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General Synod round-up: fees, parsonages, and a regrettable omission

by
30 January 2008

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From the Revd Alan J. Bell

Sir, — Given the present state and future prospects for clergy pensions, income from the occasional offices is a vital part of the income of many retired priests. In its forthcoming debate on funeral fees (News, 25 January), the Synod must distinguish between the crem cowboys, who should be put out of business by discipline exercised by the bishops, and the retired, who take services at the behest of the incumbent or rural dean, and who are worthy of their pay and should receive the full incumbent’s fee.

The present proposal does violence to the English language in suggesting that they should be treated with “generosity” while the amount that they will receive will be limited to about £50 per funeral, little more than half of the present fee. We are used to this sort of bare-faced spin from the Government, but we should not expect to find it emanating from the Church.

It will also be fun to see what bureaucracy would be set up for the collection of the fees and at what cost. If, at the best of times, parochial clergy struggle to ensure co-operation from undertakers, then there will be little hope for a remote diocesan office to which the undertaker is in no way accountable.

The system is not broken and, in so far as it needs maintenance, it is for the bishops to take matters in hand with those who steal from the Church. If this proposal is adopted, then the Church’s desparate and unseemly scrabble for cash will be at the expense of its retired servants, whose future pension income it has already recently cut. The Synod may propose generosity, but the generosity it has in mind is dishonourable.

ALAN J. BELL
St George’s Vicarage
7 Corbar Road, Stockport SK2 6EP

From Mr Paul Eddy
Sir, — Your readers should be concerned about the plans to transfer ownership of parsonage houses from incumbents to diocesan parsonage boards (News, 25 January).

Historically, most parsonages were paid for by donations from parishioners or patrons to house a priest to look after the spiritual needs of a parish. The ownership of the parsonage remained with the incumbent.

No substantial reason has yet been given for transferring parsonages to central bodies, and lay representatives on the General Synod are bracing themselves for a fight this month. I have called a separate meeting of the House of Laity to debate the issue before the main Synod debate on parsonages.

While the Ecclesiastical Offices (Terms of Service) Measure was devised in response to the Government’s concern that unbeneficed clergy should have consistent employment rights, there is no legal or principled reason why parsonages have to be tied into this. Compulsorily annexing these donated properties will create very bad relationships between dioceses (particularly bishops) and parishes.

All dioceses are asking parishes to give more financially, but to do so and then to sequestrate parsonages sends out all the wrong messages. We should not emphasise a centralised Church, but one where ministry is released and resourced at parish level. Transferring the legal ownership of all properties en bloc to (effectively) bishops will rob the laity of their right to a say in the future ministry of their parish.

I recognise that parsonages may well need to change location or be sold, but the rights of parishioners must be maintained if they are to have any confidence in the system and feel part of the mission and ministry of the Church. Anything that shifts the emphasis of ministry delivery and policy from parish to diocesan level should be met with strong opposition by the laity.

I urge all churchwardens and church treasurers to write to their bishop about this issue, and also encourage Synod members to vote this part of the Measure down.

PAUL EDDY (Synod member for Winchester)
Kavanagh House, 38 Farm Road
Nottingham NG9 5BZ

From Jan Dacombe
Sir, — I am sorry that churchyard regulations are not to be discussed at the Synod in the near future. Many of the rules are very outdated, silly, snobbish, and even cruel.

I am particularly concerned for children who suffer in silence. They are prevented from putting various items on a parent’s or sibling’s grave. If they are not, the items are removed promptly, because they make the churchyard “untidy”.

Jesus said: “Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted.” I know that the C of E is slow to change, but I hope this topic will be discussed in my lifetime.

JAN DACOMBE (Bereavement counsellor)
20a Shrewsbury Road
West Kirby, Wirral CH48 0QY

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