The role of the Parish Clerk, Sexton and Churchwarden

N.B. These notes concern the nature of the job carried out before about 1907. The role of the modern parish clerk is now very different - they are the clerk to the parish council and are part of the local government organisation.

Parish Clerk - "They should be at least 20 years old. Known to the parson as a man of honest conversation and sufficient for his reading, writing and competent skill in singing" Canon 91(1603).

Functions

Sexton - usually combined with the parish clerk in country parishes. They are the sacristan, the keeper of holy things relating to divine service. Responsible for the care of the church, vestments and vessels, keeping the church clean, ringing bells, opening/closing doors, digging graves and care of the churchyard. When there was a death in the parish, the sexton would toll the "passing bell" - nine times for a married man, eight for a bachelor, seven for a married woman, six for a spinster, five for a boy and four for a girl, then once for each year of a the deceased´s life.

Churchwarden - since 1672, a woman has been permitted to carry out the duties of Church Warden, Sexton, Overseer of the Poor or Rate-Collector (but the index lists a few female parish clerks as well!)

Further Reading - the following resources have been used for reference and may provide further information on the role of the different parish officers