Midway down the centre aisle of the church, you’ll find two wooden staffs on the end of the pews. Wardens’ Staves, also known as Wardens’ Wands or Prodders, harken back to the earliest days of the Church of England when the role of the Warden went beyond the keeping of the parish books and overseeing all things operational.
These liturgical items reflect a time when a sceptre or staff was carried to demonstrate a person’s importance and reinforce standing. But the staff also had practical purposes, including the Wardens’ now “near-obsolete” duty of keeping the peace and commanding good behaviour and decorum in the church and churchyard. Early duties of a Church Warden involved putting a stop to rowdiness and in some cases, fining and apprehending churchgoers who were being boisterous, riotous, or indecent. On the other extreme, the Warden’s staff was also used to lightly tap parishioners to wake them during services.
Though still used ceremonially in a few Anglican churches or carried by the Wardens during processions at Easter or Christmas, the staffs are rarely removed from their places anymore, although at All Saints’, the Wardens have been known to carry their staffs when a new Warden is elected or appointed.
Take some time in the coming weeks to explore our church for the “Wardens’ Staffs.” See if you can determine which is the Rector’s Warden and which the People’s Warden. But be warned. If you gaze too long, if your eyes droop during a longish reading, or if you get a little rowdy during the peace, you might prompt a Warden to take up his or her historic duties … and a staff.
~Bertie Weatherbottom, Notes & Queries Reporter for the 150th