Churchwardens in a Nutshell
Note: this brief summary suffers from all the defects of brief summaries, and does not pretend to be a full and complete statement of the position, for which the reader should read the textbooks - the usual advice!
Churchwardens today have four functions:
1. Churchwardens are first-and-foremost Parish Officers, and as such the guardians of the Parish Church and its property.
· Although the Church is part of the Incumbent's freehold, a freehold which is effectively in abeyance during the vacancy, the Churchwardens take the lead while the Church and Churchyard are in the Sequestrators' care.
· The moveable property, however, including the organ and bells, belongs to the Parishioners (i.e., the inhabitants of the Parish) and its possession and custody is always in the hands of the Churchwardens, whether or not there is a Vacancy in the Living. The keys of the Belfry but not of the Church are theirs by right, in order that they may see that the bells are not rung improperly nor contrary to the Incumbent's direction. They are obliged to follow any directions, were the Bishop to give any, in seating the parishioners in the parish church, which is one of their spheres of responsibility; but in most respects any actual discretion under the law lies with them.
· Any separate Church Hall is likely to be the property of the Parochial Church Council, and under its control, although the building will probably be vested in the Diocesan Authority. Some are a matter of local trustees, however. If, as often happens, the Incumbent as Chairman of the Council has managed the Hall on its behalf, the Council will have to make arrangements - but it is not entitled to require the Churchwardens to carry out any duties about the Hall.
· A Hall or Room integral with the Church, on the other hand, is likely to be part of the Freehold, and during a vacancy will be under the control of the Churchwardens and not of the Council - the Faculty will have made this clear.
2. The Churchwardens have access to the Bishop, as, in part the Bishops' Officers, making Presentments to him, for example. This duty they acquired, not as Churchwardens, and parish officers, but as heirs of the duties of the sidesmen (synodsmen) and questmen whom the bishop used to summon to meet with him in the exercise of his proper oversight and jurisdiction. So Churchwardens have a continuing function as Bishop's Officers ..during a Vacancy they will continue to be admitted and to make their Declarations each year at the (Archdeacon's) Visitation. They are there not the Council's Churchwardens, but the parishioners' - that is to say, representing all the inhabitants of the ecclesiastical Parish.
a. as Sequestrators (with the Rural Dean) will have the care of the Benefice property, that is, the Parish Church and the Parsonage, and will account for the Fees which would have been the Incumbent's were the Benefice full. To them is committed the custody now of the Parson's keys.
b. They will also arrange for the Services to be taken by a lawful Minister, and they will see to it that he signs the Service Book.
c. The Registers of the Church will be their care in the vacancy. But they may not sign Certificates which require a clergyman's signature, such as Certificates of Banns.
4. Churchwardens may be, and often are (although they have no right to insist upon being appointed) elected as the P.C.C.'s two Representatives under the Patronage 1986 Measure. Whereas in most respects the two or more (if there be a valid custom that there be more than two) Churchwardens act together, and in some cases can act only together, a Representative, whether or not Churchwarden, acts for himself; and the veto of one Representative is a veto of the proposed appointment. When Patrons seek to present a new incumbent to a Bishop for institution, one of the important checks and balances which the Church of England has developed is that that the nomination has to have been approved by each of the Parochial Church Council's two representatives. Most Church Councils seem to appoint the Churchwardens of the parish. Where there are several Parishes in a Benefice, each Representative of each retains his or her individual veto.
Churchwardens are invited to come to Holy Communion at 12.45p.m. on 17th May 2016 and share a buffet lunch on a donations basis if they reserve one in advance. Contact P.M. Smith