods of the church are in their legal ownership. They are under a duty to compile and maintain an inventory of church goods and a terrier of church lands, and to make an annual fabric report to the Annual Parochial Church Meeting. They are responsible for keeping a logbook of all work done to the church.
- Churchwardens are also charged with the maintenance of order and decency in the church and churchyard, especially during the time of divine service.
- They have a legal responsibility for allocation of seats to the congregation and the collection of alms, although in practice they will be assisted by others in these tasks.
- During a vacancy in the benefice the churchwardens, together with the Rural Dean, will automatically become sequestrators and as such have responsibility for provision of services and care of the parsonage house, although much of this will be undertaken by the Diocesan Office staff.
- Who can be a Churchwarden?-+
To be eligible for election, a person must be baptised, aged 21 or over, on the church electoral roll, and a regular communicant. These conditions apply unless the Bishop directs otherwise.
The above are the formal requirements. Good Churchwardens also have tact, discretion, a sense of humour, readiness to take the lead on occasion and commitment to the local church and community. They know where to go for help (often the Archdeacon is the first port of call), and have faith that can move mountains - although building church extensions can seem more of a challenge! The document below summarises the duties of Churchwardens and Sidesmen and their appointment.
- Canon Law E1 and E2 | PDF
- Archdeacon’s Parochial Visitations-+
The Rural Dean on behalf of the Archdeacon carries out a visitation to every parish (and usually to all the church buildings within the parish) on a three-yearly cycle. (This is not the same as the Archdeacon’s Annual Visitation at which Churchwardens are admitted).
The purpose of the visitation is to check that the parish is complying with the requirements of various Measures; in particular, the Inspection of Churches Measures 1955, the Parochial Registers and Records Measure 1978 and the Care of Churches and Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1991.
Visitations will entail the issue by the Archdeacon’s Office of a Questionnaire. The Rural Dean will require to see and inspect all parochial registers and records held in the parish, the inventory and log book, the minute and account books, insurance policies, the PCC’s policies on child protection, employees’ contracts, and insurance policies; to review progress on quinquennial works; and to inspect the storage of valuables and to inspect the buildings and curtilage, and security and safety. A report by the Rural Dean will be made to the Archdeacon after each visitation has been completed.
- Useful websites for churchwardens-+
www.cofesuffolk.org/dac Diocesan website with DAC webpages under For Parishes.
www.churchcare.co.uk National website with plethora of info on looking after churches (including funding).
www.ecclesiastical.com/ Insurance provider site with downloadable guidance on fire and Health & Safety.
http://lpwscheme.org.uk/ Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme – 'reclaim' VAT on works.
www.hlf.org.uk/ Heritage Lottery Fund.
https://shct.org.uk/ Suffolk Historic Churches Trust – Grants for repairs and improvements.
www.parishresources.org.uk/ Over 400 pages of resources to support all aspects of stewardship, administration and management in the local church.
https://facultyonline.churchofengland.org/ On-line portal for faculty applications.
- Useful books for churchwardens-+
Re-pitching the Tent, Richard Giles, 1-85311-245-3
Excellent resource on re-ordering church buildings
Caring for your church building, James Halsall, 978-1-84867-779-1
General book on all aspects of looking after churches
Practical Church Management, James Behrens, 0-85244-602-0
Everything from Who’s who to what to do if you’re holding an event in church with alcohol.
Making church buildings work, Maggie Durran, 1-85311-597-5
A guide to planning implementing and managing church building projects.
Buildings for Mission, Walter & Mottram, 978-1-84825-760-3
Complete guide to the care, conservation and development of churches
UK Church fundraising handbook, Maggie Durran, 978-1-84825-002-4
A practical manual for fundraising
Being a Better PCC, John Cox, 978-1848678258
How to be more effective in the life and mission of the local church
- K Macmorran & T Briden - Handbook for Churchwardens & Parochial Church Councillors (Continuum 2010)
- D Parrott - Your Church and the Law (Canterbury Press 2008)
- M Dudley & V Rounding - Churchwardens: a survival guide (SPCK 2009)
- Church Representation Rules 2011 (blue cover) (CHP 2011)