Churchwardens and Worship

Overall, as officers of the bishop and key lay representatives, the role of churchwardens with regard to worship is one of ensuring that the church, in any particular place, fulfils its calling appropriately.

The particular responsibilities will depend upon the set-up in each parish and the duties undertaken by others.

A: Canon Law

Worship in the Church of England is bounded by the provisions of Canon Law. This is part of what it means to be the established church.

Canon Law reflects the situation when it was written but has been changed down the years as practice has changed. Canon Law does not specify everything and new resources such as Common Worship present a legally authorised framework within which a lot of choice is allowed (and encouraged) in the light of local needs.

Churchwardens have a responsibility to uphold the canons of the Church of England with regard to worship. Broadly, this means only using the authorised forms of service and ensuring that those who conduct worship and preach have the proper authority to do so.

Where the Canons talk about Morning and Evening Prayer one should understand this to include other non-eucharistic acts of worship such as a Service of the Word or All Age Worship.

B: Decision Making

Churchwardens have a key role in ensuring that the PCC agenda is not simply limited to material and financial things but includes matters concerning the spiritual work, worship and witness of the Christian community.

Canon B3 states that decisions as to which of the authorised services are to be used (other than the occasional offices) shall be taken jointly by the incumbent and the PCC. In the case of occasional offices (other than Confirmation and Ordination), the decision is to be made by the minister conducting the service, subject to the right of any person concerned to object beforehand to the form of service proposed.

The pattern and forms of worship are a legitimate matter for the PCC.

C: Organisation and Presentation

Churchwardens have a role in ensuring that the organisation and presentation of worship is ordered and seemly.

The following are some pointers to the role of the Churchwarden with regard to the daily/weekly worship of the church. Each church is different and organises things in different ways so you will have to adapt what is here to your circumstances.

  1. Consider what your present role with regard to worship is.
    What do you specifically look after or take responsibility for?
  2. Do you know what the responsibilities of others are? eg. Who organises the readers and intercessors or how the altar is prepared? It is important to be aware of what others should be doing and what you might need to do if they cannot.
  3. What does the “front of house” look and feel like? Can you imagine yourself as a stranger entering your church; what would your impression be?
  4. What information do you need to convey to Priest or Reader? Be aware of the space they need in preparation for a service.
  5. Be an entrepreneur and an encourager. Look for opportunities for others to exercise a ministry - as a lesson reader, a sides-person, taking up the offertory etc. Approach people themselves and those responsible for organising that task. Say ‘thank you’ and give positive feedback to those who contribute: the obvious and the hidden. Worship is the offering of the whole people of God.

D: Leaders of Worship

Those who are asked to lead worship on behalf of others are undertaking an important responsibility.

Clergy and Readers are licensed by the Bishop to lead worship. Churchwardens may also lead worship. Many churches now have groups of worship leaders who prepare and lead non-eucharistic worship.

Canon B11.1 says…

“….Readers, such other lay persons as may be authorised by the bishop of the diocese, or some other suitable lay person, may at the invitation of the minister of the parish or, where the cure is vacant or the minister is incapacitated, at the invitation of the churchwardens say or sing Morning and Evening Prayer (save for the Absolution).”

When a decision is made as to who should lead worship, and how, the following should be considered:

Consultation with the PCC and others as appropriate

  • Provision for training
  • Clear accountability
  • Provision for feedback and review
  • Time limits and boundaries

Also practical issues:

  • Standing in the community
  • Audibility and presence
  • Awareness of the pastoral and mission context

E: Resources and Coping in a Crisis

It may happen that you are suddenly left with the responsibility of ‘presenting’ a service. This can happen even in well-staffed parishes and may be much more common during a vacancy (interregnum). What can you do?

  • Think carefully what expectations people may well be bringing to the service. Which ones can you meet and which ones honestly not?
  • With the notice you have can you get anyone else to help? The contact for the   Diocesan Registry is in the Diocesan Directory.
  • Assuming that the lot falls upon you as churchwarden you can use the following to   lead an act of worship.

Book of Common Prayer

The BCP communion service actually envisages that it will often be used without communion. After the Prayer for the Church you use one or more of the collects which are printed at the end of the service.

These days it is probably acceptable to use the confession and comfortable words. Instead of an absolution the collect for Trinity 21 should be used.

Order Two in Common Worship is the BCP communion service as commonly used and is very clear.

If you need to cover BCP Morning or Evening Prayer it is fairly straightforward. The 1928 version is useful because it gives alternatives and also what a Reader can say as e.g. an absolution - you can use the same.

Look through the collects for ideas for intercessions. Also parts of the Litany (with or without the congregation).

Common Worship

If you have to cover what a communion service according to Order One in Common Worship, the same service can be used as a ‘service of the word’. This means changing little from what would normally happen. You can end the service with the Peace and the Dismissal. But be aware that the Lord’s Prayer would then be in the section omitted, so it needs to be included somewhere else. eg. at the end of the intercessions

CW page 281 and following, has some useful alternative intercessions and endings. Seasonal material begins on page 300 and includes invitations to confession, introductions to the peace and blessings for different seasons of the year. All of these can be used in a service where there is no communion.

Do not forget to cut what needs to be cut (eg. hymns) and tell those who need to know.

What you can use will depend upon what your church has decided to provide for CW services: booklets, full texts, own offprints.

Using the set form of service will ensure that there is a balance; Praise, Penitence, Thanksgiving, Intercession, Offering: these are the important elements.

All Common Worship services are built around the outline of:

  • Gathering/ Preparation;
  • The Liturgy of the Word;
  • Prayers
  • (Another element eg. The Liturgy of the Sacrament),
  • Conclusion/Dismissal.

If you are called upon to plan a service and want to do something different the outline Service of the Word on CW page 21f and all the notes are a helpful guide.

Also helpful are CW p46ff; Thanksgivings and p101ff Prayers for Various Occasions.

The ASB ceased to be legal after the end of 2000 (except in parishes where the Bishop’s permission has been granted) but there is no reason not to continue using it as a resource for prayers etc.

Other service books

Your church may have other books, perhaps in the vicar’s stall. Have a look at them; they may be a useful resource in time of emergency.

  • New Patterns for Worship (CHP)
  • Times and Seasons
  • Enriching the Christian Year,

are all good resources.

There are also good books of intercessions eg. those by Susan Sayers. What seems good and useful to you will depend upon the style and ethos of your church.

Leading and Preparation

How you think about worship, what is happening and who is doing what on ordinary Sundays will be your best preparation for when things go wrong.

Remember that, if you are called upon to lead worship, people will generally be on your side and supportive. Also remember that worship is directed to God not people and He will make up anything it lacks!

  1. Verbal presentation is key: Take authority! Be firm about the pace: speak clearly and at a normal pace. Give clear and precise instructions. Try to think ahead. Ask yourself – “are we ready for the next bit, in the right place and adopting the right posture?”
  2. What about a sermon? Of course no one would expect it but ...... It is not impossible to present something for people to think about. Think of the theme of the readings - you might have a favourite poem or portion of a book that picks that up.
  3. You could say something of yourself - share your faith. Be brief. Think about one of the readings – “what strikes me when I hear this read?” Be open about your questions and conclusions. You can use this for the basis of a ‘thought for the day’ or a reflection.
  4. If you are not going to say anything why not simply say at the beginning of the gospel: “after this reading we shall sit in silence and each reflect upon this portion of scripture”. Silence can be quite novel in church!
  5. What about communion? You can administer communion from the reserved sacrament or from bread and wine that has been pre-consecrated elsewhere.
  6. Preparing beforehand. In consultation with you incumbent prepare a file with the order(s) of service you might use in an emergency. Include instructions and ad libs such as welcomes and explanation. Make your copy in large enough print for you to read when leading.
Page last updated: Wednesday 17th May 2023 11:24 AM
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