So as of the APCM yesterday, I am Churchwarden designate of St James.
It came about as a result of the Churchwardens Measure 2001 which set a limit on the time in office of a Churchwarden to six years, in 2008 both of our current Churchwarden’s – one of whom has been in post for eight years, and the other for eighteen years would be forced to stand down. The PCC discussed whether to propose that we do not adopt the measure, meaning that Churchwarden’s remain in position indefinitely, but in general thought it was a bad idea. St James is one of those parishes where people rarely stand against an incumbent Churchwarden (there has been only one election in the past twenty years) and you usually get the assumption that the existing Churchwarden’s will just stay on, leading to them feeling that they can’t stand down because nobody else seems willing to do it.
Implementing the six year rule got a slightly bumpy ride at the APCM, although since both current Churchwarden’s had said that they would stand down anyway, and it was highlighted that at some point in the future we could choose to opt out, we went with the measure.
In the PCC discussion I had expressed concern about both Churchwarden’s going together next year, so in a classic example of why you should keep your mouth shut, I ended up being asked if I would stand as a Churchwarden to replace the first of the current Churchwarden’s who is resigning this year. Hopefully we’ll implement a system of assistant Churchwarden’s too so there is a wider body of people with the knowledge of what needs doing. (It is worth noting that Deputy Churchwarden’s, whatever the ABC of the PCC may say are explicitly mentioned as having a legal basis in the official guidance.)
Perhaps the biggest difficulty is going to be educating the rest of the congregation as to what the Churchwarden’s role actually is. Both the existing Churchwarden’s do a whole load of other jobs alongside their Churchwarden responsibilities which people automatically assume are part of the Churchwarden job – so for example I’ve already had someone assume I’m going to stop singing in the choir because I won’t be able to do the Churchwarden jobs from the choir stalls.
So what does the job involve? The basic elements of the job are that a Churchwarden is a lay representative of the Bishop in the parish, and legally responsible for the property within the Church. In general they are the senior members of the laity in the parish, and are expected to co-operate with the incumbent to ensure everything runs smoothly. Of course the role becomes a lot more in situations where there is a problem with an incumbent, in which case the fact that you represent the Bishop comes into play, and of course in situations where the parish is vacant, where the Churchwarden’s again take on more responsibilities. Fingers-crossed we shouldn’t run into anything like that for a couple of years, and it’s just a question of keeping things ticking along!