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100 years ago: The union of benefices

11 November 2022

November 10th, 1922.

MUCH more attention ought to be paid to the working of the Union of Benefices Act, which in many places is working most prejudicially to the interests of the Church in country places, and is arousing a good deal of local feeling. It seems to be often the case that when a commission of inquiry is appointed, the representatives of the bishop and of the Ecclesiastical Commission vote for the union, and the representatives of the patron and the parishioners against it, and the casting vote of the chairman decides for the union against the wishes of the local representatives, and probably upon insufficient knowledge of all the factors in the problem. It may be said that local feeling will always be against the union of benefices. Local feeling may nevertheless be more often right than wrong. The Act is being applied far too generally and ruthlessly, without full consideration of the effect of such unions in the past. It is one thing to allow the holding of benefices in plurality as an expedient to meet a temporary shortage of clergy, it is another thing to unite benefices permanently; and before the latter course is taken in face of local feeling the authorities should consider long and deeply before putting the Act in operation. They are often, we think, so committed to theory as to be incapable of forming an impartial judgment in a particular case. It is not necessary to assume that the present shortage of clergy will be permanent. The union of two benefices almost always means the imperfect service of both, and invites the activities of Dissent. Small parishes have proved of high value to the Church in the past, in ways which are not always appreciated by bishops and Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and it will be disastrous if the policy of union is applied to any but the most necessary cases.

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