On 14 January, the Church of England published the report of the Simplification Task Group ahead of a discussion at the February meeting of the General Synod. The remit of the Simplification Group was:
“To consider concerns raised about the constraints caused to the mission and growth of the Church of England by existing canons, legislation, regulations and procedures and to bring forward options and proposals for simplification and deregulation, and to report back to Archbishops’ Council and the Board of Governors of the Church Commissioners by November 2014”
“The remit of the Simplification Task Group has been to identify hindrances to mission. We asked bishops, archdeacons and dioceses – “What is it that prevents you from making changes that will enable parishes, churches and congregations to flourish and new initiatives to take shape?” The response was overwhelming, and cumulatively ran to ninety or so pages of A4. Our report lists a swathe of legislation – canons, measures and regulations – which are too complex, cumbersome to operate, and militate against change.
“Top of the poll came the regulations around Common Tenure, closely followed by the Mission and Pastoral Measure and the over-elaborate procedures for Bishop’s Mission Orders. Whether it’s provision for new mission or reorganisation of the church on the ground, the framework for change is far too complex and bureaucratic.”
A wide consultation was carried out with dioceses as part of the group’s work. Responses were received from Bishops, Archdeacons, Diocesan Secretaries, DBF Chairs, and Diocesan chairs of Houses of Clergy and Laity, with the consultation deliberately couched in wide terms, inviting views on aspects of existing legislation which might be considered an impediment to the mission of the Church.
The nineteen key recommendations of the group, below, are intended to address three levels of concern:
- Immediate major hindrances to mission, including pastoral reorganisation and diocesan/parochial management.
- Weighty and worthy bureaucracy and procedure that is of its time, but is no longer fit for purpose.
- Matters which generate redundant paperwork which could easily be simplified.
Summary of Key Recommendations
Clergy (Terms of Service) Measure 2009 and Regulations
Regulation 29 and short-term appointments
1. Amend Regulation 29 to extend the circumstances in which offices under common tenure may be held for a fixed or limited term by allowing: a] Extension (for no more than a year) of the short-term licence of a curate who has satisfactorily completed IME 4-7 but is still looking for a post of first responsibility; b] Appointment of an assistant curate as a locally supported minister provided he or she is not priest-in-charge of the benefice; c] Appointment to interim or turnaround posts for three years (renewable once only). Before designating a post as an interim appointment the Bishop must obtain the consent of the DMPC, office holder (if any) and PCC.
2. The Archbishops’ Council to issue guidance on the designation of posts as interim posts. (Paragraphs 15 to 26)
Statements of Particulars
3. Streamline Statements of Particulars (SoPS) for Self-Supporting Ministers, including by: a] Simplifying arrangements for sickness reporting and time off; b] Amending Regulation 27 so that the need to provide a medical certificate applies only to clergy in receipt of a stipend. (Paragraphs 27 to 29)
4. We do not propose changes to the capability procedure, which rightly reflects best practice in the modern world. The accompanying guidance, however, needs to be revised to emphasise that: The periods for improvement (as distinct from the expiry of warnings) do not have to be lengthy; Using the procedure should be a last resort; Full use needs to be made of other ways of helping clergy to be more effective such as MDR, [Ministerial Development Review]. (Paragraphs 30 to 34)
Mission and Pastoral Measure 2011
New form of Bishop’s Pastoral Order
5. Introduce a new class of Bishop’s Pastoral Order covering a range of “administrative” decisions which do not significantly impact on the legal rights of individuals or the status of churches (e.g. creation or alteration of archdeaconries or deaneries, dissolution of vacant archdeaconry, alteration of benefice or parish names, termination of group ministries). Remove the right of statutory interested parties to be consulted about such decisions and to make representations to the Church Commissioners. (Paragraphs 41 to 43)
Streamlined consultation on draft Schemes and other Pastoral Orders
6. Streamline consultation of statutory interested parties on substantive pastoral reorganisation, limiting this to two stages: initial consultation on the issues, followed by consultation on proposals in the form of a draft Scheme or Order. (Paragraphs 44 to 45)
Proposals implementing a deanery plan
7. A statutory presumption in favour of proposals to implement a Deanery Plan validated by the DMPC, [Diocesan Mission and Pastoral Committee], unless material considerations dictate otherwise. For such proposals consultation should be on the draft scheme only (initial consultation stage on the issues is not required). (Paragraphs 46 to 48)
Arrangements for drafting and publishing draft schemes
8. Drafting, publishing and consulting on draft schemes to be undertaken either by the Diocese or the Church Commissioners, as the Bishop desires. (Paragraph 49)
Mode of consultation
9. Provide for notices to be read out at services in affected parishes, and draft schemes publicised on the Church of England website (with links on diocesan websites), to improve consultation and engagement. (Paragraph 50 to 51)
Representations and Public Hearings
10. Simplify arrangements for dealing with representations in respect of draft Schemes and Orders by: a] Endorsing the Church Commissioners’ emerging proposal to simplify its public hearing process through a pre-hearing sift to determine cases which can be dealt with on the paperwork; b] Giving the Commissioners a power, exercisable with the Bishop’s consent, to amend a Scheme or Order, having considered representations, and to determine whether a further second-stage consultation is required; (Paragraphs 52 to 53)
Teams and Groups
- Streamline the provisions for teams and groups, including removal of enabling provisions for matters more suitably dealt with by licence, and of administrative requirements, such as holding meetings, which do not really belong in legislation.
- Conduct a wider review of the operation of teams and groups, particularly in the rural context, taking into account other emerging forms of collaborative ministry. (Paragraphs 54 to 57)
13. In respect of church buildings: a] Amend Canon B14A to enable the Bishop to direct the use of a building for occasional services of worship only to support the concept of “festival churches”; b] Support the establishment of a group to review issues regarding church buildings and, in particular, the options for change on how closed church buildings are dealt with; c] Streamlining the consultation arrangements for draft schemes providing for alternative uses for closed church buildings by removing the need for statutory public consultation on such proposals (except where there are burials within the building or any surrounding churchyard); d] Simplify the provisions dealing with membership of the Churches Conservation Trust to enable the appointment of additional trustees. (Paragraphs 58 to 64)
Bishops’ Mission Orders
14. Simplify the arrangements for Bishops’ Mission Orders by: a] Streamlining the recommended practice on initial exploration to address concerns regarding its complexity; b] Removing the requirement for an initial order to operate for no more than five years; c] Removing much of the prescriptive provision relating to the role of the Visitor; d] Providing additional guidance on matters such as charitable status and representation; e] Serving notice of BMOs on the Church Commissioners to facilitate sharing good practice and collation of statistics. (Paragraphs 65 to 74)
Compensation for loss of Office (by pastoral reorganisation)
15. Amend the existing provisions for compensation for loss of office as a result of pastoral reorganisation by: a] Replacing the existing compensation provisions calculated on future service and financial loss with compensation based on the length of past stipendiary ecclesiastical service in years; b] Providing a lump sum cash payment based on one month’s stipend for every year of service, capped at twenty one months’ stipend in total (but providing for a minimum cash payment of six months stipend regardless of length of service); c] Providing suitable housing for a period of six months; d] Compensating clergy for loss of pensionable service as part of the lump sum; e] Applying the compensation arrangements to all office holders regardless of when they took office including clergy on historic freehold. (Paragraphs 75 to 84)
Other Measures/ Areas
Endowments and Glebe Measure 1976
16. Remove the requirement to consult incumbents and PCCs on glebe transactions.(Paragraphs 85 to 86)
17. Patronage (Benefices) Measure 198
In relation to the Patronage (Benefices) Measure 1986: a] Provide for the right of presentation to lapse to the Diocesan Bishop rather than the Archbishop of the Province after nine months; b]. Examine the scope for further streamlining of processes and paperwork. Other aspects of the Measure could also be simplified and brought up to date; c] Consider whether a more fundamental review of the Measure should be undertaken. (Paragraphs 87 to 88)
National Clergy Payroll
18, The Church Commissioners to provide clarification and improved guidance on when a post is an office and thus eligible to be paid through the clergy payroll (in addition to further planned discussions with HMRC on the tax implications of HLC and provided housing where clergy are not full time office holders). (Paragraphs 89 to 90)
Availability of Guidance
19. Encourage further consideration of how best to publicise the availability of guidance on legislation and encourage greater ease of access through the Church of England website. (Paragraphs 91 to 92)
Individuals have an opportunity to comment on the paper in the online forum at: www.churchofengland.org/simplificationreport