January 2015
Vestry Leadership

Wardens’ Work

This article is also available in Spanish here. Este artículo es disponible en español aquí 

During a recent visit to the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, I was invited to a church’s annual luncheon, during which everyone stood and introduced him or herself. Those who had served, or were currently serving, as wardens expressed their service in deeply dedicated terms: “honored”; “a privilege to serve”; “looking forward to the next year”; “I had fun.”

I was gratified to hear those sentiments expressed so freely, rather than the somewhat-usual grumblings. Serving as a warden should be a joyful experience, filled with spirit and dedication. Serving as a warden is a way of conveying the work of Our Lord. Serving as a warden is a form of evangelism.

Evangelism and prayer

I surveyed current and former wardens, asking them for advice they would like to share and what elements added to their dedication and accomplishments during their tenure.

Not surprisingly, all started by citing the most crucial element: prayer.

Ron commented, “Churches too often have vestry members functioning as a manager, or advocates for a particular project or committee, rather than as a spiritual leader called to focus on the mission of the church….. the big picture. Wardens are about the business of making disciples and engaging in discipleship. Wardens mentor others.”

Wardens are evangelists.

Know your congregation

It is good to know your congregation before you agree to serve. It is difficult to be effective if you don’t know the heartbeat of the parish. As a start, you might consider identifying 2-3 major issues facing the parish so you are not surprised when elected. This helps to determine what is important and what is not.

Keith advised, “Define your expectations ahead of time. Don't ask people to run and tell them ‘it won't take much of your time,’ because it will.”

Judy enjoyed her two terms as a warden. But, she offered wise advice:
“Make sure you have the time. Being a warden is rewarding but you must commit to it.”

Practical steps

Many who were surveyed offered similar practical tools, such as worshipping at your church’s different services at some point. As an affirmed 8 o’clocker, I am thankful when I see my wardens attend the early service on occasion.

Another suggestion heard frequently was the value of wardens meeting with the rector and/or all clergy on a regular basis.

Here is an idea that can bridge the ongoing ministry on all parish levels: conduct wardens’ meetings with the leadership of congregational organizations – Altar Guild, Men’s Club, ECW, choir, etc. Add to that periodic wardens’ meetings with the entire congregation, and communications becomes open and transparent.

Most stressed that communication is foundational for being a successful warden. Keith advised, “Keep no secrets (except for pastoral issues).”

Paula recommended, “An effective warden should be visible - at parish events (as many as possible), weekly church services, coffee hour, funerals of church members, etc. By being visible, one can have one's finger on the pulse of the parish and know what's going on.”

Judy noted that working with others is key. “Be willing to compromise. Sometimes this is hard if you feel you are right. But if something is voted on and it isn't your choice, you still need to put 100 percent into doing the job.”

Many reiterated Judy’s words: “Remember you can't do it all yourself.”

Lisa said, “In relation to the sense of community that I feel, I am not a warden by myself. The leadership team working together helps me to be effective in my role.”

Lisa’s experience has been with a “rector, senior warden, and vestry that were committed, intelligent, respectful, and skilled at relationship- and team-building, which made me feel like I was working with colleagues who were invested in the well-being of our church.”

Sam was wistful. “A successful warden often has to find the common ground between clergy and laity by balancing the secular with the spiritual. In my experience, many vestry members are professionals who see the church in terms of a business. The clergy, on the other hand, usually see things in a different light. A warden has to effectively communicate that balance.”

Wardens are evangelists.

Not always easy

Serving as a warden isn’t always easy and can try one’s patience. But there are steps you can take to diminish negative feelings and increase the positive effects of your service.

For example, a good way to begin is to be clear about what is important and what is not. Is there a hot topic going on at church? Does it concern the governance and operation of the church, or is it more of a personality spat? Take steps to avoid being pulled into unnecessary minutia. Mostly, don’t be used – it’s easy for wardens to find themselves involved in a situation that doesn’t really require a warden’s review. You are a warden, not Mommy/Daddy.

Additionally, if there is conflict within the congregation or with clergy – and there sometimes is – admit, name it, and work on a resolution. No one – the wardens, the clergy and especially the congregation – can gain and grow by conflict being ignored.

To that point, problem solving should not necessarily center on the clergy person “handling” the difficulty; rather, it is often the warden’s role to facilitate creating a culture where necessary change can occur.

Sam continued: “A warden has to be comfortable being a mediator and an example for others. There will always be disagreements but as a faith community we need to address our differences differently than we do in the secular world.”

Wardens are evangelists.

Leadership development

A key role for any warden is to look to the future of the church by ensuring the successful passing-of-the-baton to the next warden.

Bob pointed out that leadership development is often overlooked. “Leadership development should always be close to your own leadership,” he noted. “Preparing for the next leaders helps in an easy transition, which helps the congregation, the vestry, the organizations, and the clergy.”

Ron summarized these points for a successful wardens’ ministry: “Work together; pay attention to boundaries; be faithful; admit mistakes or short-comings; be accountable; be a bridge-builder; seek allies; value failure.”

Be joyful in your wardens’ work. Never forget that wardens are evangelists.

Try This: As a warden – or vestry member - how do you keep your fingers on the pulse of what’s happening in your congregation? And, what processes do you have in place to share information and provide opportunities for discussion regarding your church’s mission and vision, programs, challenges, budgets, etc.? Whether your congregation is large or small, periodically scheduling time for wardens to meet with the leaders of congregational organizations – Altar Guild, Men’s Club, ECW, choir, etc., in addition to wardens’ meetings with the entire congregation, and communications becomes open and transparent.

Neva Rae Fox is the Public Affairs Officer for The Episcopal Church. The recipient of many awards, Neva Rae worked in Episcopal communications in two dioceses prior to joining the church wide staff. Always a communications professional, she also operated her own communications company, The Fox Group. She is active in her own Episcopal church in the Diocese of New Jersey and is a member of many organizations and groups and has been elected to various offices in her church.


  • Sample job descriptions for officers, such as senior and junior wardens, see The Vestry Resource Guide, Episcopal Church Foundation 2007

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This article is part of the January 2015 Vestry Papers issue on Vestry Leadership