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Church of Ireland Synod: Retirement age of archdeacons among legislative changes

24 May 2024

Tim Wyatt reports from the Church of Ireland Synod in Armagh


Mr Gibson addresses the Synod

Mr Gibson addresses the Synod

MISCELLANEOUS Bills were approved in two sittings.

First, the Synod carried a Bill to amend the table of readings in the Book of Common Prayer. A similar revision process had happened in 2016/17, to introduce new readings for Remembrance Sunday. An error was made in the dating when Remembrance Sunday happened in certain years, however, and this new Bill would fix this clerical mistake.

Bill No. 2 sought to ensured that those elected to diocesan synods were meaningfully connected to the parishes that they represented.

Bill No. 3 extended the retirement age of archdeacons (currently 70) to the retirement age of the clergy, which is 75. There was no clear reason that the constitution had originally instituted separate ages, the Synod heard, but it seemed fair to align them now.

The Archdeacon of Belfast, the Ven. Barry Forde (Connor), proposed Bill No. 4, which would allow for the authorisation of pioneer ministry in the Church, both to licence individual pioneer clergy and establish legally independent pioneer ministries at parish or diocesan level. Archdeacon Forde said that this exciting reform would enable dioceses and parishes to shape new models of mission. True pioneering will throw up new opportunities, and this legislation may well need further revision, he said.

Bill No. 5 was introduced by Quentin Teggin (Dublin & Glendalough). He explained that, when the Church of Ireland was disestablished, vestry registers needed to be amended only by births and deaths, as few people moved home. But, given how common it was for people to move between parishes today, a single annual vestry review was no longer sufficient. This Bill would allow parishes to review their registers between the annual check if they wished to.

The Revd Sam Johnston (Down & Dromore), however, spoke against the Bill, which, he said, would not solve the problem outlined by Mr Teggin, because it still stated any extra review must still happen before Easter. He also feared that giving parishes more power over vestry lists could create opportunities for abuse of the democratic powers of parishes.

Mr Teggin replied that the select vestry retained control of the process, which seemed appropriate.

The Bill was then put to the vote, and was carried by the Synod.

Mr Teggin, introduced Bill No. 6, said that many smaller parishes could not fill their select-vestry positions. Current rules prevented co-option to fill empty seats after the Easter vestry meeting. His Bill would correct this lacuna, again giving parishes the freedom to fill as many or as few empty positions as they wished.

Seconding the Bill, Robbie Syme (Cashel, Ferns & Ossory) said that new charitable regulations had made people more reluctant to join select vestries. It would be wise to be able to co-opt someone willing to carry out duties that others were not.

Mr Johnston returned to “urge extreme caution” again about unintended consequences. The Bill would allow for a malign small group on a vestry to co-opt huge numbers of allies, immediately changing the balance of power.

After multiple failed attempts to put the Bill to the vote, it finally passed its Second Reading 197-141, and moved into Committee Stage.

Simon Elliot (Cork, Cloyne & Ross) then proposed an amendment to protect the legitimacy of the select vestry, which ultimately derived from the parishioners. In extreme cases, all the members of the select vestry could be co-opted, not elected, which would undermine this, he argued. His amendment was to ensure that the total number of co-opted members on a select vestry was smaller than the number of elected members.

The amendment was accepted by Mr Teggin.

Canon Ruth West (Kilmore) asked for clarity about where nominated or appointed members, such as the rector or churchwardens, would fit into this amendment.

The assessor then clarified for the Synod that appointed members would not be counted for determining those who could be co-opted under this amendment.

The amendment was then put to the vote and Carried unanimously, and the Synod nodded the Bill through the rest of its Committee Stage. It was later passed.

Bill No. 7 facilitated clarifying and simplifying the legislative procedure in the Synod. Ken Gibson (Connor) said that the Bills process had served the Church of Ireland well to pass or reject legislation for well over a century. His Bill would not affect those core principles, but simply lightly amend the constitution to create flexibility for the Synod to amend the traditional three-readings parliamentary process if it wished.

Bill No. 8 was introduced by the Bishop of Connor, the Rt Revd George Davison, who reminded the Synod that, in 2016, it had revised the process of electing bishops. A working group had been set up by the Standing Committee to review the new system, and had now brought some recommendations that would be considered later. But some needed amendments to the constitution, and that was what the Bill would tackle.

First, it would address anomalies caused by the reduction in the number of dioceses in the Province of Armagh, and also reformulate the shortlisting committee in the Electoral College as a due-diligence committee, which was what it had actually been in practice. The Bill was nodded through its Second Reading. Bishop Connor proposed an amendment to correct a printing anomaly and restore a paragraph accidentally omitted.

There was then a debate over a pair of amendments addressing the specific language of the Bill where it laid out what the due-diligence committee could look at when considering candidates. The text as proposed introduced the list of questions that the committee should answer with the words “The matters to which the Due Diligence Committee shall have regard in its inquiry into each candidate shall [comprise/include] the following. . .” After debate, the Synod nodded through the remainder of the Committee Stage. The Bill was later passed at its Third Reading.

Bill No. 9 was introduced by Robert Neill (Dublin & Glendalough), who explained that it was needed because of increased costs of managing additional voluntary contributions after changes in Irish pensions regulations. The Representative Body was now recommending the closure of additional contribution schemes for the old pre-2013 pensions scheme. The Bill was nodded through its First and Second Readings and Committee Stage, and the business was completed the following day.

Bill No. 10 was introduced by Michael Johnston (Down & Dromore). It addressed clergy-illness policy, which allowed members of the clergy who had been off work for more than a year to resign their stipendiary office and receive financial payments under a permanent healthinsurance policy, part of the Church’s main pension scheme. But those utilising this scheme needed to continue contributing to the scheme, and, under the regulations, therefore, had to continue to be technically in service to the Church. The policy therefore required any such cleric to be licensed to a ministry of contemplation in a specific diocese. The Bill would correct this anomaly by amending the definition of service in the constitution to include simply availing oneself of the permanent health-insurance policy.

Bill No. 11, introduced by Robert Neill (Dublin & Glendalough), addressed the current defined contribution pension scheme. The cost of compliance with new pensions regulations was very high, he said. As a result, it was decided that the scheme would be managed under a “master trust”, which allowed employers to club their schemes together and create “economies of scale”. By virtue of its size, the providers of a master trust can also invest more in governance and security.

A master-trust provider has been chosen (Mercer) for both the Republic and Northern Ireland by the Representative Body. The trustees will change, but members’ interests will be protected. There will be no changes to either benefits or investments on the transfer, and no risks to the members. The Bill amended the Constitution to allow this transfer to happen.

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