Friday, 21 October 2011

Church Wardens and Night Clubs...

Who says that training for Church Wardens is a modern invention? Canon Peter Midwood drew my attention to a gem of a book called Directions to Church Wardens for the Faithful Discharge of the Office published in 1723. It was written by Humphrey Prideaux D.D., Dean of Norwich and Archdeacon of Suffolk (so dual role posts for clergy are not something invented in recent years, either!) His introduction begins

'My Worthy Brethren,

The ignorance of the church wardens as to the duties of their office which they have been sworn to, making visitations, in a manner, ineffectual, and also frequently causing great differences and disturbances at home among their neighbours, through the errors and mistakes which they run into, about the repairs of your churches and the levying of rates for the same; I have thought it necessary to draw up these directions for the preventing of like mischiefs and inconveniences for the future...'

He goes on to ask the clergy to make sure that they instruct their wardens, 'that they may better know their duty both in preventing such things as are amiss in your respective parishes and also repairing your churches; I would then hope that Sin might be more effectually corrected.'

There follow 110 short chapters on such subjects as presentments, calumny and slander, absenters from church, Lord's Day observance, public houses, swearing in of wardens, tithes and glebe land, monuments, who sits where in church, fees, accounts, terriers, registers, sequestration, diocesan synods and civil government. Nothing much changes it would seem! You can see why the Church of England is so very wedded to some of its odd customs (such as sitting in the same pew in church every week!) So much of what we do and what we react against is rooted in generations of instruction to do things in a certain way. I have to say that Dean Prideaux's Directions are pretty short on theology or  pastoral care and seem to be largely to do with keeping order and the level of fines which wardens can charge offenders! Some passages read quite like the book of Leviticus!

I like the advice on pubs - 'and if they find any tippling in Alehouses or mispending the Sabbath in idleness or looseness in the Taverns or other public places of debauchery, they are to make them pay three shillings and fourpence, and the owner of the house ten shillings for entertaining them; and if it be the time of divine service, they may make every one of them pay also a shilling for being absent from church.' When I was growing up in Wales, our county was still one of three 'dry' counties where the pubs could not open on a Sunday. I wonder what Dean Prideaux would make of our newly appointed Minister to the Night Time Economy in Leeds, Beth Tash, whose ministry is with those who frequent the bars and night clubs of the city?! You can read all about her exciting new ministry here and, by the way, she gave a really excellent interview on Woman's Hour this morning. For more information go to

But back to wardens. I just wanted to say that I think I have much less trouble with our wardens than poor old Dean Prideaux. This afternoon I have been visiting a churchyard with someone who wanted to find a grave; the warden had given hours of her time and care to make sure the person was helped to set their mind at rest. I was also speaking recently to a DAC secretary who said that, despite all the worry over finance and red tape, he thinks our parish churches are better cared for then they have been at any point in history.

So tonight, folks, as you relax, raise your glasses to our dedicated band of church wardens (only don't let me see you doing it on Sunday!)

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