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Simplifying the faculty system

Geoff Crawford

"One cheer and a squawk": Simon Cawdell

"One cheer and a squawk": Simon Cawdell

CHANGES to the faculty system, in the form of the Draft Care of Churches and Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction (Amendment) Measure, received first consideration by the Synod on Tuesday morning.

Introducing the debate, the Dean of the Arches and Auditor, the Rt Worshipful Charles George QC, explained that three legislative steps are being taken: the new Faculty Jurisdiction Rules (to come into effect in January 2014); the enactment of the items in the Measure now being debated; and the modification to the new Rules in 2015, in light of this new Measure.

"The basic principle is to retain what is best in the faculty system, while speeding things up, and devolving more to parishes and archdeacons, reducing the overall regulatory burden," he explained. This reflected what was being done in the secular system for listed buildings.

He then introduced the various clauses. Clause 5 would introduce a nationally applicable list of minor and routine works that could be implemented without a faculty. Clause 2 would expand the power of archdeacons to grant faculties. Clause 4 would empower consistory courts to grant faculties "permitting the erection of free-standing buildings on disused burial grounds".

Timothy Allen (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) welcomed Clause 5, which provided "useful simplification of a too onerous faculty system", which would "lighten the back-breaking bureaucratic burden on clergy and lay people", and "release energy for mission". He called for "similar clarity and tightening up of the Church of England's law governing sale by parishes of art treasures owned by churches". There was "disturbing evidence that some Chancellors are taking a more relaxed approach".

He cited the example of the decision by the Chancellor of the diocese of London to allow the PCC of St Stephen's, Walbrook, to sell a painting, allegedly to the United States. This case was subject to an appeal. He warned: "New legislation is needed quickly, since otherwise, parishes, aided and abetted by the diocese who will share the loot, will see the sale of treasures as an easy way out of financial difficulties."

The Archdeacon of Hackney, the Ven. Rachel Treweek, suggested that the Measure was linked to the debate on evangelism: "All of this stuff is about enabling parishes to better live out their mission and ministry. . . Some of our current processes can be life-sapping and time-hungry for disciples of Christ who are simply trying to respond to a mission imperative."

She had been "almost ecstatic" to read Clause 4 (which would tackle the Disused Burial Act 1884). This Act had been used as a "trump card" by people who "simply don't like what is being proposed", to prevent "something good being built on a burial ground that has not been used for many, many years".

The Revd Simon Cawdell (Hereford) told the Synod that he had responsibility for nine listed buildings, and was currently on his fourth application for a faculty this year. He wanted to give the Draft Measure three cheers, but said: "At the moment, it is one cheer and a squawk." He gave examples of what he described as "double jeopardy", where churches needed to acquire both a faculty and separate secular permission. These included works to trees.

He also spoke of churches that wanted to allow sheep to graze in the churchyard. They needed a grazing licence and a separate faculty, "and all for an income of £60 per year over three years".

He said that he would "look and hope for some clarification and improvement".

The Dean of Portsmouth, the Very Revd David Brindley, who chairs the diocesan advisory committee for the care of churches (DAC), said that church buildings were a symbol of a church's presence in the community. "Much of the work of the DAC is about making the buildings more accessible. It is a lot less about conservation than people imagine," he said.

He had been approached by an incumbent "who wanted to open a branch of Wonga in their local church", he joked. "I told her that it might affect their chance of episcopal preferment. I hope that was the right thing to say, Your Grace." (Archbishop Welby gave him the thumbs-up sign.)

The Revd Tony Redman (St Edmunsbury & Ipswich) called for diocesan chancellors to be subject to regular reviews. He said that he was subject to regular reviews as a self-supporting minister, and in his secular career as an accredited chartered building surveyor.

Diocesan chancellors were a very diverse group of people, he said. Some were young and sparky; others were middle-aged and determined to do the right thing for the parishes; and some were "old and a little eccentric", including one who halted consistory-court hearings for "snuff breaks".

The Revd Paul Benfield (Blackburn) questioned why one clause in the Draft Measure included "a power to make rules to delegate the entire jurisdiction of a chancellor to the archdeacon". He said that the explanatory memorandum accompanying the draft stated that "there are no proposals to make such rules." He said that he was "uneasy about granting a wide power until we know why the power is needed".

Paul Hancock (Liverpool), a DAC member, said that he was in favour of archdeacons' having greater powers, even though when his church had applied for a faculty the only person on the DAC to vote against it had been the archdeacon. But he emphasised that there was a "need to ensure archdeacons have time to exercise those powers".

In Liverpool, neither of the two archdeacons had parish responsibilities, and so they had time to make visits across the diocese.

The Draft Measure was referred to the revision committee.

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