Each Sunday at all our services, men and indeed women are appointed to be sidesmen or should we say sidespersons. Duties involve handing out our service and hymn books, doing a collection and taking up the sacraments for the priests to prepare for the communion, then to count and record the money in cash and from the stewardship envelopes. 

Continuing my look back at the Parish Audit, I did lots of research for the sides people who probably in the mid 1980’s were all men. As I wrote at that time, for anyone who is not familiar with church life, a sidesman is normally the first person you meet when you arrive at church.

He or she is seen at the back of the church (or at that time at St Cedd’s at the side) who greets you with a Good Morning or Evening when you enter for the service and they extend you a welcome. They have been present in church now for sixty years at that time when the audit was done (so it must be close to 90 years now). As I said then, the role fitted into three distinct periods … before, during and after the service. It is normally two people on duty who are appointed by a rota drawn up. The ideal thing is to arrive 30 minutes before the service, often at St Cedd’s the chairs needed to be set up. The lights and the heating normally needed to be put on there too, and the hymn and service books needed to be readied and now (except for 8am) the collection is made during the service with the offertory bags. By now the first of the congregation will start to arrive and they are issued with all the necessary books and papers.

In some of the early days, a hymn board had to be put up or an overhead projector screen put in place, but information is generally now on the pewslip. For many years members of the congregation were nominated to take up the sacraments for the clergy to prepare, but this is now done by the sidepersons, prior to them doing the collection. At St Cedd’s they need to open doors for the clergy to process through and then lock the vestry door. Also they need to do a full count of their expected communicants so that they can inform the clergy when taking up the collection bags to be blessed.

If a stranger to the church is seen, they should do their best to help and guide them through the service or get someone to do this. At St Cedd’s and probably All Saints there were toy bags available for parents arriving with very young children. In some instances they may feel the need to stand on the end of rows of pews to control the people when they go up to take their communion.

After the service they have many other jobs to do. At St Cedd’s they retreat to open the doors for the clergy to leave, they collect in and pack away the hymn and service books then have to count up the offertory money and record it on the cash sheet and either get it to the church treasurer or lock away in the safe.