Letter from a Member of the Ministry Team. Iffley Parish Magazine, September 2021.
Each individual church has many offices/roles filled by members of the congregation. One is that of churchwarden. Who are they, what do they do? How long have they been around?
This office dates to the 13thcentury when churchwardens appear in parish records. By the mid-14thcentury they were elected ‘by and from among the parishioners’. They represented the laity and then as now took responsibility for the church fabric. It also appears that women were elected to the office. In the following 2 centuries churchwardens’ accounts show they were responsible for any new government regulations, e.g., ‘moving the altar from the east end under Edward VI and moving it back under Mary. By the time of the plague in 1665 and the Great Fire of London in 1666, they have a very high profile in parish management’. From the 12th to 14th centuries churchwardens were described as “wardens of the goods of the church”. Parishioners were responsible for providing all church furnishings needed to conduct a worship service. It was the duty of churchwardens to see this happened. Not only that! They were responsible for bringing moral delinquents to ecclesiastical courts! Our duties were formalised in the 20th century with some revisions in the 21st (from The Church Times, 02/11/2006).
These duties have changed very little. Being governed by Canon E1 we are to represent the laity, co-operate with the incumbent, do our best to encourage the parishioners in the practice of true religion, promote unity and peace. We are also responsible for maintaining order and decency in the church and churchyard, especially during divine services. As officers to the Bishop, we attend a visitation service each year promising to abide by these laws and customs.
We are still jacks-of-all-trades, called upon when needed. 9 of our past churchwardens, 8 of whom still worship at St Mary’s recalled many memories when asked. I think it is fair to say that although their years of service were busy and sometimes challenging, they were rewarding. A few of their memories follow:
Patricia was surprised when she was asked to become a churchwarden by Francis Coles, serving another term with Peter Judd – she hadn’t been a member of the PCC and was really thrown in at the deep end. But she said, I had two hands and two feet and felt I had been called to be a disciple, so I just got on with it. She got on her scooter and visited many parishioners and as many of us know children are her favourites, always to be welcomed and understood as they come into St Mary’s services. A special memory was attending the Arches Court – Bishops’ Council – in London when they were deciding and finding out who the next Bishop of Oxford was to be.
Godfrey recalls David Barton’s wonderful work during the inter-regnum between Peter Judd and Richard Lea. In Peter’s time there was the installation of the Piper Window – an exciting time at St Mary’s and there was much discussion over the placement of the window – should it replace the East window or be situated where it is today? Godfrey and Peter as well as others were invited to Mafanwy Piper’s home and they were able to see John Piper’s studio still full of artwork, finished and un-finished – and visiting with Mafanwy was very special.
Patrick became a new churchwarden as Richard Lea arrived and he spent time learning the ropes of church preparation, lighting & ordering candles, checking pews and books, ordering wine and communion wafers, preparing the church for services. He recalls the benefits of Richard’s musicianship. Richard was evidently invited to all the parties – enjoying the drinks on offer! A special memory was of Rosemary inviting Dione to the upstairs living room at the Rectory to view the beautiful brides exiting from the West Door of the church. In Patrick’s years as churchwarden there was a 2nd churchwarden but only 2 deputies (how fortunate we are in 2021 to have 5!).
Pat remembered her time with Barbara supervising the complete overhaul of the organ. Dismantled pipes were laid out in the aisles of the closed church. An exciting discovery was made – remnants of a wall painting, St Christopher carrying the Christ Child. Toes and water still visible helped to identify it. This occurred only a short time before Andrew’s arrival as our new vicar and his Institution service needed to be organised while juggling with time constraints. They spent hours cleaning the rectory and curate’s house (Mark, Tom and I have escaped doing that!). Lorna replaced Barbara and organising, and file clearing took place in the Vestry, (still going on!!) and proper storage of the artificial flowers.
Lorna remembers a wonderful Christmas bazaar with a ‘guess the cake weight’, a book stall, Christmas flower centrepieces and painted glasses for sale all masterminded by Gaynor to raise funds for charity.
Dougall told me about the churchwarden’s pipe and a wonderful old chest in Bloxham Church with 3 locks, yet to be visited by me, but there is also one in the church at Ilmington – the main lock presumably opened by the Vicar and the 2 side locks opened by the churchwardens.
Thank you to our past churchwardens who helped me reflect on this office of service: Barbara Alderson, Dougall Morrison, Gaynor Dean, Godfrey Townsend, Lorna Bourdeaux, Mark Phythian-Adams, Pat Alexander, Patricia Michael, Patrick Lawrence.
To subscribe to the Parish Magazine, please contact Michael Sinclair, firstname.lastname@example.org, 01865 438251. Subscriptions cost only £5.00 per year for 12 monthly issues, including free delivery within the parish.