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General Synod digest: Wedding and funeral fees approved, after debate digresses on marriage affirmation

01 March 2024
Geoff Crawford/Church Times

Carl Hughes (Archbishops’ Council) introduces the motion

Carl Hughes (Archbishops’ Council) introduces the motion

THE General Synod on Monday approved a draft Order prescribing the fees for the two-year period from the beginning of January 2024 to the end of December 2025.

Fees are based on the principles of the actual costs involved. The stated policy is that fees need to be affordable, “and not set at a level that suggests the Church is trying to make money from its ministry. They should be a reasonable contribution towards the costs incurred and there should continue to be a right of waiver for those who cannot afford them.”

Carl Hughes (Archbishops’ Council) emphasised the importance to parishes of the £40-million income that went to PCCs. It represented four per cent of their income, a sum “sufficiently significant to turn every parish surplus into a deficit”. The Synod had agreed in February 2023 that the annual increase in fees should be capped at five per cent, and that mitigation would continue (Synod digest, 17 February 2023).

The 2024 order would also correct an unintentional anomaly from 2019, which prescribed a higher fee for a funeral service in a crematorium or a cemetery not associated with a service in church. Mr Hughes reflected on life-events services — 100,000 funerals and more than 30,000 services of marriage or dedication in 2023 — as a “wonderful opportunity” for clergy, lay ministers, and others to minister to people at key moments of their lives. He later apologised for the “inappropriateness” to this particular debate of his final comment, in which he declared himself “singularly depressed” that the Synod had been unable to affirm marriage in the Love Matters motion.

Dr John Mason (Chester) approved of the five-per-cent cap, but felt that an asymmetry had been retained: what if inflation happened to be negative?

The Revd Eleanor Robertshaw (Sheffield) said that she was passionate about doing weddings and funerals, but wanted honesty about marriage. Most of the marriages that she conducted were for couples already living together, often with children together: “We’re happy to do this with nothing said. For some, marriage is amazing, amazing. For some, it isn’t. Can we stop politicising marriage as the only way forward, please?”

Geoff Crawford/Church TimesThe Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin

The Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, could say with certainty of the thousands of weddings and funerals that she had conducted since her ordination: “I’ve never, never had anyone complain about the cost. I’ve been able to use my judgement in terms of people needing support.” Why did the Church keep tying itself in knots over whom it would marry, she asked. “The cure of souls is all who come . . . by genuinely reaching out to all around,” she said in exasperation. “Get over it, and get on with it. We are here for all and not just for the people who look like us and speak like us and believe what we believe.” Mr Hughes’s remarks had been “unnecessary and disappointing”, she said.

In a maiden speech, Jason Clarke (Chester) spoke of his own experience of his mother’s death and was perplexed about the wording of parts of the order which related to burying cremated ashes “immediately after cremation”. How could that be done, he asked. “Can we make this less confusing, please?”

Christiania Olomolaiye (Bristol) said: “Respect marriage in its entirety. Please, please, let’s stick to the Bible here. Let’s not be ashamed to proclaim the Bible.”

Ruth Abernethy (Channel Islands, Guernsey) replied: “We’re here to talk about the fees measure. Chair, please bring this debate back on track.”

Mr Hughes said: “I apologise if my comments directed us too far away from parochial fees.”

An amendment was brought by the Revd Christopher Trundle (London), which sought to give effect, as soon as possible, to the earlier motion approving the transfer of the £34 funerals fee to PCCs. This was carried by a show of hands, as was the motion: That the Draft Parochial Fees Order 2024 be approved.

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