NEW rules concerning unopposed elections to parochial church councils (PCCs) were approved by the General Synod on Monday afternoon.
Clive Scowen (London) introduced the Church Representation Rules (Amendment) Resolution 2023. He explained that it would give effect to recommendations in the Elections Review Group’s report concerning annual parochial church meetings (APCMs). Some churches experienced the problem of people who had little support in the parish managing to get elected to PCCs or deanery synods, because there was no one to stand against them.
This could cause huge problems, Mr Scowen said, even if it occurred only occasionally. His proposal would give the APCM the right to vote yes or no on each candidate. Another provision would require each candidate to declare that they had not been disqualified for any reason. “People who ought not to be on our PCCs do sometimes get elected,” Mr Scowen lamented. Mandatory DBS checks could not be implemented under the current law; so declarations were a partial solution.
Alice McIlwaine (Armed Forces) asked whether it could be clarified that this new process of APCM approval was required only when people were elected unopposed.
Amanda Robbie (Lichfield) hailed these changes as small but still making the Church of England “less bad”. She explained that the idea for these changes came from her parish, where a disruptive member had got on to the PCC unopposed.
Luke Appleton (Exeter) said that some parishes struggled to get members of the congregation to engage with APCMs, and that this would be worse if there was extra bureaucracy. He asked whether different factions in parishes would actually try to weaponise a poorly attended APCM.
Adrian Greenwood (Southwark) backed the changes, but asked for clarity on how this would intersect with elections to the deanery synod.
Dr John Mason (Chester) said that it appeared that the declarations from candidates came after election, and that it would be better if this happened before.
Mr Scowen said that there should probably be documentation accompanying the resolution to explain the changes. On the timing of the declaration, he said, there was no reason that candidates could not make this earlier.
Clive Billenness (Europe) then moved his amendment, which, he said, would protect democracy and the welfare of parishes. The legislation lacked safety precautions, he said, such as very small and unrepresentative APCMs ruling out an unopposed PCC member. His amendment would give every member of a parish’s electoral roll a postal vote in such a case. It would also give any candidate subject to such a confirmatory vote the right to give an election address.
Mr Scowen asked members to resist the amendment. Postal ballots at APCMs would be a huge change and this needed further thought and consultation. It was fundamentally a question of proportionality and affordability.
The amendment lapsed for want of 25 members to support a debate.
The resolution was carried: Bishops 18 nem. con; Clergy 115-2, with two recorded abstentions; Laity 137-5, with two recorded abstentions.