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Parish priest, hall, and PCC

16 February 2011

by Maggie Durran

The PCC is not bound by any private arrangement for letting the hall, and notices to quit are invalid unless from the PCC. PCC minutes are not confidential or secret — anyone on the electoral roll may see them. The PCC should check for any restrictive covenants on the hall before changing the way it is used.

Did the donor of the land give it to the vicar, or is the land in the curtilage of the church?

WITH reference to my column on 21 January, “Priest keeps PCC in the dark”, I have never before had so many responses to one column. The extracts above are taken from three of them, and I would like to revisit the topic.

Many properties and gifts to churches and other charities are ac­companied by restrictive covenants. The restrictive covenant limits the use of the gift to the purpose the donor had in mind only; the same is true of restricted funds in the church’s accounts. I have encountered halls and vicarages that will revert to the donor’s ownership and use if they cease to be used for church activity.

In most instances, using the asset to earn essential income (or even sell­­ing it) does not qualify under such covenants. So big changes should include some early research; the dio­cese as custodian trustees may hold the relevant documents or know what the church should do next.

Only once, in 20 years, have I had confidential information in a PCC meeting; it was a report that was com­mercially sensitive during the process of employing a contractor to undertake large building works. The tender process would have been at risk, probably to the church’s detri­ment. Most clergy would not raise in the PCC any issue that was pastorally sensitive, such as personal informa­tion on an individual; so all general business is normally open. Some churches have open PCC meetings, although only PCC members vote when the time comes.

When a church hall has been built, with or without restrictive coven­ants, within the curtilage of the church, then change of use will need to be agreed by both the PCC and the Board of Finance, and possibly the local authority (planning and/or listed building departments if the use is changing or if it might have an impact on the listed church).

Expect the Board of Finance to request a thorough review of the financial picture of the planned change before agreeing to the change of use. Sometimes churches have swapped frying pan for fire in poorly planned changes of use.

Notices to quit the church hall, given to current users, can validly be given by, or authorised by, the PCC alone; the incumbent can write letters and so on to execute the de­cisions of the PCC, as its chair­person.

On some occasions, at least, the incumbent may be trying des­perately to deal with financial crises and dio­cesan pressure, and may be unable to get clarity and agreement from the PCC; so I would not want this dis­cussion to appear one-sided. Hence my concern that dealing with the particular can of worms opened by my previous correspondent finds the support of the archdeacon, or some­one else, who could help a series of interested parties around the future of the church hall, and find a com­mon mind on the way forward, for both hall and church.

Send your questions to maggie.durran@churchtimes.co.uk

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