The law also takes cognizance of the humbler office of sexton, the duties of which are usually combined in country places with those of the parish clerk. The sexton is, of course, the sacristan, the keeper of the holy things relating to divine worship, and seems to correspond with the ostarius in the Roman Church. His duties consist in the care of the church, the vestments and vessels, in keeping the church clean, in ringing the bells, in opening and closing the doors for divine service, and to these the task of digging graves and the care of the churchyard are also added. He is appointed by the churchwardens if his duties be confined to the church, but if he is employed in the churchyard the appointment is vested in the rector. If his duties embrace the care of both church and churchyard, he should be appointed by the churchwardens and incumbent jointly.
[Footnote 91: Ecclesiastical Law, p. 1914.]
Many cases have come before the law courts relating to sextons and their election and appointment. He does not usually hold the same fixity of tenure as the parish clerk, he being a servant of the parish rather than an officer or one that has a freehold in his place; but in some cases a sexton has determined his right to hold the office for life, and gained a mandamus from the court to be restored to his position after having been removed by the churchwardens.
The law has also decided that women may be appointed sextons.
RECOLLECTIONS OF OLD CLERKS AND THEIR WAYS
Personal recollections of the manners and curious ways of old village clerks are valuable, and several writers have kindly favoured me with the descriptions of these quaint personages, who were well known to them in the days of their youth.
The clerk of a Midland village was an old man who combined with his sacred functions the secular calling of the keeper of the village inn. He was very deaf, and consequently spoke in a loud, harsh voice, and scraps of conversation which were heard in the squire’s high square box pew occasioned much amusement among the squire’s sons. The Rev. W.V. Vickers records the following incidents:
It was “Sacrament Sunday,” and part of the clerk’s duty was to prepare the Elements in the vestry, which was under the western tower. Apparently the wine was not forthcoming when wanted, and we heard the following stage-aside in broad Staffordshire: “Weir’s the bottle? Oh! ’ere it is, under the teeble (table) all the whoile.”
Another part of his duty was to sing in the choir, for which purpose he used to leave the lower deck of the three-decker and hobble with his heavy oak stick to the chancel for the canticles and hymns, and having swelled the volume of praise, hobble back again, a pause being made for his journey both to and fro. Not only did he sing in the choir but he gave out the hymns. This he did in a peculiar sing-song voice with up-and-down cadences: “Let us sing (low) to the praise (high) and glory (low) of God (high) the hundredth (low) psalm (high).” Very much the same intonation accompanied his reading of the alternate verses of the Psalms.