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Maggie Durran: Priest keeps PCC in the dark

19 January 2011

My small, Grade I listed church has a 30-year-old church hall within its curtilage. The land upon which it stands was a personal gift from our patron. We agreed the hall would not compete with the village hall, and would be for church use for social and other events.

The obvious problems are that we have no clear financial picture, and no clarity over the impact on the village hall. Other users of the church hall, unbeknownst to the PCC, have already been given notice to quit; and the nursery wants to change to child-sized lavatories.

All of this has happened before the PCC were even advised, and pro­mised meetings have never been called. We have been told that our new incumbent will decide what will happen.

How much power does a Priest-in-Charge have to make secret decisions of such momentous change to our church life? What extra tax are we likely to have to pay if the income will be hugely different? What rights, if any, do members of a church have against the secret powers of a PCC?

Finally, I have begun to realise that our churches, even here, have all become tied up with the god of money, and community is no longer the reason a church survives.

IN THE present climate of recession, the financial challenges faced by many churches are enormous. Long-stand­ing patterns and strategies are called into question, and it is all too easy for members of the congregation, PCCs, and clergy, who have long upheld the church in a steady and responsible way, to find that old strategies are insufficient.

The breakdown of fellowship and common purpose in addressing the problems is a far greater issue than the financial pressure itself. Churches will not be able to fulfil their primary pur­pose of worshipping God and ser­ving their neighbours if there is in­ternal breakdown. The breakdown of fellow­ship should be addressed first — either with the archdeacon, during the inter­regnum, or, most import­antly, with the new incumbent. The agree­ment of the PCC with the new incumbent, who chairs it, is essential.

I am sure your church does need more money to survive. Seeing the hall as a financial asset may help the church itself, but I would consider two suggestions before making funda­mental changes that would exclude the church’s own use for community events in the hall.

It is not helpful with a potential new user (even one who promises more hours) to make structural changes such as child-size lavatories. Children use standard lavatories at home, and small lavatories exclude the elderly and unsteady. And who knows how long the tenant will stay?

Consider whether a simpler mech­anism than wholesale change — such as increasing the rental fee to all groups (your letter mentioned an extremely low £5 per hour) — would increase church income sufficiently.

Because it is legally responsible for the church finances, the PCC must be fully apprised of, and satisfied with, the financial strategy and plan­ning; the treasurer is there to execute its policies and decisions .

There are no obvious tax implica­tions if this change is made, but there are no grounds for secrets from the PCC in areas that are its legal responsibility. People on the church electoral roll elect PCC members to make de­cisions, but, as far as possible, should be consulted and kept in­formed at all stages.

Questions to maggie.durran@churchtimes.co.uk

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