Profile: Jim Nurton
In this month's profile, Jim talks about what's involved in being a churchwarden.
What brought you to St John’s?
I moved to London in 1996 after finishing university. For several years, I lived in the East End – Bethnal Green, Stepney and then the Isle of Dogs. I used to go to a lovely church in Stepney called St Dunstan’s and All Saints. At the time, Revd Christopher Chessun (now the Bishop of Southwark) was the Rector of St Dunstan’s and Rt Revd John Sentamu was the Bishop of Stepney. I made lots of friends there and several of us have kept in touch.
I moved to Bellenden Road in Peckham in 2003, and started going to St John’s regularly a few years later. I can remember my first two visits to St John’s: one was to a history talk by the Peckham Society and one was a concert given by my wife’s then flute teacher. We’ve lived in Nunhead since 2012.
When did you become churchwarden?
Julie and I were elected as churchwardens in 2017. Before that, I had been deputy churchwarden for a couple of years and also did a few other things, such as being a sidesperson, helping operate the sound system on Sundays and co-leading St John’s participation in the Robes Project. I had also done two terms on the PCC.
When are you going to step down?
I’ll be stepping down on 15th
May 2022. My intention was to do the role for three years, but as we all know the past year has been very unusual so it made sense to carry on for a fourth year. However, I think now is the time to move on. Luckily, Julie plans to stand again so there will be some continuity.
What does being churchwarden involve?
Lots of things! There’s a book called Practical Church Management which summarises it as “management, maintenance and ministry”. It depends a lot on the individual, on other people, and on what’s happening at any particular time. For example, since the beginning of last year we’ve done a lot of work trying to keep the church safe and accessible during the pandemic – something no one would have predicted in 2019.
Quite a lot of the work involves ensuring the building, contents, and churchyard are kept safe and in good condition. As you can imagine, we have lots of keys! We are responsible for the terrier – not a dog but a list of all the property owned by the church. This has to be kept up to date and is normally inspected annually by the Archdeacon. We also record certain numbers about attendance – that’s why you might see us walking round the church counting the number of people.
Another important part of the role is listening to people’s concerns or suggestions and if appropriate sharing them with anyone who can help. We have a special responsibility to look out for the Vicar, so we regularly meet with Revd Gill and talk about everything that’s going on and coming up. We are also members of the Safeguarding Team.
Fortunately, we don’t do all this on your own. There are normally two churchwardens (sometimes, three) and I’m very lucky to have worked with Julie, who is indefatigable and thankfully very good at lots of things that I find tricky, such as doing Risk Assessments. We also work closely with the deputy wardens, Parish Administrator, Treasurer, Standing Committee and PCC members who all bring their own expertise and interests.
Is it true you have the power of arrest?
We do have a responsibility to ensure certain standards of behaviour in the church and churchyard, and to make sure that the church services are not disrupted. That could include making a citizen’s arrest but hopefully it would never come to that. I do remember a warden at St Dunstan’s discreetly escorting someone outside during a service once though!
I think this role reflects the long history of churchwardens: they date back to the 13th
century, so are one of the oldest elected positions in the country. And the wardens are elected at the Annual Parish Meeting, which is open not just to all those on the electoral role but to everyone in the parish – so in a sense we’re representing everyone who lives here, whether or not they come to church.
As many of you will know, the churchwardens each have a stave, which is sometimes called a wand – it doesn’t give us any Harry Potter-style powers unfortunately, but it was historically used to help keep the peace and also apparently to wake up anyone who was sleeping during the service! Christine Camplin sent me this article about wands which tells you more: https://allsaintswhitby.org/historical-notes-queries-a-word-about-wands
At St John’s we only process with the wands very occasionally, usually when a Bishop is visiting. There are two chairs in the church that have clips to attach the wands to – see if you can spot them next time you’re there.
How will the next warden be chosen?
Anyone can stand for election at the next Annual Parish Meeting, which is on 15th
May. Whoever is elected is then normally admitted to office by the Bishop or Archdeacon at a service in the Cathedral; however, since the pandemic admission has been done by the parish priest instead.
The diocese normally provides some training for new churchwardens, and there is also a lot of support available for some of the specialist tasks we may have to do, such as applying for “faculties” to do work on the building.
I would encourage anyone who is interested in finding out more to speak to Revd Gill in the first place. They can also talk to me or Julie. We’re also lucky to have lots of former wardens at St John’s, and I’m sure they would be happy to talk to you.
It’s an important role and a way that you can make a real difference to the church. It’s also a great way to get to know more people in the parish, and to learn how things work. It’s true it can be quite a big commitment – there are quite a lot of meetings in addition to coming to church on Sundays. But we’re lucky to have a lot of experienced and enthusiastic people at St John’s, so to some extent you can focus on those things that are of most interest to you and delegate other things to members of the PCC, the deputy wardens Gill and Joy, or another volunteer.
What will you be doing after stepping down?
I won’t be going anywhere, and will continue to help at St John’s in any way I can. As many people know, one of the big projects we’re working on is improving the Goose Green Centre toilet facilities. I’ve been quite involved in drawing up the plans, liaising with the architects, etc and we’ve just been granted the faculty so we can press ahead with fundraising in the new year. Hopefully we can make real progress with this in 2022.
Outside of St John’s, stepping down will hopefully give me a bit more time to spend at home with my wife Becky, who’s been very tolerant of me being a churchwarden especially as she’s an atheist!
COVID regulations permitting, we hope to be able to see more of our nieces and nephews, and maybe also get away for a few weekends. We enjoy walking and wine tasting and managed to combine both of those activities on holidays in places such as New Zealand and South Africa before the lockdown. Our next aim is to travel to South America but that may have to wait a couple of years...