Monday 2 January 2023

The History and Purpose of the Lichfield Cathedral Guild of Stewards

Prepared by Trevor Shakeshaft in 2003, this history does not include information after this time.

History 1955 – 1970 

It is recorded in the Chapter Acts that in December 1955 the Precentor at the time “reported that he had a list of names and addresses of men who he thought would be willing to serve as sidesmen in the Cathedral. None of them had been approached and it was resolved that the Dean write to each of them to ask whether they would be willing to serve as sidesmen in the event of the Cathedral deciding to appoint them as such. The principal duties would be to take the collection at morning and evening services on Sundays”.

Later that month, twelve men were appointed, with one as a reserve. Early in February 1956 a meeting of prospective sidesmen resolved that they would be called stewards, and later that month the stewards commenced their duties.

December 1956 saw the first use in the Chapter Acts of the term “Guild of Stewards” – and also the first resignation from the Guild.

History 1970 – the present

There is little or no reference to the Guild of Stewards after this until November 1970, when folklore relates that the then Dean, Dean Holderness, met a member of the Guild while purchasing a fish supper in a local chip shop. After this chance meeting moves began to set up the Guild in its present form. In December of that year, the Lord Bishop accepted an invitation to become Patron of the Guild of Stewards as newly constituted. The Guild was formally reconstituted in January 1971. 

When the Guild, in its present form, was inaugurated, there were just over 40 members (of whom eight are still on the membership roll in either an active or honorary capacity.) The first Head Steward was Frank Winfield. The number of members subsequently increased fairly steadily until the 1990s, when the total stabilised at around 75-85, including honorary members. At the time of writing (Spring 2003) we are actively trying to increase our numbers, as the number of active members on roll is down to 63, with 14 honorary members. It is our aim to have an active membership of around 70. 

The Guild has its own constitution and is managed by an Executive Committee comprising the Head Steward, Secretary, Treasurer, Assistant Secretary, and three non-officer members elected from the Guild. All are active members of the Guild.

The Dean and Precentor are Chairman and Vice Chairman respectively and, together with the Head Verger, are ex-officio members of the Guild. The Precentor and Head Verger attend the meetings of the Executive Committee.

Membership is open to practising Christians who have a close association with the Cathedral. Membership is presently restricted to men, thus giving the Cathedral community a large, vibrant and active men’s fellowship

The Purpose of the Guild

In its initial form, the Guild’s principal responsibility was the taking of the collection at the main services on Sundays. This – though still one of the guild's duties – forms only a small part of its area of responsibility. At their corporate services, the Precentor sums up the present function of the Guild as follows: 

The Guild of Stewards was formed to assist the Dean and Chapter in furthering the mission and ministry of Lichfield's Cathedral Church.

Members of the Guild are called especially to extend a warm and Christian welcome to those who come here to join our regular worship, share in special services or attend other events. Their duties include the preparation and allocation of seating; the distribution of service books and other information; the collection and recording of alms; and the supervision of movement within the building; that, all things being done decently and in order, those who enter this place may encounter the beauty of holiness and so be drawn closer to God.

In more specific terms, Stewards are formed into five teams of five who cover the 10.30am Sunday Eucharist services, and five teams of four who cover the 3.30pm Sunday Evensong services. These teams are augmented when special services take place. 

During the summer season, when increased numbers of people visit the Cathedral either to worship or simply to look round, an additional Steward is stationed at the West End during Sunday Evensong. After Sunday Evensong during the summer a team of two or three Stewards carries out ‘security’ duties so that the building can remain open to visitors during the evening at a time when the Vergers are enjoying a short, well-earned, break after an extremely busy day.

Saturday Evensong, which is usually well-attended, normally requires a team of two Stewards.

In addition to these weekly commitments, the Guild maintains a presence at all special services, concerts and other events where there is a need for management of seating, offertory or communion arrangements. During the Lichfield Festival, a team of Stewards is provided for each Cathedral concert. Their duties include welcoming visitors, showing them to their seats, and providing assistance in case of emergency evacuation.

Over the last few years, the Guild of Stewards has taken on an additional major responsibility by providing the necessary Health and Safety cover under the overall direction of the Cathedral’s Health and Safety Officer. Training sessions are held in emergency evacuation procedures, and a team of Stewards is asked to attend all events, either run by the Cathedral or by outside organisations, where larger numbers of the public are admitted. This safety rôle is normally incorporated with the guild's other functions of welcoming and helping visitors in any way possible.

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