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Going on after 70: the pleasures and pitfalls

24 February 2017

Geoff Crawford/Church Times

“No maximum limit”: Rebecca Salter introducing the debate about extending retirement age

“No maximum limit”: Rebecca Salter introducing the debate about extending retirement age

REGULATIONS under the Ecclesiastical Offices (Terms of Service) Measure 2009 were amended and approved by the Synod. The new Regulations, which takes the form of a Statutory Instrument, will expand the range of posts under Common Tenure where clergy can be allowed, in certain circumstances, to continue to serve beyond the age of 70.

Introducing the debate on Tuesday afternoon, Rebecca Salter (Archbishops’ Council) said that the current rules that allowed some clergy to have their terms of office extended beyond the age of 70 were “complex, inconsistent and not as flexible as [they] should be”.

She said that current rules allowed incumbents’ period in office to be extended for up to two years; while the licences of priests-in-charge and others could be extended for any fixed period of time.

The new regulations would be permissive, she said. “Nobody will be required to remain in office longer than they want to; nor will anybody have a right to stay in office.” Any extension would be at the bishop’s or archbishop’s direction.

The new regulations would allow directions to be given for specific dignitaries to remain in office until the age of 75 and for parochial clergy to remain in office without any maximum limit, so long as the bishop or archbishop was “satisfied that person is capable of holding the office for the duration of the extension”.

The Archbishops’ Council would issue guidance to be followed by archbishops and bishops in making directions.

The Revd Damian Feeney (Lichfield) welcomed the new Regulations and called for creative use “to assist appropriate deployment and assist the mission and growth of the Church”. He said that some clergy in the age group under discussion were “in their prime”.

He had received an email from a priest who had to retire this year against his wishes. The priest suspected that the parish was “a target in a bigger plan to merge us with another parish or two” to be led by an OLM, which he described as “the kiss of death”.

The Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, said that he greatly valued the ministry of retired clergy, but “there are occasions when retirement comes as a relief — sometimes to the minister’s family and sometimes to the parish.”

He was nervous that the bishop’s discretion could be “open to moral or legal challenge if used arbitrarily” where it was used in one case and not another.

Prebendary Stephen Lynas (Bath and Wells) said that there were “difficult decisions” about retirement; and he asked how the Church would “deal with the collusion and delusion” that went on when bishops and archdeacons started asking clergy whether they were “happy to go on for a bit.”

Gavin Oldham (Oxford) wanted to be clear whether the Church was exempt from a 2008 European Directive that abolished mandatory retirement ages.

The Prolocutor of the Lower House of the Convocation of Canterbury, Canon Simon Butler (Southwark), asked “what role will the people of God have in [the] discernment?” He said that extensions should be “not just for the good of the minister, but for the good of the whole Church”.

Retirement was “a very difficult time, no matter what your field of life, no matter what your calling”, Debrah McIsaac (Salisbury) said. She suggested a mandatory sabbatical period of three to six months before any extension to “help bring clarity about whether carrying on was a good idea or not”.

The Revd Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes (Durham) spoke about the “empirical evidence” obtained by research by the Ven. Bob Jackson, which suggested that “vicars in general attracted people who are ten years either side of them in age; and that the best work in parishes was done by clergy between seven and 12 years in post.” She took issue with the suggestion that having an OLM or NSM leading a parish was “a kiss of death”. This was a “quite depressing” comment in the context of Setting God’s People Free.

The Regulations were heavily criticised by Keith Cawdron (Liverpool). “What do we think we are doing by legislating for discrimination on the basis of age?” The Church could be “open to challenge because of what we have done here; and if we are lucky enough not to be open to challenge, we should question it morally.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury said that the Regulations were not “institutionalising discrimination”, but would reduce the discrimination that currently existed. “We need to remember what this is about,” he said. “It is to clear up anomalies where different rules apply to different people.”

The new Regulations had “nothing to do with declining numbers of clergy”, because they were dealing with “very small numbers”; but “it is about saying, where people are capable and able, and it is to the advantage of the Church to continue their ministry, then it is possible to do so.”

David Ashton (Leeds) was “irritated” that the word “retire” came up so often. “I am 75 and have finished full-time work, but I haven’t retired from life,” he said. “Getting up early keeps you going and keeps you fit. A lot of people who retire put on the cardigan and, by God, they do retire.”

He welcomed the new regulations. “If a person is doing a job and doing it well, surely we should use that God-given gift to provide for people in the parishes.”

The Synod voted to consider the Regulations, and the moved on to debate amendments.

Prebendary Simon Cawdell (Hereford) moved an amendment to extend the provision to archbishops. Under his amendment, one archbishop would be able to extend the period of service of the other archbishop up to the age of 75.

The amendment was resisted by Mrs Salter, who said that the work and ministry of archbishops was very different from that of other clergy and even other bishops.

Currently, the Queen has the power to extend an archbishop’s tenure for one year beyond the age of 70. Mrs Salter said that the Synod could consider extending that Queen’s power so that she could extend this to the age of 75; but she said that the Archbishops’ Council would not wish to consider doing so without first consulting the Crown; and didn’t wish to do so, because it didn’t think it desirable to extend archbishops’ tenure for five years.

The amendment fell.

A second amendment from the Revd Paul Benfield (Blackburn) sought to “preserve the present position under the 1975 Measure”, which would ensure that a bishop “must consider” whether “the pastoral needs of the parishes or dioceses” made an extension desirable; and that the consent of the PCC of the parish must first be obtained.

“Without it, one can see arguments whether the pastoral needs of the priest or their family take precedence over the needs of the parish,” he said. “Without my amendment, we are removing the rights of the laity. Do we want to allow a bishop to extend an incumbent’s term of office without the consent of the parish? I say not.”

Mrs Salter said that she was happy to accept the amendment, as it brought the new Regulations “in line with legislation as it currently is”.

The Revd Jonathan MacNeaney (Chelmsford) said that there was “considerable scope for awkwardness in discussions around this”.

David Lamming (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) questioned whether the Church should publish the wording of a “special resolution” to be debated by PCCs.

Dr David Martlew (Liverpool) welcomed the amendment, saying that he knew of “colleagues who wished to continue in service after the age of 70, whose colleagues wished that they hadn’t.” He said that the Church needed “to have assurance of competence and pastoral ability”.

Canon Butler said that he was “feeling uncomfortable” with the amendment and legislation as it currently stands; saying that it could be “a very divisive matter for a PCC to consider.” He asked “how would it affect the ending of ministry if the PCC vote against an extension?” and what impact a divided PCC would have on the ability to fill any subsequent vacancy.

He thought that churchwardens, as bishops’ officers, “may be a more appropriate way of dealing with it in a smaller group”.

Brian Wilson (Southwark) said that it would be “very difficult for the PCC at a meeting where the incumbent is chairing to vote either one way or the other”. He said that this would “put the PCC in a very difficult position”.

Peter Hart (Chester) said that he “wouldn’t want that responsibility to fall to just me and the other warden”.

The Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent (Southern Suffragans), said that the Synod was “doing what we do with debates at this time of the day”, and was “dribbling downwards”. He said: “In the end, we have got to be grown up about these matters, and a PCC has got to take these decisions.”

The vice-chair of the House of Laity, Elizabeth Paver (Sheffield), said that she didn’t want to disagree with Canon Butler, but “the House of Laity as a whole would want some way of having a voice in the future of an incumbent who has reached the age of 70 and wishes to go on.” She said that it was important to “put the laity within that process”.

The Benfield amendment was carried.

The Synod approved the draft Ecclesiastical Offices (Terms of Service) (Amendment) Regulations 2017 as amended. The Regulations will now be formally made by the Archbishops’ Council and become a Statutory Instrument.

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