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Interregna: problems of forward planning, and with the word itself

21 August 2015


Sir, — I was very interested to see an article on a parish’s experience of an interregnum (Comment, 7 August), as the parish in which I worship and serve on the PCC as Treasurer is in a similar position. Our self- supporting Vicar retired at the end of January 2014. I write this as a very personal view of the experience.

The churchwardens of the four churches in the benefice immediately formed a management team to keep the churches functioning. They have reported back to PCCs, and this aspect, while being challenging and time-consuming, has worked. The next tier of decision-making seems to be immensely lacking, however. It appeared that neither the diocese nor the deanery had any sort of plan or framework for the future arrangements of the C of E churches in our area, and we proceed in an ad hoc, unplanned way.

An example of this would be that, more than a year into our interregnum, the possibility of our joining with another parish just about to begin an interregnum was introduced. Some two months later, we are advised that it is too early to expect this parish to make a decision about joining with us; so we are to proceed alone!

The existing rectory had been sold some six or so years ago, as it did not meet the Green Book requirements. Nothing had been done to quickly buy another rectory, even though it was known that our incumbent’s stay was only likely to be for a shortish period. Now a new rectory is being bought outside the benefice, as not a single house in the six villages has been deemed suitable in the 20 months the parsonage committee have been looking.

At a time when most of the young people growing up in our parishes cannot afford to buy any house, a very expensive rectory with all the Green Book bells and whistles will not win their approval. At a time when my church’s Mission Outreach donations have had to be cut by half, owing to falling income, it does not win mine, either. The response from the parsonage-committee rep is that the diocese “prides itself on providing accommodation for its clergy from which they can carry out their ministerial duties whilst enjoying private family space for themselves and their families”.

I believe we are a reasonably intelligent PCC, and yet we are not consulted about any key issues. Some of us attended a local meeting on the future of rural ministry, but it did not include specific ways forward. No one discusses short-, medium-, or long-term planning. Yet we are all used to such planning, and would never have worked with such a lack of consultation in our professional lives.

To help other parishes caught up in future interregna, could not dioceses and deaneries plan for the next ten to 20 years, taking into account the number of future ordinands, the retirement of existing ordinands, the availability of clergy housing, the churches’ financial positions, areas of expected population growth, etc., so that the Church of God can go forward in an organised direction?




From Mr Jerry Marshall

Sir, — Noreen Wainwright’s reflection on a parish vacancy (Comment, 7 August) was disturbing. The use of the term “interregnum”; references to being “without a leader”; and the clear assumption that leadership is single shows how far many benefices are from collaborative leadership.

It is clear from Ephesians 4.11, 12 (and many other passages) that leadership is multiple. Furthermore, Jesus’s example shows that a crucial part for an incumbent to play is to teach, coach, and, in time, empower lay leaders to take the mission of the church forward after their departure.

The good news is that where we learn to become a family on mission, we release missional energy and resources, and reduce stress on hard-pressed priests.

CEO, The Arthur Rank Centre
Stoneleigh Park
Warwickshire CV8 2LG

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