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Sexton (office)

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A sexton is an officer of a church, congregation, or synagogue charged with the maintenance of its buildings or the surrounding graveyard. In smaller places of worship, this office is often combined with that of verger.[1] In larger buildings, such as cathedrals, a team of sextons may be employed.[2]

Historically in North America and the United Kingdom the "sexton" was sometimes a minor municipal official responsible for overseeing the town graveyard. In the United Kingdom the position still exists today, related to management of the community's graveyard, and the sexton is usually employed by the town/parish or community council.[3][4]

Origin of the name

Hablot Knight Browne illustration: "The Goblin and the sexton" (published in The Pickwick Papers, 1837)
Hablot Knight Browne illustration: "The Goblin and the sexton" (published in The Pickwick Papers, 1837)

The words "sexton" and "sacristan" both derive from the Medieval Latin word sacristanus meaning "custodian of sacred objects". "Sexton" represents the popular development of the word via the Old French "Segrestein".[5]


Among the traditional duties of the sexton in small parishes was the digging of graves—the gravedigger in Hamlet refers to himself as sexton, for example.[6] In modern times, grave digging is usually done by an outside contractor. The general duties of a modern sexton may include (but are not limited to):[7]

  • Operation and maintenance of mechanical systems, such as refrigerators, boilers, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning units, hot water systems, kitchen equipment, and piping systems (i.e., gas, water, fire protection, and sewer systems).
  • Liaison with routine contract maintenance and supply companies regarding fire and safety, pest control and cleaning, etc.
  • Ordering and receiving supplies and equipment.
  • Aesthetic appearance, security, and fire protection.
  • Logistics for events on church calendar (chairs and tables, lighting, acoustics, audio and video, etc.)
  • Emergency response during bad weather, etc.
  • Other building and grounds tasks not handled by a contract service or church volunteers such as the replacement of ceiling light bulbs, returning premises to a neat and orderly state following services and events, disposal of rubbish, and running any local errands or trips that are needed by the church.
  • Maintaining the grounds, including grass cutting, hedge trimming and tree works.
  • Providing security throughout the church and following building code.
  • Report all complete with supervisors.
  • Report any mishaps with supervisors.

In many UK churches nowadays, where neither a sexton nor a verger is employed, these duties are likely to fall to the churchwardens.[8]

See also


  1. ^ "St Thomas' Church History". Archived from the original on 2011-05-15. Retrieved 2007-12-04.
  2. ^ "The Episcopal Diocese of California Employment Opportunities". 2007-11-19. Retrieved 2007-12-04.
  3. ^ "Falmouth Town Council staff list". Retrieved 2009-06-26.
  4. ^ "Ferryhill Council job description" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-10-03. Retrieved 2009-06-26.
  5. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. sexton, sacrist, sacristan, segerstein.
  6. ^ Project Gutenberg Hamlet by William Shakespeare Accessed 2007-12-04
  7. ^ "Dictionary of Occupational Titles, Fourth Edition". U.S. Department of Labor. 1991. Retrieved 2007-12-04.
  8. ^ Clements, Matthew (2018). Rotas, Rules and Rectors - How to Thrive being a Churchwarden. London: Matador. pp. 12–14. ISBN 978-1-78901-631-4.
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