Extracts from the book

Sample extract from Chapter 3 – JUST WHAT DOES A CHURCHWARDEN DO?

a. The Legal Duties of a Churchwarden
The role of the churchwarden (CW) is an ancient one… you could be forgiven for assuming that the responsibilities of the CWs would be clearly set out, and that somewhere there is a comprehensive list which tells you just what a CW has to do. One feels that there should be something to ring-fence the apparently ever-increasing scope of this job, surely?

Wrong; there isn’t.

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If in doubt about where the responsibility lies, there is no doubt: it falls to the CW. In general, I would say that the CW is ultimately responsible for almost everything in a church that does not need to be done by the vicar. If the CW doesn’t do it, then she is responsible for making sure that it gets done by someone (and that can include things often done by vicars!)…
The law about the CW role, as such, is in just three places:

i. Church of England Canon E1
ii. The Churchwardens Measure 2001
iii. Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860

The first of these sources, Canon E1, is remarkable in its simplicity: The 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; 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.

There are a few more words but essentially that’s all it says. No explanations, no definitions, no detail. It’s not much to go on, is it? But saying so much in so few words could actually be seen as a good thing, as it gives flexibility and discretion…

Secondly, the Churchwardens Measure 2001 is entirely about the election of CWs, not about their function…
The third point above is an odd one. The Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860 is actually the law which, under certain conditions and circumstances, gives CWs the power of arrest! However, before you get your handcuffs out and polish them in anticipation, this is NOT recommended…

b. Other Rules and Legalities
… As CW, you have this almost undefined broad responsibility, and I encourage you to display the authority that accompanies it; therefore, I strongly advise you to know and understand the rules (such as they are), so that you can make your own decisions, after taking advice when necessary. The job doesn’t have a clear job specification, nor does it have clearly stated objectives, but the scope is very wide, so I earnestly recommend that you take hold of the challenge and make it your own. Passing the buck is all very well, but it doesn’t give the satisfaction of a job well done. I think it also leads to people bypassing you, as next time they will go straight to the person to whom you passed the buck on the first occasion. There is nothing that will stop you, if you so choose, from being a nominal CW who allows everything to flow around him, apart from your own attitude; however, I don’t think that you will find the job very satisfying. If you start off at the outset thinking positively about your responsibilities, it is much easier to delegate them later; conversely, if you have passed the buck to start with, it will almost certainly prove much more difficult to take back control later… <end>

c. Characteristics of a Churchwarden
I would like to define the required characteristics of a CW and I have already mentioned some: a modicum of intelligence and organisation, the ability to delegate and make decisions (in modern terms, “management ability”), plus patience and perseverance… In my view, the CW job is what you make it, and that will depend on how you mould your own character with the requirements… There are several further character traits of a CW which I should mention: he should be trustworthy, honest and beyond reproach…

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Sample extract from Chapter 4:
The Vicar
Of course, the most important member of the ministerial team for the CWs is the vicar. The CWs’ relationship with this person is fundamental to whether their time as CW will be of benefit to the entire parish. If the relationship is flawed then everything that the CWs do will seem to be hard work for little reward. I know that we are meant to look towards heaven for our rewards but we are all humans, and some thanks and praise never go amiss.

I am convinced that one failing (to my mind) of the training of priests is that there are many things which are omitted, such as “how to chair a PCC”, “the essential laws and rules that a parish priest should know” and “how to get the best out of your flock”. I could actually enlarge that list considerably, but those are probably the top three.

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Closely following these three are a linked couple “how to be a training incumbent” and its converse “how to learn and grow while training as a curate”; sadly I have seen several times that the vicar-curate relationship can be unproductive and even destructive, with a curate being moved before completion of the necessary four years in post. The functioning of that relationship should be overseen by the Diocesan Director of Post-Ordination Training (or whatever your diocese wants to call that role), and it is very difficult for the CW to have any say in that relationship. Suffice it to say that if the curate takes no note of genuine constructive advice from the vicar then he probably won’t accept it from the CW either, regardless of however well-intentioned it is.

There were a couple of occasions when I gave the vicar some spiritual input, while I was in the RAF. The first time there was some discussion regarding the church fete and I vetoed the plan to have a fortune teller in a tent – “It’s only a bit of fun”, they said. The second time was when we were having a “faith lunch” and the padre could not see why I was amused when he put up a list asking for people to specify what food they were bringing to a “faith lunch”. Surely if you have such a list, it’s just “lunch”, isn’t it?

Another vicar seemed to delight in being hard done by, because he had to do everything himself, no-one ever helped him, no-one appreciated his hard work, bad things happened to him, etc. This is a most negative approach which is hard to get around – every constructive suggestion you make will be dismissed as “We’ve tried that before and it didn’t work” or “That will only end up being done by me”. He once moaned at PCC about no-one ever volunteering to help and then asked for someone to clear a valley gutter on the church hall roof – it was only 10 feet up so was quite accessible; I said I would do it, at 9.30 on Saturday morning. I arrived promptly at 9.30 with a ladder and found that he had been up there himself for 20 minutes – a good part of the job was already done. Ask yourself if I was so quick to volunteer the next time?

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Sample Extract from Chapter 12:
Love Your Church Building
Old buildings need to be loved and an old church even more so. Of course, brand new ones need to be loved as well, but this love is so important for old buildings. On a newish building, you can have an expectation that many things will continue to work without any maintenance or even thought; some jobs can be skimped occasionally, and no problem ensues; if there is any problem, the fix is relatively straightforward and probably fairly cheap as there are so many suitable trades people available. This just does not apply to old buildings: if you turn your back on them for a few weeks, or even just days, and neglect some vital maintenance, something bad might happen and the costs can be high.

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New Pinnacle

Church buildings in the UK vary enormously in age and type of construction, from late Saxon churches in flint to very modern buildings in brick, block and cement. It is said that the C of E owns 45% of the Grade I listed buildings in the UK, and these put a huge burden on the church at large. We know that in most cases it is simply neither acceptable nor feasible to close down a church simply because of the high maintenance costs or the need for major repairs costing seven figure sums. I know of a Baptist church which had a large 19th C building near a town centre; some developers wished to expand the town centre shopping and so the church was moved 100 metres down the road into a brand new purpose designed building at no cost to the church. Sadly, for most of us, this will never happen; we are where we are, and no-one is going to take our churches off our hands and give us a nice new fit for purpose building in its place.

Sadly many older church buildings have suffered from poor maintenance or simply a lack of love. When this happens even just for a few years, it can be very difficult to return the building to a fit state where it “only” requires regular maintenance. If you don’t sort out problems at the first sign of trouble (either yourself or by having someone you can call on to do it) then you can incur a huge cost in due course. For instance, dampness in a wall may cause the lime plaster to “pop” – it comes away from the wall and sounds hollow when you tap it with your knuckles before, eventually, gently falling off. The only solution then is to strip it off entirely and re-plaster at considerable expense (and much mess). One church I know had a perennially freezing vestry which, when I investigated, was caused by the ground outside being higher than the floor inside; sadly the plaster had popped long ago. The old proverb “a stitch in time saves nine” is even more true for old buildings – a repair in time probably saves nine hundred and ninety-nine, in financial terms.

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Sample extract from Chapter 13:
Principles of Old Buildings
Most churches are old. If you are fortunate, yours is relatively new and built using modern materials, but most old buildings are different. Why?
The key word is “lime”. Old buildings were built using lime, not cement. Many Roman structures built with lime mortar still survive, after almost 2,000 years, but cement was invented in the 19th C, and only became really widespread in the Second World War.
If you take one thing away from this book, it is that you should not use modern materials (which are all based on cement) or modern techniques (like a chemical damp proof course) on an old building.

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Too many buildings have been effectively ruined by such actions, sadly often done by the ignorance of architects and contractors and approved by a PCC who accepted their advice.
If you would take a second fact away from this book, it is the advice from a young architect to a one day course I attended some years back, in company with a dozen or so other CWs. She said:

“If you look after the water which falls on the church’s roof,
then flows into the gutters,
into the hoppers,
down the drainpipes,
into the drains
and away from the building,
then you have done four-fifths of the job and the church will not fall down on your watch”.

Read that statement again – read it until you understand and accept it. Then read on and I’ll tell you why these two statements are so fundamental to the long-term integrity of your old church.
Firstly, lime. The reason for the longevity of Roman buildings is that they were made using lime mortar. Lime is calcium hydroxide (CaOH) and it makes a wonderful mortar….

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