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General Synod: Delays to process and burden on PCC to be cut

12 July 2019

Madeleine Davies, Adam Becket, and Tim Wyatt report from the General Synod in York


THE draft Legislative Reform (Patronage of Benefices) Order 2019 was approved after a debate.

Moving the motion, Canon Simon Butler (Southwark) said that a wide consultation had taken place, and the Draft Order sought to reduce delays in the appointing of an incumbent, and the process through which an incumbent was found. New details would be listed in the search for an incumbent, including the start date of an incumbent. Article 2 required other patrons of the benefice to be informed when a turn has been taken. Article 3 sought to relieve the PCC of the burden of the existing set of deadlines, for example the way in which the PCC secretary had to convene a meeting. Six months was the maximum length for the period of the preparatory stage of the interregnum.

Article 4 was concerned with the lapse of patronage, Canon Butler said; the patron lost the right to appoint if a benefice was left vacant. The period before the lapse occurred should be increased to 18 months, allowing a 12-month window for appointing a new incumbent, Canon Butler argued. Article 6 brought the legislation up to date by allowing things to be sent by email, he said. The whole point of the order was to reduce the burden on PCCs. “It’s setting the PCC secretary free,” he said.

The Dean of the Arches, the Rt Worshipful Charles George QC, thanked the people who had worked on the Measure in the past, including Stephen Slack. This was presented as an Order, rather than a Measure, so that it could be passed this year, and not in 2021. The consultation exercise was “so extensive” that when taken together, with the work of the scrutiny committee, conscientious members of the Synod were more informed than they would be if this Order had instead been passed as a Measure. “Don’t assume you’re getting something for nothing,” he said. The committee felt constrained in fitting this matter into a draft Order rather than a measure.

Simon Baynes (St Albans) said that it was a good-news day for people who said “Wouldn’t it be nice if . . . ?” He was pleased that the burden on PCCs would be reduced. He had guided simplification rules for vacancies through the deanery and diocesan synods.

The Archdeacon of Aston, the Ven. Simon Heathfield (Birmingham), said that it was time for a “synodical pat on the back”. The extension of six and 18 months into the time scale would be welcome for PCCs, especially in terms of the parish profile.

Penny Allen (Lichfield) said that she had been at a pre-vacancy meeting for two churches in south Staffordshire the previous week. PCCs of smaller churches, which did not meet as often as those in larger churches, would benefit from longer time scales, which would help them to meet patrons, she suggested.

The Revd Paul Benfield (Blackburn) welcomed the new time limits. He expressed his concerns for multi-parish benefices.

Debrah McIsaac (Salisbury) said that the consultation was very adequate, and the process was a better system than just taking amendments on the floor.

Canon David Banting (Chelmsford) said that he had been a patronage trustee for more than 20 years, and thanked the committee for these kinder regulations for PCCs. CPAS now had more than 700 benefices under its umbrella, overtaking the Crown and the Lord Chancellor, he said. He had a couple of hints: you don’t have to wait for a vacancy to take a look at your parish profile; and ask whether a new churchwarden would be good at dealing with a vacancy.

Responding, Canon Butler said that he was glad to be of service. Moves shouldn’t just be based on the whims of the incumbent, but on the needs of the parish, he argued.

Read full coverage of the General Synod here

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