Julian Mann on reluctant churchwardens
I agree that it is regrettable that there were no nominations for the post of churchwarden at our recent annual Vestry meeting of parishioners.
According to the Handbook for Churchwardens & Parochial Church Councils, Mowbray, 2001: ‘The office of churchwarden is a venerable one, which had already emerged into legal recognition by the thirteenth century…[churchwardens] had in fact a twofold significance: they were both guardians of the parochial morals and trustees of the church’s goods.’
I believe this is the first time in the history of Booty Bridge Parish Church that this venerable office has not been filled.
As we have previously discussed, we are one of the 82 parishes out of 175 in the diocese with fewer than 50 adults on a normal Sunday. Our numbers fell in the late 1980s, with the children situation becoming serious by the end of the 1990s – there were no children in the parish church on Christmas Day in 1999. Even Oliver Cromwell didn’t manage
that! I suppose the chickens are coming home to roost in the Noughties. Church decline takes time to show through: so does church recovery.
If your annual Visitation at the cathedral is anything to go by, the age profile of the average churchwarden is 50-65, in this diocese at least. We have some folk in their 50s and 60s in our regular congregation, but they are fewer than those who are 70-plus. Those 50-65-year-olds we do have are heavily committed with looking after grandchildren while their daughters go to work. We have a smattering of folk in their 30s and early 40s who could potentially fulfil the role. To be honest, in a small church I wouldn’t be asking them to do much – just to front it up.
Why aren’t they coming forward? Low volunteerism in the culture has something to do with it. Folk these days are less likely to do owt for nowt. People are probably less committed to public service than previous generations. The role of churchwarden itself has less social status
than it used to.
But I wonder whether there is also another factor: what we are asking people to call themselves. I am a family man in my early 40s. I would like to think that, had I stayed in my previous calling as a journalist with my existing family responsibilities, I would be willing to take on the role in the circumstances our church faces.
I’d like to think I would volunteer. But I would certainly not look forward to the following conversation: ‘I hear you’ve gone and volunteered to be warden down ‘t’ church. When did you start t’ get this obsession with flower arranging? It must be all them dodgy vicars you’re mixing with…’
For Generation Xers living in an age in which the network is eclipsing the institution, ‘church rep’ might be liveable with, but probably no longer ‘churchwarden. Isn’t this something you can look at in the higher councils for the sake of our Lord Christ’s mission?