Churchwardens are parish lay officials in the Church of England. Holders of these positions are leading members of the parish board, the Parochial Church Council (PCC). It is usually a voluntary position for which the rights and responsibilities are laid down by Church Law.
The office of Churchwarden is one of the earliest forms of recognised lay ministry. As far back as the 13th century Churchwardens were custodians of the fabric and furniture of the Church. Even today, they are the legal guardians of the church’s moveable furniture, plates and ornaments of which they are required to keep an accurate and up-to-date inventory.
Most parishes have two elected Churchwardens of equal status. Wardens serve for a fixed term of usually a year. Special services are held where the new wardens make and subscribe declarations for the due execution of their office.
The Churchwarden should be someone who the congregation respects as a leader and who can take charge when needed. Churchwardens must be baptised and regular communicants who are on the electoral roll. They should be at least 18 years old and even 21 in many parishes, should consent to being appointed and should have been confirmed. They are expected to attend all the meetings of the parish council and its standing committees.
In cooperation with the minister, Churchwardens are responsible for the day-to-day functioning of the parish. Their roles do not only concern maintenance of the church building but also help the smooth running of the church. Wardens have a duty to make sure that clergy can conduct their services and other meetings without hindrance. This requires that any visitors or newcomers are welcomed and assisted, that there is adequate seating, proper lighting and heating and that all other required facilities are in place.
During an interregnum Churchwardens share an overall responsibility for the church and its worship activities with the Area Dean. They are responsible for keeping the sequestration account as well as the safety and security of the parsonage house of the parish. They could also be expected to arrange for guest ministers to take Sunday services and handle the expenses this creates.
If you have been appointed Churchwarden your parish is likely to have more specific information about your role in this ministry. It is usual for the Archdeacons to hold training days shortly after election time. Look out for dates in the Diocesan Mailing.
Information on deploying a House for Duty priest.
Churchwardens, when admitted, are officers of the bishop. They shall discharge such duties as are by law and custom assigned to them; they shall be foremost in representing the laity and in co-operating with the incumbent [which in this context includes rector, vicar or priest in charge]; they shall use their best endeavours by example and precept to encourage the parishioners in the practice of true religion and to promote unity and peace among them. They shall also maintain order and decency in the church and churchyard, especially during the time of divine service.
They are the legal owners, on behalf of the parishioners, of the plate, ornaments, furniture and furnishings and other articles belonging to the church - they are responsible for ensuring that none of those articles is disposed of without a faculty, and that valuable items, alms boxes, etc. are secure against theft.
In consultation with the incumbent, they must compile and keep up to date an inventory of all the articles belonging to the church and a "terrier" of the lands belonging to the church, and send a copy of the inventory and any alterations to it to the person designated by the bishop. Again in consultation with the incumbent, they must also keep a logbook of all alterations, additions and repairs to the church, its lands and articles and to other events affecting any of them. As soon as practicable in each calendar year the must submit the terrier, inventory and log book to the PCC, with any other records they think are likely to help the PCC carry out its functions in relation to the fabric of the church. The terrier, inventory and logbook must be accompanied by a statement signed by the churchwardens that the contents are accurate.
Again, in consultation with the incumbent, churchwardens must in every year carry out or arrange for an inspection of the fabric of the church and the articles belonging to it, and make a report on these to the Parochial Church Council, which then delivers the report to the Annual Parochial Church Meeting.
They should try to ensure that the PCC carries out its responsibilities for the care, maintenance and insurance of the fabric, goods and ornaments of the church and the care and maintenance of the churchyard. In particular it is the duty of the churchwardens to ensure that the necessary faculty is obtained before any works are carried out.
Churchwardens should try to ensure that the incumbent is relieved of administrative work, particularly in connection with such matters as the insurance, heating, lighting, cleaning and maintenance of the church and other parish buildings, and the repair or replacement of such things as hassocks, hymn and prayer books, noticeboards and the like.
They should try to ensure that the PCC meets its financial obligations, including contributions to diocesan funds and the payment in full of the working expenses of the clergy in the parish.
A churchwarden may hold the office of treasurer of the PCC, and if no one else if willing to act in that capacity, the churchwardens who are members of the PCC must do so.
Churchwardens are responsible for taking any offerings or collections in church (helped by the sidesmen), for recording the sums received in the service register, and for paying the money to the treasurer of the PCC or into the PCC's bank account.
The churchwardens are also responsible for providing the bread and the wine for the Holy Communion, on the advice and at the direction of the incumbent and at the expense of the PCC.
They are responsible for the seating of the congregation in the church, and for the maintenance of good order and behaviour, especially during services. They are assisted in these duties by the sidesmen. The churchwardens should arrange the sidesmen's rota, and ensure that the sidesmen know what their duties are. Churchwardens have power to eject anyone creating a disturbance during a service, so long as they do not use unnecessary violence; they may also arrest a person guilty of riotous, violent or indecent behaviour in the church or churchyard and bring that person before a magistrate.
During a vacancy in the benefice, the churchwardens will normally be the "sequestrators", together with the Area Dean and any other person appointed by the bishop, and must carry our the duties required of them by the bishop. At other times when the incumbent is absent, the churchwardens are responsible for ensuring that church services are maintained and the needs of any visiting clergy are adequately provided for.
As lay officers of the bishop, the churchwardens ought, when necessary, to report to him or to the archdeacon as to the state of the parish and any neglect or default by the incumbent in discharging his or her duties. They must also make accurate replies (their "presentments") to the "articles of enquiry" put to them on the occasion of each visitation.
On going out of office they shall duly deliver to their successors any goods of the church remaining in their hands together with the inventory which shall be checked by their successors.