Is your sexton nuts?

Every sexton in the Anglican Communion is nuts. Or if not nuts then possessing of enough quirks to cover the entire congregation. To clarify, I’m not talking about the glorified cleaning services that some churches employ. I mean the inherited-the-job-from-my-father kind of sexton; the lurking sexton who lives on church property and is omnipresent among the shadows; the one who, while born in New Jersey, speaks with a decidedly British accent.

The word “sexton” is derived from the Latin word sacristanus meaning “custodian of sacred objects.” Today it is synonymous with “church custodian.” A sexton keeps the church clean and in order for worship. In England sextons were historically charged with maintenance of the church’s graveyard. Many still dig graves or at least prepare small holes for ashes in the Memorial Garden.

I should say that my current sexton doesn’t qualify as one of the crazy ones. As long as I’m generalizing, maybe it’s a gender thing. She pre-dates the rest of the staff, has a tremendous work ethic, and is a fabulous cook. I’m lucky but I’ve also known many sextons over the years who fit beautifully into the screw-loose  mold.

If you’re thinking “Sure, my sexton is a bit unconventional and quirky but he’s not nuts” then perhaps you should take the following quiz:

Your sexton is nuts if…

1. You stumble on a box in the undercroft labeled “Burnt Out Light Bulbs.” I realize we believe in the resurrection but really?

2. He goes through twice as many bottles of gin than bottles of Lysol in a given 12-month period. And you know this because both are stacked neatly behind the boiler in the sub-basement.

3. You catch him rearranging a person’s ashes in the Memorial Garden after dark because, you know, “Mr. Simpson told me before he died that he didn’t want to spend eternity next to Mrs. Simpson.”

4. You never see the sexton anywhere except on church grounds. Ever. And he’s scared the bejesus out of you on multiple occasions  when you thought you were alone in the church.

5. He calls the church mice by name. “Oh good morning, Jerome.”

6. Parish “terrorists” gravitate toward him to talk behind the rector’s back.

7. The sexton’s knowledge of Episcopal affairs is limited to back issues of The Living Church.

8. The sexton knows every hymn by heart and sings them while polishing the organ pipes.

9. He harvests his own incense. And his clothes smell like said incense along with a mix of cigars and Murphy’s Oil.

10. While you’ve heard rumors to the effect, you’ve never actually seen him cleaning anything.

If six or more describe your sexton, don’t feel bad. They may be quirky and/or nuts but they’re part of the Anglican ethos. And if you are a sexton, thank you. We literally couldn’t do it without you. Well, I guess we could but our parish halls would look more like fraternity house basements.


6 Comments on “Is your sexton nuts?”

  1. Let me get this straight. These anecdotes have come from real sextons-I-have-known (but not your current sexton)? The first part of #4 was true for the Anglican church I attended in Ontario. The guy was British, didn’t actually live at the church, but I never saw him anywhere else in what was a pretty compact town.

  2. ruidh says:

    You forgot about the collection of vintage Ash Wednesday ashes — each year in it’s own labeled jar.

  3. Sarah Brockmann says:

    At one of my former parishes, we used to joke that, when the sexton finally cracked up completely, I’d be the hostage because he liked me best.

  4. Kurt Ellison says:

    SO true…SO SO TRUE

  5. James says:

    I have served as a sexton for seven years. Although I do not resemble your remarks, I did enjoy reading them.

  6. Chuck Adams says:

    I was a Chief Sexton for many years at a large church on the North Shore of Chicago. I did crack up. It is a tough job that no one appreciates.I was always at the church because there was always something going on day and night. Working every weekend and holiday. Oh, and the pay sucked.


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