The Role and Responsibilities of the Churchwarden

Whether you currently are a Churchwarden or are thinking of becoming one, this section is intended to provide you with an overview of the role and responsibility of the Churchwarden in the governance and leadership of a congregation.

Churchwardens and Incumbents

The roles of Incumbent and Churchwarden in the Anglican Church were established centuries ago. Each congregation has one Incumbent and two Churchwardens. One is elected by the congregation at its annual “vestry” meeting and one is appointed by the Incumbent (the priest in charge of the parish). Together, the Incumbent and Churchwardens provide the core leadership for the local “vestry” or congregation.

The Churchwardens, by and large, look after the “temporal” affairs of the congregation – money, property and things like that. The Churchwardens always act jointly, never one without the other. The Bishop has the chief responsibility for oversight of ministry in all parishes in the Diocese. The Incumbent, as the Bishop’s representative in the parish on a day-to-day basis, looks after the liturgical, educational and pastoral concerns.

While this structure may appear to be quite clear in its roles and responsibilities, this is often not the case. There is very little if anything we do in our churches that can be separated from our mission and God’s holy work. Therefore, the Churchwardens will always work very closely with the Incumbent and vice versa, as nothing we do is totally “temporal” and everything we do here on earth is at least in part “spiritual”. If you find areas of “shared responsibility” then you are reading this correctly. Keep in mind that this is intentional. Our system of governance which relies on teamwork and collaboration will be a strength and source of support to help you in fulfilling your duties as Churchwarden.

More on Churchwardens

Detailed information on the role and responsibilities of the Churchwarden in our Diocese can be found in the “The Churchwardens Guide” and in the Diocesan Canons

(Please note the Diocesan Canons are currently being amended to conform to changes in the Provincial legislation governing charitable organizations in Ontario. A draft of the proposed changes can also be found here).

Why are the changes to the canons so important? The Incorporated Synod of the Diocese of Ontario is a legal corporation created under its own Act(s) of the Ontario Legislature dating from the mid-1800’s. The corporate form under which our congregations operate was also created through an Act of the Ontario Legislature. This means that the rules we refer to (our Canons or Canon law) are not “private rules” or bylaws of a private corporation; they are provincial statute. We do not operate as “ordinary corporations” either at the Diocesan or at the Vestry level. Some of you may have backgrounds in business or law, or have held responsible positions in other organizations. Much of what you have learned elsewhere will translate into our governance structure and rules. However, there will be twists along the way. We urge you to become familiar with our Canons, policies, and guidelines, as there are some significant differences in how we must work together both legally and according to our Anglican traditions.

We would like to thank the Diocese of Toronto for their cooperation and kindness in sharing much of the material contained herein.