THE Draft Mission and Pastoral etc. (Amendment) Measure received its first consideration in a debate on Monday afternoon, opened by the Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent (London). The Bishop explained that the draft Measure was part of the outcome of the work of the Simplification Task Group.
“Simplification is, at one level, a slightly strange element within the Renewal and Reform process,” he said. “It is not seeking to improve the quality of our senior leaders, nor is it about the much needed flexibility in training of clergy and laity, nor is it at the heart of evangelisation and discipleship.
“But if we are, prayerfully and in dependence on the work of the Spirit, to reverse decline, to renew our Church, and to remove blockages that prevent a flexible and imaginative approach to grass-roots mission and ministry, then something needs to be done to make our legislative framework a whole lot more fit for purpose.”
The Bishop then summarised a number of the clauses in the draft Measure, including one that would allow dioceses to prepare schemes and orders for pastoral reorganisation, where they had the resources to do so rather than have this done by the Church Commissioners. The statutory consultation process would also be streamlined. The Measure would also simplify the legislation related to teams and groups, which, he said, was currently “almost unparalleled in its labyrinthine provision”.
He said that Clause 5 of the Measure, dealing with changes to the current legal provisions for compensation for clergy who suffered loss of office as a result of pastoral reorganisation, had “attracted a large amount of interest in the blogosphere and elsewhere” — much of which, he said, was based on confusion.
He recognised that this would probably be changed at the revision-committee stage, but he said that “what I do not think we can do is to do nothing, and leave in place the currently unworkable situation whereby we guarantee a priest a meal ticket for life and ossify the life of the church in a locality.”
The current provision “guarantees a lifetime stipend”, he said. “This provision has hardly ever been used. It is simply too expensive — and allows a priest to sit tight in a parish until retirement and prevent sensible pastoral reorganisation from taking place.”
The new system, contained in the draft Measure, was “based on an enhanced version of best Civil Service practice”, he said.
The Bishop of Ludlow, the Rt Revd Alistair Magowan, said that clauses attempting to simplify the rules on patronage needed to be reconsidered, as they would, in effect, prevent patronage boards’ and team vicars’ having a full say in appointments. “The more people who have good consultation with those having a voice, the better appointments in the end.”
Nigel Bacon (Lincoln) was in favour of simplification, but had concerns over clauses that would remove the need to consult before selling glebe land. Dioceses did not necessarily know about local sensitivities that parishes could feed back during a consultation. His own diocesan board of finance had learned these while trying to sell a much loved piece of green land in one parish a few years ago. “Access to local knowledge is a good safeguard against shooting ourselves in the foot,” he said.
Canon David Banting (Chelmsford) also raised concerns about patronage, noting how important patrons were in appointing team vicars, particularly if there was one Evangelical parish as part of a wider team ministry that did not share its particular concerns.
The Revd Christopher Robinson (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) said that there were “very real concerns” about section five, which would reduce compensation paid to clergy who lost their incumbency as a result of pastoral reorganisation. He believed that common tenure meant that he could stay in post as long as he liked, as long as he did not do something “very naughty”, or fail to do the job properly.
But, if this Measure went through, “I could be asked to take on an extra 17 parishes, and, if I refuse, I could be given six months’ redundancy to find another post and leave our home,” he said.
“Yes, that might be what happens in many other forms of employment. We aren’t the Civil Service: we are a Church.” These changes would move the goalposts and make clergy vulnerable, as well as put off younger ordinands from applying.
The Revd Mark Broomhead (Derby), who runs a community based on a Bishop’s Mission Order (BMO) in Chesterfield, said that, while he appreciated the thinking behind making such orders open-ended, he did not support it. BMOs were designed for short-term mission initiatives, and, as such, did not have a “seat at the table of the Church”. They could not create an electoral roll, and thus their members could not vote or run for the Synod, and were not really members of the Church of England.
“I’m very much in favour of looking for long-term solutions. But merely extending the state of temporary permission is not the answer. We need to find a second stage.”
The Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, who had her own experience of a contentious attempt to sell glebe land, said that it would be “foolish” to remove the obligation to consult incumbents and PCCs before such a sale. “That’s good communication, and we don’t gain anything by not doing that,” she said.
Clive Scowen (London) urged caution on Clause 11 of the draft Measure. At present, the right of presentation of a candidate to an unfilled benefice defaulted to the archbishop of the province if the vacancy remained unfilled after nine months. Under the draft Measure, this would transfer to the diocesan bishop rather than the provincial archbishop.
“There is a real difference between what often happens, and thinking it absolutely inevitable,” Mr Scowen said. “There can be cases where there has been real dispute about the most appropriate person to be the next incumbent. Patrons or parish reps may have a particular view that they may want the archbishop to know about before it passes back to the diocesan bishop.” He said that there was a risk that some bishops “would revisit a candidate that had already been rejected by the parish reps”.
Canon Jenny Tomlinson (Chelmsford) said that there was “a danger of moving from one extreme to another”, because the draft Measure said that, before making a pastoral order, the bishop should “consult with such persons as the bishop sees fit”. This could lead to insufficient consultation, she said, the process having to be rethought every time.
The Revd Dr Philip Plyming (Guildford), a member of the Simplification group, spoke of the “implied covenant between a person who puts themselves forward for ordination and a Church which nurtures that calling”; but he supported changes to the compensation package. The clergy “carry responsibilities to those we seek to serve”.
The current situation, he said, was bad for the laity, because it put clergy in a position of power; was bad for mission, because they made reorganisation impossible to achieve — “that cannot be good for the long-term good for God’s Church”; and was bad for the clergy, because it affected their reputation.
The Revd Paul Benfield (Blackburn) questioned the consultation that had been done with dioceses. He assumed that archdeacons and diocesan secretaries had been consulted rather than clergy in the parishes.
He welcomed the look at patronage, as the area had to be reviewed; but he warned: “There is a lot of work to be done, and it is a lot more complicated than may at first appear.”
Canon Sally Gaze (Norwich) asked the Simplification Task Group to look at how Fresh Expressions and organisations created through Bishop’s Mission Orders might have “a way of achieving charitable status while remaining within the structures of the Church of England”. The current situation had “real complications”, she said.
The Prolocutor of the Province of Canterbury, Canon Simon Butler (Southwark), began his speech by saying that he was “very grateful and privileged to be elected to this role”. He said that he would “do my best to serve the whole House of Clergy and the wider Synod”.
On the question of change, he recalled his appointment to a parish when the churchwardens approached him about the need for change. “A month in, they came to see me, and said: ‘When we said change, we didn’t mean this.’”
The draft Measure was, he said, “the first real piece of legislation to come out of Renewal and Reform”, and he wanted to “caution against the immediate reaction of putting the brake on”.
There was, he said, “an enormous deficit of trust” in the Church of England, and he urged the Synod to proceed relationally over the next five years, and not to assume that changes were because “somebody is out to get us.”
Brian Wilson (Southwark) said that he was part of a proprietary chapel, which was a kind of 19th-century version of a Bishop’s Mission Order, but they could play a full part in the life of the Church, including elections to the Synod. “I am left aghast that they [BMOs] have no representation, and I think things must be changed.”
Penny Allen (Lichfield) spoke in favour of simplifying changing patronage rules. Her diocese always took the views of parishes, laity, and staff teams into account when making appointments, but the system was slow and cumbersome. It was hard to find times when patronage boards could meet, and to find people to serve as patrons.
“For some patronage boards, there are 16 people who don’t agree with each other, and the parish view of a candidate can differ from the board. We have felt some considerable difficulties,” she said. “I fully welcome all of the Simplification group’s recommendations.”
David Ashton (West Yorkshire & the Dales) spoke of how becoming a united benefice with three other parishes had helped his parish to work more closely together and focus on mission. “I would plead for Synod to please pass this,” he said.
The Revd Michael Booker (Ely) said that, if patronage was removed from appointing team vicars, a “warmth and wisdom” in the process would be lost, or be available only second-hand. “I want to speak not for patronage rights, but from somebody making it work at local level,” he said. “This is a plea for subsidiarity. It may be the best way of working locally, and it should be retained if it suits local mission.”
Michael Stallybrass (York) said that he found unpicking the meaning of the clauses in the draft Measure very difficult, which could mean passing legislation that nobody on the Synod fully understood.
Margaret Parrett (Manchester) echoed Mr Scowen’s concern about Clause 11. “I welcome Simplification legislation, but I feel that there are instances where we have to be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater.”
Sometimes, vacancies might extend beyond nine months, not because a suitable candidate could not be found but because the bishop did not accept them. “If the vacancy lapsed to the diocesan bishop, it would have sent very strange signals to the parish who had chosen their man, but had been told he would not be given the job,” she said.
Rosemary Lyon (Blackburn) said she wanted, as a lay person, to stand up for the clergy against Clause 5. The new proposals were “significantly detrimental to clergy who have already given up so much to follow their vocation, and their families. This is not simplification, but a major change in policy.”
The first-consideration motion was clearly carried, and the business stands referred to the revision committee.