The role of Churchwarden was considered at Diocesan Synod on Saturday following a request from the Trigg Minor and Bodmin Deanery Synod.

Three Churchwardens and a PCC Secretary from Lanlivet, Lostwithiel, Poughill, and Bodmin spoke about their individual circumstances and the challenges of the role in a discussion aimed at finding ways of supporting and promoting the work of Churchwardens, and specifically looking at whether things could be done differently.

Trigg Minor and Bodmin Deanery Synod had originally hoped for a motion that might proceed to General Synod with a request to change the rules around Churchwardens, particularly seeking to abolish the requirement for a parish to have two Churchwardens and seeking a change that would see the responsibilities of a Churchwarden shared by members of a Parochial Church Council.

Lindy Margach, who is PCC Secretary at Lanlivet, explained that as a result of not having a Churchwarden for six years, her church had become a festival church, which had had a significant effect on the congregation. Once that happened, the Churchwarden duties were shared out. Lindy said: “Our PCC is very active. We are working very successfully by sharing amongst ourselves all the duties of Churchwarden. Our motion was to abolish the need for two Churchwardens, not to abolish the Churchwarden role completely. We wanted to change the rules.

“The UK has changed. People work longer, the pension age has increased, women work. It is significant that the majority of Churchwardens are in the elder age groups.”

Lindy added: “What we have experienced as a consequence of sharing the roles of Churchwarden is the growth of teamwork. For the first time we now have a full PCC. We now have a full list of volunteers. When we do something, the community joins us.”

Brenda Gilbert from St Bartholomew’s Church in Lostwithiel told the members that in preparation for the meeting she had noted down all the things she does as Churchwarden, and it had shocked her that it filled a typed A4 sheet. Brenda had taken up the role of Churchwarden after being asked by the previous Churchwarden. “It’s not felt like a calling. I dropped into the role. I do enjoy it although sometimes you end up pulling your hair out! The PCC isn’t young and there is nobody in the congregation that is young so it’s difficult to think how the post will go on when I decide I’m not enjoying it anymore.”

Andrew Sadlier from St Petroc’s Bodmin told those present that he had not felt a calling to being a Churchwarden but viewed it as a privilege and a curse.

Tim Symonds from St Olaf, Poughill, said he was shocked to be asked to take over as Churchwarden shortly after joining the church in 2012. “I felt it was what God wanted me to do so I accepted the role and I have been doing it since then.”

All agreed that they enjoyed the satisfaction they got from carrying out the role and contributing.

Kelly Betteridge, Archdeacon of Bodmin, said: “Having good Churchwardens can be key to the flourishing of a church community. I’m grateful to those who take on this crucial role, take seriously the responsibility it brings, and who seek to work creatively with priest and people. Churchwardens often end up taking on more than is strictly required by the role; that highlights the need for every member of the church community to offer support, kindness and thanks to these senior lay leaders. We’ll be seeking to do just that at this year’s Visitations.”

It is hoped that the discussion at synod might be the first of ongoing work looking at supporting Churchwardens. Input and feedback from the groups as well as information received from other Churchwardens who are not members of Diocesan Synod will be gathered and there will be a report to the Bishop’s Diocesan Council with some suggested next steps.

Diocesan Secretary Simon Cade said: “Churchwardens are often the unsung heroes of the parish church, but we must not take their work for granted. Saturday was an opportunity to say, ‘thank you’, to hear about what might help them, and to celebrate their contribution. We expect some practical next steps to come out of the session.”

Bishop Hugh Nelson also pointed out that the diocesan General Synod reps were present and could feed back to General Synod. Bishop Hugh: “The Churchwardens who spoke shared both the joys and challenges of their role, and of their need for the prayers of their communities. Their input helped us understand their roles better and encouraged us to pray for all our Churchwardens.”