Consultation – Parish Vacancies

On 1 November 2018, the Church of England announced that the Archbishops’ Council is considering making some changes to the Patronage (Benefices) Measure 1986, intended to reduce the burden on parishes. Full details of the plans and how to respond can be found in the consultation document, which is summarized below.

In line with the  S(4) Legislative Reform Measure 2018, the document has also been laid before Parliament.


Consultation

The Legislative Reform Committee of the Archbishops’ Council is undertaking the consultation under section 4 of the Legislative Reform Measure 2018, on proposals for a Legislative Reform Order to remove or reduce burdens of a procedural nature that arise from the Patronage (Benefices) Measure 1986.

The 13-page document first reviews ‘Legislative Reform Orders’ and the process of making Orders under the Legislative Reform Measure 2018 with a view to removing or reducing burdens that result from ecclesiastical legislation [1 to 7]; ]there Orders are facilitated by the Legislative Reform Committee [8].

Removal of burdens resulting from the Patronage (Benefices) Measure 1986

The Legislative Reform Committee is undertaking the consultation on proposals for a Legislative Reform Order to remove or reduce burdens of a procedural nature that arise from the Patronage (Benefices) Measure 1986. There are no proposals to change the substantive rights of patrons, parochial church councils or bishops. After describing the rights of patronage [9 to 13], the document outlines the statutory procedure for filling a vacant benefice [14], reproduced below, and comments:

“[15]. The procedure is prone to delay, is quite complex, involves various notices being sent between parties and requires various different deadlines to be met. It imposes particularly onerous obligations on the secretary of the PCC. Failure to comply with the procedural requirements can result in a patron losing the right to present a priest to fill the vacancy or the parish representatives losing their right of veto.”

There follow six proposal with the objective of reducing the associated burdens. These are quite detailed and those with interests in tis area should refer to the relevant paragraphs:

  • Undue delay in commencing the process for filling a vacancy, proposal 1, [16] to [27]
  • PCC duties in relation to filling a vacancy, proposal 2, [28] to [43];
  • Effect on lapse of the right of presentation, proposal 3, [44] to [48];
  • Patronage exercised jointly, proposal 4, [49] to [54], and proposal 5 [55, 56]; and
  • Use of electronic communication, proposal 6, [57] to [59].

The document draws attention to another issue relating to multi-parish benefices, viz. the existing provisions of the Measure that are intended to provide an efficient way of working are not adequately known or understood [60] to [67]. Although no changes are proposed, responses on whether there are further improvements that could be made with a view to reducing burdens, would be welcomed.

It is envisaged that updated guidance will be issued on matters of best practice in relation to the filling of vacancies in benefices, and the appointment of priests in charge. In addition to explaining the way the legislation is intended to work and how to make it work to greatest advantage, the guidance would also contain material on matters that are not covered by legislation such as the preparation and agreement of role descriptions and person specifications, and other material that is likely to assist in making appointments, including how any disagreements are resolved [68].

The Legislative Reform Committee has produced a list of those who should be consulted under section 4(1) of the Legislative Reform Measure [69].  In addition the Committee would welcome responses from others with an interest in the operation of the Patronage (Benefices) Measure 1986. Responses must be submitted by 24 January 2019 and should be sent by email to jenny.jacobs@churchofengland.org or by post to Jenny Jacobs, Central Secretariat, Church House, Great Smith Street, London SW1P 4JZ.


Statutory procedure for filling a vacant benefice

(a) The bishop gives notice that a benefice is shortly to become vacant, or has become vacant, to the designated officer of the diocese.
(b) The designated officer sends notice of the vacancy to the patron and the secretary of the PCC(s).
(c) The patron makes a declaration of membership of the Church of England or appoints a representative to act for him or her who can make the declaration.
(d) The patron sends the declaration of membership or the name and address of his or her representative to the designated officer.
(e) The PCC has four weeks from the notice of vacancy being sent by the designated officer to hold one or more meetings (often referred to as a ‘section 11 meeting’) to–
i. prepare a statement describing the conditions, needs and traditions of the parish
ii. appoint two parish representatives
iii. decide whether to request the patron to consider advertising the vacancy
iv. decide whether to request a joint meeting with the bishop and patron (often referred to as a ‘section 12 meeting’)
v. decide whether to request a written statement from the bishop describing the needs of the diocese and the wider interests of the church.
(f) If the PCC, bishop or patron has requested a joint meeting of the PCC, bishop and patron, a joint meeting has to be held within six weeks of the request being made. The purpose of the meeting is to enable those present to exchange views on the parish’s statement of needs and any statement from the bishop describing the needs of the diocese and the wider interests of the church.
(g) Once the joint meeting (if requested) has taken place or the six weeks allowed for it to be held have elapsed, the patron may proceed to select a priest the patron wishes to present to the bishop for institution to the benefice. The patron might keep a list of potential candidates, might search for a candidate him- or herself, or might agree to advertise the vacancy and hold interviews at which the bishop and parish are represented. The last of these is the method that is now most commonly followed. The Measure does not make provision for the process of selection.
(h) Before the patron can make an offer to any priest to present him to the benefice, the patron has to obtain the approval of the bishop (if the bishop is not the patron) and the parish representatives to the making of the offer. Therefore the bishop and the parish representatives in effect each have a veto.
(i) If the bishop and parish representatives approve the making of the offer, the patron proceeds to make the offer to the priest and if it is accepted the patron proceeds by giving formal written notice to the bishop presenting the priest for admission to the benefice.
(j) Special provisions apply to multi-parish benefices (for example, requiring joint meetings of PCCs and limiting the number of parish representatives in some cases, see paragraphs 60-67 below) and to benefices of which the Crown is patron.


Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Consultation – Parish Vacancies" in Law & Religion UK, 2 November 2018, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2018/11/02/consultation-parish-vacancies/

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