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by Michael Ford last modified 06 Oct, 2017 10:20 AM

The role of the Churchwarden is a mixture of limited legal responsibilities and many and varied practical ones.

Updated Listing = new/ updated


[click on a link to jump to a section]
Legal Issues:
- Property matters 
- Good order 
- Finance 
Notes for new wardens:
- Introduction
- Order and Maintenance 
- Reports, Meetings & Money 
- Lay Support 
- Interregnums 


The Churchwarden is one of the oldest offices in the land, and formerly involved a lot of secular functions, although primarily because in those days the distinction between church and secular matters was more blurred than it is now. Very little of what remains is really separate from the church rôle, but there are some odds and ends that may arise from time to time.

The rôle of the modern Churchwarden is set out primarily in Canon E1, in various Measures, and in the Customs of the Church of England.

Every Churchwarden should have immediate access to good source books, the most easily accessible of which is Macmorran & Briden : A Handbook for Churchwardens and PCCs.

Reasonable access to the Church Representation Rules and The Churchyards Handbook, which should be in the Parish, will help, and the exact whereabouts of the Terrier, Inventory and Log-Book of the parish, and of its latest financial information should be well-known to the Wardens. New wardens could usefully look at the notes for new wardens.

Because of its ancient origins, the Warden still represents the whole of the laity in the Parish, not only the members of the congregation or the electoral roll of the church. Local custom will affect the specific functions of the wardens, but they will always involve being at the centre of the parish’s operations, for which they must know the people, know who to go to for various purposes, know the liturgy and the services that are being held, and have “ear to the ground and finger on the pulse” contact with all that happens or is going to happen.

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Legal issues:

For Churchwardens, these will be of three types:

Property matters

(As to the church, the churchyard and the moveables)

  • Keeping the terrier, the inventory and the log-book is the specific responsibility of the Wardens, who should make sure they are able to hand these over to the new wardens at the time when one retires and another takes over. Notifying relevant people of the property position is for wardens to do usually, arising from their responsibility for the paperwork.
  • Wardens are required at least annually to make a sufficient inspection of buildings and contents, and the last PCC meeting before the AGM the wardens must report to the PCC and then to Annual Parochial Church Meeting on all the property matters.
  • Although it rarely matters, all the moveable items of the church are the property of the churchwardens. They cannot sell them without the authority of a faculty, but their ownership can be important.
  • They have a duty to represent the parish in faculty applications, although they do not have to be responsible for all the processing of them.
  • When there is a vacancy in a parish – meaning when there is no one appointed as the minister of the parish – the Churchwardens have additional responsibilities. They have a legal duty to be sequestrators – that is to say they share in the running of the financial issues for the parish – and they have to arrange for the provision of proper people to conduct the services until there is a full appointment.

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Good order

  • The Wardens must preserve decency in the church and the churchyard, which may be as simple as making sure that they do not become filthy dirty, or that they are not seen as places where larking about is appropriate. It may on occasion mean removing those who are misbehaving.
  • Although there is often a local arrangement for someone to do it, Churchwardens are legally responsible for provision of what is needed for communion services.
  • Perhaps as part of the keeping of order, under Canon F7a the wardens must take responsibility to for allocation of pews. This is a duty better fulfilled with a light touch, and the assistance of sidesmen. Sidesmen are strictly assistants to the wardens, and the work that is done in providing books and welcoming congregations is done on behalf of the wardens.
  • It is the duty of Wardens to report to the Bishop not only the formal matters dealt with at visitations but also any matter that ought to be a cause for concern on the part of the Bishop. This can be a sensitive area, and it is as well to take advice before launching into reporting to the Bishop, but it should not be ignored.

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  • In legal terms, the wardens have the responsibility for administration of collections, and they need to be sure that processes are in place to ensure the proper carrying out of this work. If there is a treasurer, the responsibility will normally be partly with that officer, but if there is no treasurer, the wardens have the whole of that responsibility, and are in law the treasurers instead.
  • This is the same for sequestrators during a vacancy. There is a specific duty to report any failure of the parish to do its best to pay Diocesan charges.

Overall, as Canon E1 sets out, a warden should set an example, promote peace and unity, consult and co-operate with the minister, and report to the bishop when necessary.

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Notes for new wardens:

Introduction've just been appointed Churchwarden? Don’t be nervous. Being an effective warden is not rocket science. At some levels, it is just an expansion on what you probably do in your own household. Except that now you are charged with the care of God’s house. What you offer your family you now offer to the Family of the Church. The legal basis of being a churchwarden is set out in various places, as you will find, but you don’t need to know that off pat. If there is something you need to know and don’t know, you can get help and advice from the Diocesan Registrar, where everyone will be pleased to answer queries and provide guidance. It isn’t all about law, though:

In some churches the duties of a Churchwarden are quite formally set out and manuals might be provided. Although they usually include some or even the majority of the responsibility for the physical “plant” of the church, which might include the building, the hall and the contents of them, in practice this responsibility is shared, not only between wardens but also with assistants, with the minister, some specific helpers and the entire church council and congregation in many ways.

You need to take early steps to become very familiar with the “plant”. Visitors and other infrequent attenders will be asking you questions. Get to know all the doors – when they are locked and who is authorized to have a key. Where there is a security system you need to know how it works. Get the codes. Get to know something about the heating system and how the thermostats are set. Find out how the exterior lights are controlled. In short, make the church as familiar to you as your own home. The underlying point to all this is that you will become sensitive to any anomaly. You will notice the open window, a sound system left on, the heater fan needlessly whirling. You will become a person who notices, whether it is an overflowing toilet or a light that doesn’t work. Not that you must personally fix the toilet, for example, but you must inform someone who can fix it, or arrange for professional help.

You will feel that you should become personally acquainted with the whole congregation. In practice, of course this is possible only in a small community, or to a limited degree, but it is worth the effort of getting as close to this as possible in any church. One approach to this is just to attend the stream of people leaving each service (as is done by the clergy ). Perhaps you could wear a name badge and boldly greet as many arrivals as you can manage. Persevere in this and eventually people will stop wondering who you are .The underlying point to this is that you are the choice point of contact for the congregation. Be prepared to hear all their concerns.

The last but far from the least function of the warden is to be a resource and support for your pastor. You are expected to give counsel and to make available to the minister and the church the benefits of your personal experience. Your support of the minister will enable you to be critical if you see the need, and have that criticism taken seriously, so you will wish and perhaps need to be frank, but understanding, to be practical but compassionate.

What follows is a summary of the areas in which you are almost certain to be involved, wherever you serve:

In co-operation with the rector or vicar or, when there is neither of these, the priest in charge, Churchwardens are generally responsible for day-to-day functions within the parish. These responsibilities include various aspects of administration, plant operations, and personnel. Their work is about helping the smooth running of the church, including sometimes the maintenance of the church building. Wardens are referred to as the leading lay member of the congregation, and, depending on the parish, have varying duties and responsibilities according to its local customs, some Canon Law, the decisions and choices made by the priest, and the decisions and guidance of the Parochial Church Council. There are areas of law involved, on which you can get guidance from the Registry when you need it.

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Order and Maintenance

Many of the Churchwarden's responsibilities are connected with routine maintenance, such as the condition and repair of seating, lighting, etc. The parish may give specific responsibilities in these things to particular other individuals, but the wardens would normally be required to consult and coordinate with them on these matters. Churchwardens are also responsible for carrying out (or at least organizing) an annual inspection of the church building and its contents for a report to the PCC. They hold the keys of the church so that they can obtain access at any time. The grounds of the church also come under the purview of the Churchwardens, and depending on the size and location of the church, the grounds may include a burial ground, gardens, paths, a driveway and even parking facilities.

There are some legal responsibilities in connection with the Sunday services and for keeping order in the church. Churchwardens have a duty to make sure that the clergy can conduct their services and other meetings without hindrance. With help from the sidespeople, they ensure that any visitors or newcomers are welcomed and assisted, that there is adequate seating provided for everyone, that the lighting and heating are in order, and that all other facilities required are in place, including nowadays complying with proper safety requirements. Churchwardens would expect to be on hand to welcome guest preachers, the Archdeacon or Bishop when they visit, and to offer any help that was needed. On the rare occasion of a major disturbance within the church or churchyard, the Churchwardens have primary responsibility for dealing with the matter or getting it dealt with, and have the power to arrest anyone or escort them off the premises if necessary.

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Reports, Meetings & Money

Churchwardens are usually given the job of responding to ‘official’ questions about the parish, and have to make various reports each year to the PCC and to the annual parochial church meeting and to the Archdeacon. They may be trustees of some charitable trusts connected with the church and are required to keep proper records of all the contents of the Church, its property, professional inspections, alterations and repairs. They are expected to attend all the meetings of the PCC and the standing committees, and should meet regularly with the parish priest.

In some parishes, the Churchwardens or their assistants are responsible for counting the collections and recording the amount in the proper form. They are required to account for this to the Treasurer or even to act as treasurer if there is no one holding that post.

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Lay Support

In case of emergency, Churchwardens are expected to read Morning and Evening Prayer, such as when no priest or licensed lay person attends. Wardens almost never have any authority (because of the Canon Law on the point) over music or liturgy, which are generally under the exclusive authority of the priest. However, as members of other parish committees and groups, Churchwardens are often able to offer advice and assistance even in these areas. Each warden will have her or his own particular areas of knowledge and interests; between them they should not only fulfil their formal duties but also deal with unexpected problems and add to the general well-being of the parish.

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During an Interregnum (the time between the departure of one incumbent and the arrival of a new one), Churchwardens will share the overall responsibility for the church and its worship activities with the Rural Dean or similar person. These are busy times for churchwardens. They have all their usual duties, but others in addition. As an example, they arrange for guest ministers or others to take the Sunday services (and any other events) and for the covering of their expenses. They are usually personally involved in the processes of selection of the new minister and the two Churchwardens together are usually responsible for arranging the announcement of the final selection and the arrival of a new incumbent to the parish. There is a useful document available to download which gives practical help and advice. 

Updated Listing Download the Vacancy Pack here.

In practice, the role of the Churchwarden is a mixture of limited legal responsibilities and many and varied practical ones. Knowing where to find the assistance that is bound to be needed from time to time will make the overall responsibility much more manageable. Much of this will be available within the parish, both from other office holders and former wardens, and from members of the church community with particular skills – which is a good reason for getting to know everyone. However, the Diocese provides a number of points of reference which can be used when need arises, and these are listed below with useful telephone numbers. Never be slow to seek any advice that you fell you need, whether from the people mentioned below, or from books or anyone you can trust to be helpful. If you assemble your resources properly and use them, you should find that being a Churchwarden is most rewarding.

Click here to go to the Churchwardens' page in the Parishes section.

Contact the Registry: 
01722 432390
Fax: 01722 411566

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