The Archdeacon’s Visitation at St John’s

Last Sunday afternoon we hosted at St John’s one of the two annual Archdeacon’s Visitations – the time when churchwardens in the entire Kensington Area are sworn in and admitted to office. The service was led by our Archdeacon, Stephan Welch, who a few days earlier had announced that he would be retiring towards the end of this year.

Churchwardens hold a legal role in the church and are officers of the Bishop. They represent the congregations in discussions with the vicar and encourage the parishioners in the practice of their faith. They also have responsibility for maintaining order and decency in the church (and churchyard) especially during services. We (Gayle and Brian for our parish) are the legal owners, on behalf of the parishioners, of the church plate, ornaments, furniture and furnishings and other articles belonging to our two churches and have to ensure that these items are not disposed of without the appropriate permissions, and keep appropriate records of alterations around the sites. Churchwardens also have the power of arrest (!!) of someone who is “guilty of riotous, violent or indecent behaviour in the church or churchyard and bring them before a magistrate.” Thankfully neither Gayle nor I have had to exercise this responsibility!

In his sermon Stephan talked about the challenges facing the Church of England in the next few years or so. These included responding to the high rate of clergy retirements over the next 5 years or so with 40% of the current stipendiary leadership needing to be replaced; growing the church – the Church of England only claims the active support of 1.7% of the population; giving more attention, support and encouragement to empowering the laity; making the church relevant in the 21-st century and relating the Gospel to this age and its culture.

It was fitting, as this was Stephan’s last Visitation, that David at the end of the service, on behalf of everyone present, thanked him for his contribution as our Archdeacon over the past 14 years and Stephan “bowed out” to a round of applause. The afternoon finished with some lovely refreshments served at the back of church, sourced by Gayle, and administered by a helpful team of volunteers from St John’s and St Mary’s.

Brian Grumbridge