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Synod tidies things ‘showing their age’

24 February 2017

Geoff Crawford/Church Times

Reform: the Archdeacon of Southwark, the Ven. Dr Jane Steen. Rule needed to be less burdensome, she said

Reform: the Archdeacon of Southwark, the Ven. Dr Jane Steen. Rule needed to be less burdensome, she said

THE Draft Church Representation, Ecumenical Relations and Ministers Measure received its first consideration and was sent for revision in committee.

The draft legislation follows the second report of the Simplification Task Group and, if passed, will replace the Church Representation Rules in the 1969 Measure; and amend the Church of England (Ecumenical Relations) Measure 1998.

The draft Measure will also allow a bishop to admit a person to Holy Orders if the person can be provided with an office under Common Tenure. At present, a person can only be ordained if there is a parochial position to which they can be appointed. The new provisions in the draft Measure will allow a person to be ordained to serve in non-parochial posts such as chaplaincy or pioneer ministry.

The Measure will also remove the six-year minimum length of service that a priest must have served before he or she can be appointed a dean or archdeacon.

The Archdeacon of Southwark, the Ven. Dr Jane Steen (Southwark), who chairs the steering committee, described how the current rules dated from 1919 and were “showing their age”. First, they needed to be made less burdensome; second, parishes should be given greater flexibility over their constitutional arrangements; and, third, the administrative burdens of multi-parish benefices, especially in rural areas, needed “radical reduction” removing the need for multiple PCCs.

The new rules had been redrafted, were “a great deal easier to understand”, and included “substantive changes”. A significant change was the publication of “model rules” that would set out the default position for parish governance, but the annual meeting of a parish could amend or replace them. Some provisions would remain mandatory. Another reform allowed for joint councils to replace individual PCCs.

With regard to ecumenical relations, there were proposals that updated legislation. This would mean that more churches would be able to participate in worship in C of E services and members of the Salvation Army would be able to preach at C of E services. Bishops were given new power to give temporary designation to churches not designated at national level to enable them to participate in local ecumenical activity. There would also be a code of practice, developed by the Bishops, and detailing arrangements for authorising ecumenical activity.

The draft Measure enabled the Synod to make canonical provision to extend the range of situations in which newly ordained deacon or priest could serve a title; and removed the requirement that a person must be in Holy Orders for six years to be appointed a dean or archdeacon. This change brought parity with the requirement for becoming a bishop.

Keith Cawdron (Liverpool) reminded the Synod that reworking the Church Representation Rules was a significant piece of work and needed to be got right. He listed detailed problems that he saw in the draft Rules, describing them as “not fit for purpose”. “We need to go through the whole thing and ask ‘Why’ wherever it says ‘You must do this,’” he said. “We must give our PCCs the maximum flexibility possible.”

The Revd Graham Maskery (United Reformed Church) said that he had ecumenical DNA in his bloodstream. His mentor, Lesslie Newbigin, had always encouraged him to push the boundaries and apologise afterwards when it came to ecumenical work. “It was much easier to repent afterwards than to find the Archbishop of York saying no in the first place,” he said.

The new ecumenical regulations should be cause for celebration, Mr Maskery said, as they would bring emerging churches closer to the mainstream so the older churches could learn from the new. “It may be through something like this that we are given the power to become more the Church in England, the Church that God wants us to be.”

David Lamming (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) welcomed the rewriting of the Church Representation Rules, which he described as “long overdue”. Local flexibility was very important, especially in rural multi-parish benefices.

Penelope Allen (Lichfield), who worships in a local ecumenical partnership, questioned the wisdom of renaming the projects as “co-operatives”, a re-titling that had provoked widespread laughter when she had raised it at a recent church meeting. She had been unwittingly breaking the rules on taking part in services of other denominations, and asked that the new rules allow the greatest possible flexibility for joint mission.

The Revd Barry Hill (Leicester) spoke of the latest research that suggested that between ten and 15 per cent of members of the C of E were part of a Fresh Expression. Could more be done to reflect this? Was there an expectation that Fresh Expressions be represented on diocesan and deanery synods? Or was it more of a case of “if you must?”

The Archdeacon of Bournemouth, the Ven. Dr Peter Rouch (Wincheser), spoke of Bishop’s Mission Orders. Currently, lay representatives in these communities were “constitutionally unwelcome” at the Synod. “If we do not give them a ready route to a voice here . . . it is not faith: it is bad faith.” This provision had already been asked for in previous debates, he said, and in correspondence. The answer had always been “Yes, it is coming,”but if it did not come under these rules, then when?

Philip French (Rochester) said that expecting PCCs and incumbents to buy the full PCC rules and keep them up to date placed an “unnecessary burden” on them. They should be available online. There would be those who did not adopt the model rules, subject to the approval of the Bishop’s Council. What about those in a local ecumenical partnership, which were supervised by a joint council? It would be helpful for the existence of these partnerships to be acknowledged.

He also said that it was “curious” to make the Synod’s Business Committee the authority on the format for parishes’ reports and accounts. It was “possibly outside its competence”.

The Revd Andrew Dotchin (St Edmunsbury & Ipswich) addressed the question of the minimum term for deans and archdeacons to have been in Holy Orders. He quoted the Fool in King Lear: “Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been wise,” and said: “Having been around the Church of England for a bit does help you to help those in the Church of England.” Perhaps the answer was to state that Bishops should be in Orders for six years before being consecrated.

Clive Scowen (London) suggested that the Representation Rules did not need to be done by Measure, although they did need to be done by revision committee. They could be done by resolution. He welcomed the redraft of the rules, much of which was “extremely helpful”, including the provision to opt out of model rules. But he suggested that it might go “a little far”.

An APCM could exclude from the PCC all synod members, and even churchwardens, all of whom were ex-officio. He did not agree that the Charity Commission was a good model for regulation. PCCs were not just a charity, he said: they were a representative body for a parish, which had to “keep that balance of democratic representation”.

Tim Hind (Bath & Wells) welcomed an “English version” of the Rules. But would it be worth while to insert something about proportionality when it came to Representation Rules? He raised a point about the number of people supposed to be on a PCC by election. Would it be worth while to insert a point about proportionality to size of congregation, he asked.

Canon Debbie Flach (Europe) spoke on ecumenical relations. She was “amused” to see that half of her current congregation would not fit any of the current rules. She never asked how many Anglicans were present. The Ecumenical Relations Permissions would enable ministers to work more closely together, in France and elsewhere.

Sue Adeney (Worcester) said there was an opportunity to write the rules in a less divisive manner, by which she meant dividing the clergy from the laity. Why did the the PCC have to be chaired by a cleric? And why did the equivalent chair of the laity have to be a vice-chair?

The Revd Jonathan Alderton-Ford (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) said that, under the rules, each year the PCC must hold enough meetings to enable the efficient transaction of business, but this did not taken into account “cunning Suffolk peasants and crafty clergy”. In some instances, PCCs took place “on Sunday afternoons after lunch without due notification”.

There were issues around safeguarding, mission, and finance which would require a minimum of four PCCs a year, he argued. A quick meeting after the APCM was “not good enough”.

Dr Steen said that members had made good points. She urged people to write to the committee. With regard to the involvement of the laity in ecumenical work, the intent of the rules was not to prohibit, but to make provision for what would otherwise be unlawful. With regard to Mr Scowen’s point, she argued that this was part of a simplification package.


THE Synod then moved on to give first consideration to Draft Amending Canon No. 30 on Tuesday afternoon, again introduced by Dr Steen, who explained the changes to canon law proposed by the Simplification Task Group.

With regard to the requirement that there be morning and evening prayer and holy communion in every parish church every Sunday, the reality had already been “very different” even in the 1960s. A parish priest could not be in two or more places at once. In many benefices, it was “simply not possible” to meet the requirement. The Canon had been amended accordingly, so that the statutory services had to be held in at least one church in every benefice.

Another change related to ecumenical activity, reflecting the amendments made in the Measure just debated. Practical changes could in future be made to the Bishops’ code of practice rather than by revision of the Canon.

Another change made it possible for ordinands to be ordained to serve in any office held under common tenure, including a licence to a Bishop’s Mission Order or non-parochial institution. Another amendment ensured that any member of the clergy, beneficed or licensed in a diocese, would have permission to officiate anywhere in that diocese at the invitation of the minister with the cure of souls.

Other changes related to requirements about the appointment of deans, archdeacons, or residentiary canons, bringing parity with the appointment of bishops.

Mr French noted that the legislation would still require that morning and evening prayer be held in at least one church in every benefice every Sunday, unless special dispensation was given by the diocesan bishop. Was this transparent, realistic, or effective? He knew of no church in his area where both were routinely held every Sunday. Instead, there were “many patterns of worship well adjusted to needs of parishes”. The rules described a 19th-century C of E, not a 21st-century one.

With regard to the ecumenical matters, he was disappointed that questions of governance, finance, or the relation of local congregations to wider counsels of the Church were not even mentioned.

Sir Tony Baldry (Oxford) spoke of churches that were rarely used. They should be kept open, and the Association of Festival Churches had been set up in response. He hoped to see a revival of Plough Mass and Candlemas. If anyone had ideas for good festivals, he would welcome them.

Carolyn Graham (Guildford) spoke of inconsistencies in the language, including the use of gendered pronouns.

Michael Stallybrass (York) drew attention to the appendix to the explanatory memorandum, which showed the existing canon and the revised one. It was helpful to be able to see the before-and-after effect of drafting changes, and this should be standard in future.

Julie Dziegiel (Oxford) said that, rather than move towards more multi-parish benefices, the Church needed to consider making larger parishes and changing boundaries, many of which had not kept pace with population changes.

The Revd Paul Hutchinson (York) said that the Canons needed to be updated to reflect modern realities: not all churches said morning and evening prayer; so why make rules on how often multi-parish benefices had to? He highlighted a difference between the Measure and its accompanying Amending Canon: the Canon seemed to allow for residentiary canons at cathedrals who were not in Holy Orders. Was this intended?

Martin Kingston (Gloucester) said that it was important to note that these reforms were not about abolishing parishes, but allowing potential changes to be tested and experimented with. “That’s what we need to focus on, not on promoting things [such as widespread parish reorganisation] which would make us look even more internally self-obsessed,” he said.

Responding to the debate, Dr Steen said that the Amending Canon did not intend to remove the need for residentiary canons to be clerks in Holy Orders.

Forthcoming Events

2 July 2022
Bringing Down the Mighty: Church, Theology and Structural Injustice
With Anthony Reddie, Azariah France-Williams, Mariama Ifode-Blease, Luke Larner, Will Moore, Stewart Rapley and Victoria Turner.

4-8 July 2022
HeartEdge Mission Summer School
From HeartEdge and St Augustine’s College of Theology.

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