AskDefine | Define churchwarden

Dictionary Definition

churchwarden n : an officer in the Episcopal church who helps a parish priest with secular matters

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A lay officer of the Church of England who handles the secular affairs of the parish.
  2. A similar functionary of the Episcopal church.

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Extensive Definition

A churchwarden is a lay official in a parish church of the Anglican Communion, usually working as a part-time volunteer. Holders of these positions are ex-officio members of the parish board, usually called a vestry, parish council, or parochial church council.

Responsibilities of office

Churchwardens have a duty to represent the laity and co-operate with the incumbent (or, in cases of vacancy, the bishop). They are expected to lead the parishioners by setting a good example and encouraging unity and peace. They have a particular duty to maintain order and peace in the church and churchyard at all times, and especially during services, although this task tends to be devolved to sidesmen.
Churchwardens are legally responsible for all the property and movable goods belonging to a parish church. They have a duty under ecclesiastical law to keep an up to date terrier of the property and an inventory of the valuables, and to produce these lists for inspection in case of a visitation or other inspection.
Incumbents tend to devolve day-to-day maintenance of church buildings and contents to their churchwardens. Whenever churchwardens spend money to pay tradespeople for repairs etc, the wardens have to record this in a logbook which is inspected along with the inventory.
If an incumbency is vacant, the bishop (or the Archdeacon acting on his behalf) will usually appoint the churchwardens as sequestrators of the parish until the bishop appoints a new incumbent. The sequestrators ensure that a minimum number of church services continues to be held in the parish, and in particular that the Eucharist continues to be celebrated every Sunday and on every Principal Feast. They tend do this by organising a regular rota of a few volunteer clergy from amongst either Non-Stipendiary Ministers from within that diocese or in some cases retired clergy living in or near the parish. The bishop will tend to consult the churchwardens before appointing a new priest to take over the parish.
Churchwardens' duties and responsibilities may vary according to the customs of the parish, the canons of the diocese to which the parish belongs, the desires of the priest, and the direction of the parish board and/or the congregation as a whole.

Types of Churchwardens

Historically, there are two main types of wardens; the people's warden(s) (and assistants, if any) are elected annually by the congregation as a whole (at what is called the Annual Vestry Meeting); the rector's warden(s) (and assistants, if any), are appointed by the priest incumbent. However, this distinction has been abolished in several areas of the Anglican Communion (notably in England).
In some jurisdictions (but not in England) where a parish temporarily has no priest, is not self-supporting, or in which the parish board has been dissolved, wardens are appointed directly by the bishop and are called "bishop's wardens."
The only areas in which wardens almost always have no authority, often proscribed by canon, is music and liturgy, which is considered to be under the exclusive authority of the priest or bishop in charge of the parish. Nevertheless in England churchwardens have authority to officiate at Morning and Evening Prayer if a priest or licensed lay person is unavailable.

Churchwardens by country

Church of England

In the Church of England churchwardens are officers of the bishop. Each parish elects two churchwardens annually (unless an existing custom in place on 1st January 2002, and which has continued since before 1st January 1925 states otherwise) and they are sworn in after the end of April.

Church of Ireland

One Church Warden is appointed by the incumbent, whilst another is elected by the Easter General Vestry. Both serve for one year terms, during which they are ex-officio members of the Select Vestry. As well as performing some logistical functions normally associated with a sexton or verger, Church Wardens have certain constitutional rights and responsibilities: they may convene and chair meetings of the General Vestry or Select Vestry (but only under certain circumstances), and their consent is required for the use of any experimental forms of service and for any visiting minsters who are not in full communion with the Church of Ireland. Church Wardens are also responsible for overseeing the collection during the Offertory, for the presentation of the bread and wine to the officiating Priest during Holy Communion, and for the safe custody of church plate.

Episcopal Church in the USA

The canons of some US dioceses permit or mandate the election of all wardens, in which case they are usually referred to as the "senior warden" and the "junior warden." Wardens serve for a fixed term, normally one to two years, and are usually automatically members of the parish canonical committee and sometimes automatically delegates to the diocesan synod, as well.
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