by the Rev. Christopher Potter, Vicar
Years ago, when I first heard the term, “warden” when referring to roles in the Episcopal Church, I had the thought that these must be the enforcers, the “rule keepers” of the Episcopal parish. The adjectives, ‘senior’ and ‘junior’ (at St. John’s and other mission congregations, we call them ‘bishop’s’ and ‘people’s’ wardens) supported this notion as having two enforcers was conceivably much better than one!
Many Episcopalians still have this – or a similar – notion of what it means to be a warden of the Episcopal Church. Perhaps a bit more evolved, some faithful people think that the wardens are the #2 and #3 people in control of the administration and management of the church. When or if parishioners ever attended a vestry/bishop’s committee meeting, this belief might be enforced as they see the “senior warden” (or the bishop’s warden) leading the meeting and keeping order in the proceedings. When I first witnessed a vestry meeting with a [very gifted] senior warden running it while the Rector sat close by mostly silent, I concluded – wrongly – that this person must be in control since she had sway over the direction and course of the meeting.
In a mission church, the titles of the wardens change. The senior warden of a parish becomes a “bishop’s warden” in a mission. Partially because the bishop is the rector-in-fact of every mission in the diocese, and also because the vicar, who chooses the bishop’s warden, submits that person’s name for consent and approval by the bishop.
Likewise, the “junior warden” in a parish gets an identity shift in a mission church and is referred to as the “people’s warden.” Personally, I find this title much clearer than “junior warden,” since seniority has nothing to do with the selection of either warden. This warden is chosen from among the membership of the Bishop’s Committee (BC)/vestry at their first meeting (usually immediately following election at the annual meeting of the church). So, being selected by peers, this person starts ministry having the full support and love of the BC/vestry.
Something very important to add here, as I failed to mention it in my notes to you last week. The bishop’s committee (vestry) is NOT a representative body! The BC does not have a constituency nor a demographic to represent. They are chosen from among the community to act as independent people who worship in, participate in, and who have the communities’ best interest at heart. It is in their deliberations and by invocation of the Holy Spirit that direction and tone of the entire church is set together. This, I believe, is holy wisdom. If it were other, a segment of the congregation could ‘hijack’ the parish and the BC/vestry by appealing to a representative who might feel an obligation to them. Doing the work of spiritual leadership in community (as a BC/vestry) lends transparency and integrity to the work that must be done in union with God and in communion with the bishop. Repeating what I said before, the canons of the church are fairly quiet about the role of the wardens. The first duty assigned to them is ‘to notify the bishop when a parish is without a rector.’ Secondly, they become the receptive vehicles through which the bishop manages the mission/parish while the post of pastor is vacant.
Since the bishop is responsible for selecting the vicar in a mission parish (as opposed to a vestry entering a discernment process), it would be unlikely that a vacancy in a mission church would be for very long.
Some roles that are traditionally handed to the wardens include but are not limited to:
– lead the BC/vestry meetings (bishop’s warden)
– sign for the parish checking and investment accounts (both or either warden)
– manage and plan the upkeep of buildings and grounds (people’s warden)
– sign off for all meeting minutes and financial statements that are sent to the bishop’s office (bishop’s warden)
– Speak before the congregation on some important matters of community life (people’s warden)
– Listen with compassion and curiosity for how the Holy Spirit is moving amongst the congregation.
I’d like to touch upon a facet of this last point. The role of the wardens is NOT as funnels for complaints. The congregation has the right and is encouraged to approach the pastor directly about church-related concerns. When churches treat the wardens as mouthpieces, it allows for what is called “triangulation.” This means that the warden(s) are involuntarily and unfairly leveraged between the congregation and the pastor. It also means that the pastor cannot do the spiritual work of healing and confessing (if necessary) with the complaining member of the parish family. Further, when the original complaint is not resolved in favor of the complaining member, it is usually the pastor AND THE WARDENS who become the derision of a portion of the community. This kind of relationship produces an untenable atmosphere of toxicity in a parish. It can be the source of discontent and rumor and leads to the destruction of the life of a church that can go on for generations! This behavior has notoriously forced the closure of many parishes in our local and national history.
At St. John’s, the wardens meet weekly with the vicar simply to pray and to communicate the news of the parish with each other. They plan some of the items on the agenda for the upcoming bishop’s committee meeting and talk about the directions and goals of the community. They lend meaningful and important support to one another in their roles as Christians and as wardens and vicar.
Wow. I thought this would be short! It does give me an opportunity to say, thank you to Paul and Jim for their faithful service! I enjoy our working and praying together.
Next week: the role of the pastor/vicar.
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In order to help St. John’s save on paper and toner, please print the bulletin at home or use your device to follow along during the service.
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From Chrissy Hennings, our Children’s Ministry Director: “A local Godly Play training is coming up in beautiful Coronado, August 27-29. If you’d like to attend and become a Godly Play teacher, please reach out to me suddenly or call 949.291.6141.
“We are also looking for door greeters on Sundays to welcome the children into Godly Play and to be a helping hand to the teacher. Please let us know if you can help out and would like more information!”
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Here’s an at-a-glance of coming events, classes, volunteer opportunities at St. John’s. To get all the contact info and deeper details, head here!
+ Saturday evening In-person worship is at 5 p.m. Join us!
+ Godly Play, Sunday School, and the Nursery are open to receive your children!
+ Dates to Save: August 21 and 23 Pacific Chorale event via the Segerstrom Center. September 11 “Lest We Forget” — a free concert at St. John’s with the St. John’s Choir and The Festival Singers. September 12 the St. John’s BBQ (now with Tri-Tip!) and Bishop’s visit. November 6 our annual fellowship event and fundraiser. Details for all the events in the News.
+ You can drop food donations for RSM Cares Food Pantry at church on Sundays. Items needed include soup, chili, beans; pasta, pasta sauce; peanut butter, jelly, and also grocery store gift cards.The next pantry distribution is this Wednesday, August 18.
+ The next Book It On Mondays! meets August 30. The book is Lynne Martin’s Home Sweet Anywhere. More info available from Christy Morinello.
+ Join the Altar Guild! Learn more, by contacting Christy Morinello.
+ Altar Flowers: remember loved ones with altar flowers! More than one donation can be submitted per week. Send your commemoration along with your name and mail it to the Church Office or drop off on Sundays while at church. Sixty dollars is the suggested flower donation.
+ Youth Group is on a brief Summer break, but usually ZOOMS on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. Watch this space for more info.
+ Women’s Hybrid Bible Study is on hiatus for August. Look for it to resume in September on Wednesday mornings, 10:15 – 11:30 a.m. at DJ Gomer’s home. Hybrid = in-person and on ZOOM.
+ Join us for coffee after the Sunday service on the lower courtyard (Learning Commons Courtyard) which is the perfect spot to hold coffee hour where tables, comfortable seating, and shade abound. We even have an elevator you can use to get there!
+ Women’s Ministry: Meet Saturday, September 18, Kathy O’Connor’s home in Pasadena (aka the Bishop’s residence) for lunch and a presentation by author Lian Dolan discussing her book, The Sweeney Sisters. Watch this space for more info.
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We’re back on campus:
Clergy and staff are back in the Church Office. Schedule a time to come to the church office and meet face-to-face. Contact Rev. Christopher or 949.888.4568, or Rev. Karen or 949.888.4595, x239.
In-Person Worship Schedule:
• Evening Prayer or Compline ZOOM services continue to be held Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8 p.m. Rev. Christopher sends the links in his Saturday email; if you’d like the links and to receive St. John’s news, let us know!
• Sunday morning worship will be held in-person at church and on ZOOM at 9 a.m.
• Saturday in-person worship in the church at 5 p.m. with live music.
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We’ll see you at St. John’s!