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Prayers may be powerful, but they can't clean floors. That's why churches employ sextons to manage day-to-day maintenance tasks. Sextons have worked in churches for many centuries - for example, the gravedigger in "Hamlet" describes himself as a sexton, although the tasks of a modern sexton may vary significantly from those performed by their predecessors. Today, a sexton is much more likely to spend his days cleaning and dusting than digging graves.
Typical Indoor Sexton Duties
During the week, a sexton does a lot of the same tasks that a janitor or groundskeeper does. He might vacuum carpets, sweep floors, empty trash and recycling bins, clean office and kitchen areas, clean bathrooms, manage supplies and generally keep all public areas neat. The sexton will also make minor repairs, doing things like changing light bulbs and touching up paint, and/or supervise larger repair projects.
The church sexton has special duties before and after services. He may set up folding chairs and tables, place flower arrangements, light candles, make sure that musicians and other service participants have everything they need, and so on. Essentially, this person does whatever the church administrator or church leader needs done.
Typical Outdoor Sexton Duties
Historically, the sexton job description included digging graves and maintaining the church graveyard. But it's far less common now than it once was for churches to have their own graveyards, and graves are now commonly dug using heavy equipment operated by professionals. Today a sexton who works at a church with its own graveyard may consult with families about burial location and prepare the graves, but is unlikely for this person to actually do any of the burial work.
Today the typical outdoor sexton duties include things like watering plants, weeding flowerbeds, trimming hedges, mowing grass, shoveling snow, spreading salt or sand on icy surfaces, raking leaves and hanging wreaths. These tasks aren't always the responsibility of the sexton, however. Some churches pay landscaping companies or other workers to manage their grounds.
Other Tasks Sextons Perform
Weddings, funerals and holiday services typically bring extra work for a church sexton. He may be asked to meet vendors making deliveries of decorations or supplies, ring bells, help put up and take down decorations and do extra deep cleaning tasks, such as like polishing floors or shampooing carpets, in preparation. The sexton is also the person in charge of unlocking and locking entrances to the church and other related spaces, so he may be required to be onsite before everyone else arrives and after everyone else leaves.
What to Expect as a Sexton
Because churches have limited budgets, the sexton position is often a part-time one – but a sexton may be on call 24 hours a day in case an emergency maintenance issue arises. While some churches may offer room and board as part of a sexton's compensation, these workers aren't usually required to live on church property. A sexton doesn't necessarily have to be a devout follower of the faith practiced in the church (although the church leaders may prefer a candidate who is) but he does have to be respectful of church traditions and congregants.
The average hourly pay for religious workers employed at religious organizations was $17.10, as of May 2017. The average annual salary was $35,560. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics data includes religious workers other than sextons. Sextons self-report earning pay around the $10- to $20- per hour range, with a typical hourly wage of between $13 and $15.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment Statistics: Religious Workers, All Other
- Unitarian Universalist Church of Delaware County: Job Description Church Sexton
- Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark: The Sexton
- United Methodist Church of the Good Shepherd: Job Description Church Sexton
- PayScale: Average Sexton Hourly Pay
- Sparknotes: Hamlet Act 5 Scene 1
- atosan/iStock/Getty Images