Coronavirus – election of PCC and churchwardens

Annual Church Meetings (ACMs) for the election of churchwardens and Annual Parochial Church Council Meetings (APCM) for the election of the PCC must take place between 1 January and 31 May. The present restrictions arising from the coronavirus pandemic have precluded any such elections which have not yet taken place. This post describes the legislative measure that has been introduced by the Diocese of Oxford.

In our post Coronavirus: contingency planning and legislation we noted that there is extant legislation empowering the bishop to extend the time for holding meetings: Section 10, Churchwardens Measure 2001, and Church Representation Rule 78(5). On 20 March, the Oxford Diocesan Secretary wrote to PCC and DCC secretaries concerning APCMs, including the signed instrument allowing changes to the current Church Representation Rules.

Advice to PCC and DCC secretaries in Oxford Diocese

The letter from the Oxford Diocesan Secretary is available here. This said, inter alia, [emphasis in original]

“Bishop Steven at the end of yesterday signed a legal instrument to allow Oxford Diocese to extend the deadline for parishes to hold their annual meetings up to the end of October 2020. This means that current office holders will be able to remain in office longer than they would otherwise do so.

There is not currently provision for these APCMs to be held virtually and it would be inconsistent with Government advice for any parish to be holding these APCMs for the foreseeable future. Therefore, those APCMs currently scheduled should be postponed.

I would suggest either not setting a revised date yet or setting a date in September or October.

[…]

Conduct of PCC meetings

Archdeacons have already indicated the need to maintain some normality during what could be a lengthy period, and this has my full support. We are encouraging PCC standing committees to meet, where possible, using remote meeting technology and digital collaboration tools to ensure governance continues (and/or to use rule M29 to conduct business by correspondence if needed).

As confidence grows using the technology, PCCs can hold discussions by remote meeting technology and then transact their business using the “correspondence” provision under the Rule. In accordance with Rule M29 of the Church Representation Rules 2020 the chair of the PCC can decide to conduct any PCC business by correspondence and accordingly ask the PCC Secretary to send proposals requiring PCC members’ approval by post or by e-mail. The chair must specify a reasonable time period within which objections to the proposals should be submitted, otherwise the proposals are treated as being approved at the specified date.”

[…]
 
Please also remember that this advice extends to the appointment of Churchwardens and you should contact your area archdeacon’s office for any further advice if in doubt.

Instrument of Statute

The signed Bishop’s Instrument – Annual Meetings 2020 allows changes to the current Church Representation Rules to cover this extended period. This covers the Meeting of parishioners to choose churchwardens, APCMs and the election of representatives of the laity to Deanery Synod. It extends the current term of existing appointees to the various roles. The accompanying Explanatory Note, which does not form part of the instrument, is reproduced below.


EXPLANATORY NOTE
(This note does not form part of the instrument)

This instrument has been made by the bishop of the diocese in the light of the national situation relating to Coronavirus (COVID-19). The instrument is made under the bishop’s powers contained in the Churchwardens Measure 2001 and the Church Representation Rules.

For 2020, the time for holding a meeting of parishioners to choose churchwardens is extended until 31 October (instead of 31 May). Similarly, the period for holding an annual meeting of parishioners (APCM) is extended to 31 October.

Churchwardens who were chosen in 2019 continue to hold office until 31 January 2021 unless their successors are admitted to office before that. If a churchwarden is serving the sixth successive period of office, that sixth successive period is extended so that disqualification under section 3 of the Churchwardens Measure 2001 (disqualification after six periods of office) arises only at the end of that extended period.

The term of office of current representatives of the laity on deanery synods is extended until 30 November. As a result, it will be the current members of the houses of laity of deanery synods who will comprise the electorate for the House of Laity of the General Synod in elections to the General Synod this year.

The term of office of representatives of the laity on parochial church councils is also extended. A representative of the laity whose term of office was due to expire this year will expire but where the APCM is deferred under the provisions of this instrument, the representative’s term of office will expire only at the end of the deferred APCM.

If, before the instrument is made by the bishop, a parish has already held its annual meeting of parishioners and APCM for 2020, the effect of the instrument is as follows:

  • the churchwardens chosen in 2019 remain in office, and the churchwardens chosen in 2020 will take up office when they are admitted to office (which could be as late as 31 January 2021);
  • the previously elected representatives of the laity on the deanery synod (i.e. those elected in 2017 or to fill casual vacancies since the 2017 elections) continue in office until 30 November 2020 (rather than 30 June, as would otherwise have been the case) and the newly elected representatives of the laity on the deanery synod (i.e. those elected in 2020) will not take up office until 1 December 2020 (rather than 1 July);
  • newly elected representatives of the laity on the PCC will already have taken up office immediately at the conclusion of the 2020 APCM.

Secretaries of deanery synods must, as already required by the Church Representation Rules, give the diocesan electoral registration officer the information specified in rule 20(1)(a) and (b) (i.e. name and addresses of members of the house of clergy and house of laity etc. of deanery synod) by 1 July 2020. That will, as a result of the extension of their terms of office, involve the secretary of the deanery synod giving the diocesan electoral registration officer the names of the existing members of the house of laity (i.e. those elected in 2017 or subsequently to fill casual vacancies).


Comment

The different provisions relating to churchwardens, Deanery Synod representatives and PCC members for parishes which have already held their annual meetings for 2020, relate to the different procedures for the appointment to these positions. With regard to churchwardens, the person chosen by the parish meeting has to be admitted to office, at a time and place set annually by the Bishop. The person chosen appears before the Bishop or his representative, usually the Archdeacon at the Archdeacon’s Visitation, and declares that they will faithfully and diligently perform the duties of the office and that they are not disqualified from holding the office

It should be noted that the above legislative instrument and advice is specific to the Diocese of Oxford. However, we understand that the text of the instrument was distributed by Church House to all Registrars in template form. Further, the Church of England has added this to the FAQs on its website:

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Coronavirus – election of PCC and churchwardens" in Law & Religion UK, 21 March 2020, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2020/03/21/coronavirus-election-of-pcc-and-churchwardens/

13 thoughts on “Coronavirus – election of PCC and churchwardens

  1. The proposal to use M29 (correspondence) which is common across dioceses is not helpful, as it avoids us grasping the nettle. Conducting business “by correspondence” is itself defined as “send(ing) out proposals requiring the approval of members”. That is a way of gaining approval for one or more specific proposals and amounts to a postal vote on such specific proposals.

    That is not a meeting by correspondence, but the “conduct of business” by a vote – correspondence on specific proposals.

    The real question is what is meant by a “meeting of the PCC”? A meeting is generally defined as a coming together or a gathering of people. I do not think the etymology takes you much further than that.

    Traditionally, of course, it has only been possible to come together by doing so in the same physical location. But that traditional understanding must surely be renewed “afresh in each generation” according to all the circumstances. Those circumstances today must include (1) the CORVID-19 lockdown and (2) the available technology.

    Over recent years people have become accustomed to using information technology and electronic mechanisms to do things that they would traditionally have done very differently. That has included the courts.

    In today’s letters to The Times, HHJ Richard Scarratt reports that “that for the first time, sitting at home in my study, I completed a full list of family cases today thanks to modern technology and the good sense of the parties concerned in these anxious times. No one had to attend court and the parties, their representatives and the court staff ensured that fair hearings ensued — to the benefit of all, not least the children involved. Once a semblance of normality returns to the family justice system (as it will), we may be able to learn from how we are dispensing justice now with the use of technology and make our service to the public even more efficient.” Last week Mr Justice Hayden issued directions for how the Court of Protection will operate in the current circumstances addressing such issues as signing documents and undertaking capacity visits by video amongst many others – see: https://www.judiciary.uk/you-and-the-judiciary/going-to-court/family-law-courts/court-of-protection-guidance-covid-19/

    If even our courts are accepting that we must look at the way we do things and us purposive construction of any rules, then surely the church should not be too far behind.

    So what is meant by a meeting of the PCC? A meeting is generally defined as a coming together or a gathering of people. Looking at the etymology does not take you much further than that.

    Even before today, if you had a PCC meeting and the treasurer was away on business but willing to link up via Skype, there is no basis for saying that the resulting meeting or their participation in it was unlawful. The meeting still has a place, which can be advertised etc (M23-M25 of Part 9 of the Church Representation Rules 2020). As no one other than members of the council, and certain other people who have a right to attend and need to be notified, can attend, it is not as if you are giving notice to the general public were and/or how to turn up at the meeting.

    So, if one person can attend by Skype, why cannot more than one? And once you take that step, that is no reason why the whole meeting cannot be a “virtual meeting”. If you want to define a place, that I would say that it is the place where the chair is located. The minutes could record the meeting took place at the incumbent’s home or office and that the following members were present via Skype/Zoom/etc …..

    What about the requirement that members be present and voting (M27,28)? That again simply requires us to examine how someone on a screen in a Zoom conference can be said not to be present in the meeting. I cannot see how you could say they were not present.

    There is, of course, an issue if one or more members of the PCC are not on email or able to access the internet. Dare I suggest that those are places where they may only be having 2 or 3 PCCs per year anyway. But I think that the larger churches who meet monthly and have business that needs to be conducted now ought to be able to link up in this way and to hold their meetings in that way. How else would you describe what is happening but “a meeting”. Even if you call it a “video meeting” it is nonetheless a meeting.

    It might even be possible to arrange for them to use or share technology with someone else. But perhaps the essential issue for now is not how to deal with cases that could not rely on this purposive interpretation, but to declare that it is valid for those who can.

    In closing, I note that today is the Lesser Festival in memory of Thomas Cranmer who did so much to reimagine what the Church of England could be and how it should operate in his day.

    HH Canon Peter Collier QC
    Vicar General, the Province of York

    21.03.20

  2. Most video-conferencing systems also facilitate participation by ordinary telephone so even those without the internet can still join in meetings, but be sure to check that the call-in number is not a premium rate one. Wearing a different hat, I have convened board meetings purely by telephone with the “venue” being the location of the convenor who is not necessarily the chair of the meeting.

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  4. Whilst under section 10 of the Churchwardens Measure 2001 and rule 78 of the Church Representation Rules the Bishop has the power to allow meetings and elections to be held later than is normally permitted, I cannot see anything in the wording of either enactment giving the Bishop the power to extend the term of office of existing office holders.
    I find it particularly surprising that the Bishop can extend the term of office of Deanery Synod members, since Schedule 3 Para 7(1) of the Church Representation and Ministers Measure 2019 provides that “The substitution of the Old Rules by the New Rules does not affect the term of office of any person holding office under the Old Rules immediately before the commencement of the New Rules.” This means that the existing Deanery Synod members retire on 31 May 2020 (under the old Rules) and the new Deanery Synod members do not take office until 1 July 2020 (under the new Rules), and that for the month of June 2020 the only members of the House of Laity of Deanery Synods are the members of the Diocesan and General Synods and licensed Deaconesses and Lay Workers.
    Can any legally qualified readers explain how the provisions of section 10 of the Churchwardens Measure 2001 and rule 78 of the Church Representation Rules enable the Bishop to extend the term of office of Churchwardens beyond 31 August and of Deanery Synod members beyond 31 May?

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  6. Has it been decided whether the 2021 APCMs will all revert to the end of May deadline or will those who have had to delay the 2020 APCM be on a different timescale?

    • Church House, London, would perhaps be the best to advise.

      The position in the Oxford Diocese is described in the letter from the Diocesan Secretary, Mark Humphriss, here which indicates that Bishop Steven signed a legal instrument to allow Oxford Diocese to extend the deadline for parishes to hold their annual meetings up to the end of October 2020. In this, in exercise of the powers conferred by section 10 of the Churchwardens Measure 2001 and rule 78 of the Church Representation Rules, he makes certain provisions relating to the 2020 APCMs only.

      However, in setting the time to be appointed by the bishop for the admission of churchwardens to be a date not later than 31 January 2021, paragraph 4(1), there is the potential for an overlap between such an appointment and the period in which the 2021 APCMs are required to take place.

      The situation may be different in other dioceses, but unfortunately, we do not have the information. dp

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  8. Are Church Wardens elected in September to be Licensed later or are they immediately in office?
    Thank you
    Elizabeth Fielding

    • It will be dependent upon the diocese concerned. The Diocese of Ely explains:

      “Once churchwardens have been elected, they should be publicly affirmed in their office in the context of local public worship. However, churchwardens do not formally take office until admitted to it by the bishop or his substitute – this is normally the archdeacon at his annual Visitations.

      Since the office is an annually elected one, a person must be admitted every year, even if he or she has served in the previous year.

      Churchwardens therefore remain in office until their successors are admitted, or until 31 July, whichever is the earlier. Anyone elected to the office who has not been admitted by 31 July ceases to be churchwarden, and a further election must take place.

      If a churchwarden for any reason cannot attend the Visitation to be admitted to office, he or she must make separate arrangements with the archdeacon for admission.

      • Your quote from the Diocese of Ely is taken from an out of date web-page. The date was changed from 31 July to 31 August by the Church Representation and Ministers Measure 2019.
        However the Bishop of Derby’s Instrument extending the time limits for the Annual Meetings etc. in 2020 (which I think was taken from a national template, so is probably the same in other Dioceses) altered the date to 31 January 2021 for 2020 only.
        A separate more recent Bishop’s Instrument provided for the Archdeacons to admit Churchwardens to office remotely should they wish to do so, but it remains the case that Churchwardens (whether new or re-elected) do have to be admitted to office.

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