Churchwarden: The Perfect Sunday Pipe

The churchwarden is an ideal Sunday pipe.

In case you are a reader of this blog but do not know what a churchwarden is, here be satisfied: it is simply a pipe with a long stem.

That long stem is what makes it the perfect Sunday pipe.

If I'm mowing the lawn, or building a wall, or arranging books, I'm smoking a normal-sized pipe, something I can clench between my teeth and puff as I produce. It's a hands-free process that I've become quite good at. I can transfer my pipe from one side of my mouth to the other simply through well-trained labial strength and dexterity.

If most pipes work well as I puff and produce, with a churchwarden I have no choice: I must puff and ponder. No work will be done while I smoke a pipe with a twelve-inch stem.

If I smoke a churchwarden, I must meditate. I must pray. I must enjoy the garden and the book.

The pipe's structure demands it. One hand is always surrounding the bowl of the churchwarden, or it wearies the jaw. The pipe's structure encourages it. When you sit to smoke your churchwarden, as you inevitably will, your might find that your pipe-holding hand comes to rest gently on your tummy. Yes, the belly that God has given you as a sign of contentment and blessing is now supporting your pipe. Santa Claus style. How very, very restful.

You must also smoke it slowly. I'm a fast puffer, especially if I'm doing something else as I smoke a pipe. If you do get the bowl of your churchwarden too hot, you end up holding it by the stem. This doesn't feel as natural. You'll see that you want to hold the bowl, as I've described, and perhaps allow it a belly rest. You will find yourself puffing more slowly. Even clay churchwardens, which are impossible to keep cool, have a little clay nub under the bowl to allow for holding it while smoking.

There's a tale out there on the interwebs, including a note on wikipedia flagged for lacking a citation, that claims churchwardens are called that because they were long enough to be held out the window during a church service, allowing the smoker to feed his habit while tolerating the sermon and not annoying the throats of gentle ladies. Please. Besides completely failing to explain the "warden" part of "churchwarden", it's just straight up ridiculous.

I will now make my own explanation, also lacking a citation. A churchwarden is a person. He takes care of the church building in England, and he has for centuries. He might keep the accounts, he might help with an errand of mercy, but his mission is to keep the drains clear, keep anyone from stealing the candlesticks, and turn out the lights at night. That man has made a nightly round 'round the church for many many years, and in 1600 he performed his quiet walk with pipe in hand. He might even, if he was an unpunctilious man, have used his 'warden as a candle snuffer.

The churchwarden pipe has also been known as a "reading pipe" and a "tavern pipe". I like to imagine the man's perfect churchwarden evening. The sun sets. The children are in bed and the wife has one small candle lit. Even though they're in the middle of town, few lights are seen. The warden's preparations to go on his rounds consist of finding his coat, his tobacco, and his pipe. As he steps out the door, he sees the church at the end of the street, but the tavern only halfway down. Light, voices, and smoke pour out the tavern door as a man walks out. The 'warden steps down the road and into the tavern. Sitting down amongst the men, ale, and coffee, he pulls out his tavern pipe and happily smokes a convivial bowl. When he is done he packs his pipe again, lights it from the fireplace, and proceeds down the street. He walks slowly and leisurely through and around the church, glancing here and there to make sure all is in order, puffing slowly at his churchwarden. At last he turns to go home. His wife has left a candle lit at the table for him. He packs his pipe one last time, pulls a favorite volume from a small shelf, and lights his reading pipe, which will keep the smoke out of his eyes.

Man, what a vision of contentment.

If you are a pipe smoker (and why would you not be?), and you don't own a churchwarden, I hope I have convinced you that it is your sacred duty to own one. Perhaps you will make it your Sunday pipe; maybe it will simply become your thinking pipe.

Either way, what a wonderful rhythm to life. Puff. Ponder. Puff. Pray. Puff. Puff. Begin again.

"On land, at sea, at home, abroad, I smoke my pipe and worship God." - J. Sebastian Bach


  1. You have me convinced! I've been planning on spoiling myself with a new pipe in September for my birthday, and I've been looking at some bent Rhodesians, but now I think I'll start looking for a nice churchwarden as well!

    1. That makes me glad. A bent rhodesian is very cool, too...

  2. Well, now I know what my husband needs for his birthday...


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