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 Issues | General Synod | November 2005

General Synod

Clergy Terms of Service Property Issues

In February 2004 the Synod debated proposals to change the status of ‘beneficed clergy’ from Incumbent to something described as ‘Common Tenure’. The report dealing with this was passed but with about one quarter of the clergy and one fifth of the laity voting against.

One of the major problems identified is that at present the parish property belongs to the benefice and thus in a highly restricted way to the Incumbent. The report proposed that the beneficed property should be transferred to the Diocesan Board of Finance. This would be a dramatic shift in the Church of England away from the parishes and towards a centralised structure. Much of the parochial property (endowments and glebe) was transferred in the early 1970s and it is arguable that whatever benefits this brought (equalization of clergy pay in particular) it has also had a detrimental effect on parochial finances.


The primary issue is ecclesiological however, because the Church of England is a national Church, a Church of the people and therefore it is not a large corporation.


Alongside this fact lies the spectre of what is currently happening in some states in the USA where congregations who uphold orthodox, historic, Biblical teaching have been thrown out of properties which they paid to build because the Diocese is the legal owner (or this is what they claim) and refuses them permission to use the buildings. Given the speed with which the hierarchy of the Church of England is also abandoning historic Christian teaching such concerns look increasing real in this country.

In the event in February 2004 the Synod passed a resolution expressing ‘grave reservations’ about the proposals in relation to property (218 votes to 135).

Therefore, further work had to be done on the proposals and the present report is a progress report on this in order to gauge the strength of feeling.

The Committee considered and wished to pursue the option of transferring Churches and Churchyards to the Diocesan Board of Finance. However, in the end they decided that there was too much opposition and much that could be lost by doing this. They therefore propose that these properties remain vested in a corporation sole as at present (that is a corporation with a sole member – the clergyman). If legislation goes ahead to bring in Common Tenure then the person who holds this position would be the sole member of the corporation.

However, the Committee has proposed that Parsonage houses be dealt with differently. Again the proposal had been to transfer these to the Diocesan Board of Finance but they recognised that this could be misunderstood. They have therefore brought new proposals to transfer them to the Diocesan Parsonages Board. One of the chief practical implications of this is that an incumbent will lose the right of veto on proposals to change or even replace the parsonage whilst he is living in it. DPBs already carry out most of the work in relation to Parsonages, although the responsibility lies with the Incumbent and he can if he chooses carry out the work himself. However, again it needs to be remembered that historically most of the parsonages were given or paid for by the local church and even when this is not the case (such as with some Curates and Team Vicars) the funding at Diocesan level comes from local Churches, even from former local Church property and land.
There does not seem to be any good reason for this change other than the fact that it is a step along the way to achieving what was originally in view. It is true that this move would not have quite such a dramatic impact on the Church but it does represent a further shift away from the local Church to the large corporation, which so much legislation in the last 40 years has assumed.

 

Other articles on freehold:

See earlier article : Freehold and the Church of England plc

Who should own the Parsonage? Cross†Way article commentating on the November 2005 Synod's discussions on parsonage ownership.

 

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