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Task group aims to slim down church legislation

14 January 2015

by a staff reporter




A THOROUGH spring clean of the Church of England's "unhelpful" and "restrictive" legislation is proposed in a report by a simplification task group, published on Wednesday.

The task group, chaired by the Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent, concentrates on rules that touch on clergy appointment and parish organisation.

The group was given the task of considering "concerns raised about the constraints caused to the mission and growth of the Church of England by existing canons, legislation, regulations and procedures". It was to "bring forward options and proposals for simplification and deregulation" by November 2014.

Its work has already been seen and approved by the House of Bishops and the Archbishops' Council. The report goes before to the General Synod next month, and again in July.

It includes caveats. "We are realistic that deregulation and simplification on its own will not bring about a renewal of mission of the Church of England or the re-evangelisation of our nation," the group says. "It is not our purpose to remove important checks and balances, nor undermine rights and duties."

The group believes, none the less, that "the work of simplification can make a vital difference and contribute to the wider missionary task". It complains of  "a plethora of legislative complexity which, we believe, acts as a barrier to experiment and innovation - and thus frustrates the Church's missionary calling".

The group targets three areas:

• immediate, serious hindrances to mission, including pastoral reorganisation and diocesan/parochial management;

• weighty and worthy bureaucracy and procedure that is of its time, but is no longer fit for its purpose; and

• matters that generate redundant paperwork which could easily be simplified.

A key point is that each of the simplification group's recommendations emerged from consultations with dioceses. As many as 20 dioceses highlighted particular pieces of legislation which they found troublesome.

The group reckons that it can work fruitfully for the next quinquennium - the five-year life of the next General Synod, to be elected this autumn. Its first recommendations target legislation covering ministerial deployment and terms of service, as well as pastoral reorganisation, contained in the Clergy (Terms of Service) Measure (and Regulations) 2009 and the Mission and Pastoral Measure 2011.

It acknowledges that some of the work will be complex, given the tie-in between C of E and state legislation: "Changes to regulations can be achieved by a one-stage procedure; changes to Measures and Canons will need several stages of work." It will fall to the General Synod to agree and implement many of the changes.

For the next stage, the group envisages wider consultation to identify areas that relate to parish ministry.

In a video introduction to the simplification process, Bishop Broadbent says: "Of course, the genius of the Church of England is that it is an ordered Church: our legal framework is part of the law of the land, and has prevented us from sliding into sectarianism and irresponsibility.

"But there has been a tendency over recent years, in framing our legislation, to over-prescribe, to defend against every possible eventuality, and to create a defensive bureaucracy that is in many instances no longer fit for purpose.

"The simplification group recognises that a programme for change runs the risk of being time-consuming, intricate, and at times controversial. There will need to be a balance between the rights and duties that legislation is framed to protect and the need to make a missional difference in the life of our dioceses and parishes.

"Identify the essential: what makes for good governance, proper legality, and a clear process? Eliminate the rest."

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