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.
(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).
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: