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 Issues | General Synod | Report July 2008

General Synod

Terms of Service Measure (July 2008)

>>Terms of Service

The Ecclesiastical Offices (Terms of Service) Measure is due for Final Approval at the July Synod. If it approved it will go to Parliament and if approved there parts of the Measure will be in place by the end of 2008. Regulations and Codes of Practice will then be produced and the full Measure is likely to be in place in 2010 at the earliest.


If the Measure is passed then all future appointments will be under Common Tenure rather than Freehold, licence etc. Clergy who already have freehold will be able to retain it but they can, if they wish, voluntarily switch to Common Tenure.

The concept of Parson’s Freehold comes from the pre-Reformation Church. A benefice was a gift of land for life in return for services rendered. Thus for the parson the freehold of office meant receiving the benefice with its income, fees and properties which he would hold until death or leaving office. However, a benefice never passed to his heirs, but to the next office holder. The Parson in return was required to carry out various duties.

Because of abuses the Churches of the Reformation all abandoned freehold and benefice, apart from the Church of England.

Legislation has modified the original practice of Freehold over the years. For example, a clergyman now has to retire at 70 and can be removed from office in cases of pastoral breakdown.

Common Tenure

The concept of Common Tenure is largely fleshed out in the legislation being considered. This presents one of the greatest difficulties with the Measure because we largely do not know how it is going to be worked out in practice. By contrast there is plenty of history and case law to go by.

One important aspect of Common Tenure is that it does not make clergy employees nor does it make Archdeacons or Bishops line managers. However, there is a strong pressure in the legislation and this may prove so with the accompanying codes and regulations, to shift the focus of the Church of England away from the parish and towards the Diocese.


It is hard to justify freehold from the models of ministry in the New Testament. However, the Church of England retained freehold and we can see how it has played an important part in maintaining the distinctive ecclesiology of the Church.

The pressure on an episcopal Church is to centralise power in the Bishop. This is self-evident in the Roman Church where power has been sucked to Rome but we can also see it today in the US Episcopal Church and in other smaller episcopal churches.

Clergy freehold has been part of the mechanism in the Church of England to resist that centralising tendency.

Freehold has also protected clergy from some of the vagaries of congregationalism where the local Church can hound out a minister who preaches a message they do not like. But the other side of this is that a faithful congregation can be stuck with a lazy or incompetent minister who does more harm than good.

Underlying all this is the fact of human failure - the doctrine of sin. We have laws largely because of sin and this is no less true of ecclesiastical law. But the law must seek to protect all the parties, clergy, laity and bishops, from the failings of the others. Sometimes people argue that we must trust the bishops, but that is a foolish argument since we might as well say we should trust the clergy and not bother with these laws at all.

Benefits of the new legislation

  • It is aimed to provide a framework for enabling clergy to be better in ministry.
  • Clergy will be given clearer terms of service in the hope that this reduces stress caused by uncertainty or overwork and as a safeguard against unrealistic expectations.
  • Ministerial development if done well should help identify areas in which clergy need help or training and help them to find it.
  • It will provide less cumbersome procedures for time-limited appointments in order to cope with the obvious need for pastoral reorganisations.
  • At the same time benefices will not be suspended as often so that Patrons will have far more involvement in appointments of right.
  • Capability procedures will provide a mechanism by which unfounded accusations can be dealt with, thus helping clergy.
  • The procedures are also intended to identify problem areas and seek to find a way through these.
  • Where clergy are clearly not up to the job they are doing, and thus bringing the cause of Christ into disrepute, the procedures do allow for their removal from office, which is very difficult under present legislation.

Fears and problems

  • The greatest fear is not knowing how it will work in practice.
  • There is also concern that having introduced the legislation it will be much easier for the General Synod to bring about future, detrimental, changes.
  • Many groups and individuals in the Church feel marginalised for different reasons. They are fearful that this legislation will be used against them in order to get rid of them where existing legislation protects them.
  • The proposals will not alleviate the underlying problems created by reducing numbers of clergy and fragmentation in the Church as people twist and turn away from the historic faith. It is going to be easier for clergy to be asked to minister in situations which are far too demanding.
  • The provision for time-limited appointments and conditions regarding appointments may be used against clergy and parishes who do not fit with Diocesan policy.
  • All this leads people to think that clergy will be reluctant to step out of line or speak against their Bishop etc.


With the removal of parsonages from the Measure (in February 2008) there has been a problem created. The Measure now gives to clergy a power of veto over changes of the parsonage house. This may seem reasonable but it will mean that in any situation where a change may be necessary the benefice will still be suspended in order to ensure that problems do not arise. Thus, although it was originally intended that people would no longer be appointed as Priest-in-Charge it looks like this practice will still continue because an Incumbent under Common Tenure will still have the power of veto. It is hard to imagine that this situation will be left as it is and it is likely that a change to the legislation will be brought in fairly soon after it is enacted.

David Phillips, General Secretary, Church Society

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