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As a local church officer in many Christian traditions, the sexton is often responsible for the care and maintenance of the buildings included on the grounds of the local parish, the grounds themselves, and any graveyards that are located on the property. While the sexton does not often perform all the tasks necessary to maintain the property, the role does involve functioning as the caretaker for the facility, making sure that all essential tasks related to the upkeep are performed in a timely and competent manner.
The term sexton is thought to derive from the Anglo-Saxon word segerstein which comes from the Latin word sacristanus. Literally, sacristanus is used to designate an individual who is responsible for the care of objects that are considered to be sacred. Since many Christian traditions consecrate both the land and the buildings that are part of local parish property, the use of the word sexton is an accurate description.
While the role of the sexton has evolved over time, there are several basic tasks that will be part of the responsibilities, regardless of the size of the parish. These include the maintenance of any mechanical appliances on the property, such as kitchen equipment, air conditioning units, plumbing systems, and water pumps. Sextons also generally interact with suppliers and vendors on fire and safety equipment, pest control, cleaning contracts and kitchen supplies.
Overseeing the upkeep and care of the graveyard is also part of the basic duties in many older parishes. In many instances, the sexton will also be responsible for managing the parish calendar, and seeing to any special arrangements that are required for events that are held on the property. This may include setting up tables and chairs, handling lighting and sound equipment, and arranging the hanging of banners and tapestries for special services.
In larger parishes where more church officers are required to ensure the proper function of the facilities, the congregation may designate a group of sextons to serve as caretakers over all the necessary functions. Typically, the group of sextons will organize themselves so there is a senior sexton who helps to divide the responsibilities among the group, and also arrange for assistance among sextons when necessary.