The role of Patrons in appointments has been significantly reduced by large scale suspension of their rights. Although the code of practice states that Patrons should still have a full role in appointments this is often breached. In contrast more and more of the role has been taken on by Diocesan officials which reflects a retrogressive change in the understanding of the church but also increases the workload and hence the pressure for more centralisation by increasing numbers of Diocesan staff. Widespread lay patronage, and in more recent years patronage bodies has been an effective tool in preventing the Church of England becoming more clericalised. In most Roman Catholic countries this important lay role was abandoned long ago. However, it is worth remembering that in Scotland, for different reasons, patronage was long a source of considerable friction and division.
During a vacancy
- Benefits of patronage during a vacancy:
- Ensuring a degree of continuity and consistency in ministry from one minister to another.
- Ensuring that the parish has an advocate, who will stand with them, particularly if there is a dispute in the appointment process. Parish Representatives are often intimidated by Diocesan officials, and sadly sometimes misled.
- Providing an outside and objective view, which may not be available to those close at hand.
- Being independent of some of the issues and factors at work in the parish, in particular ensuring that a small vocal group do not drown out the quieter majority.
- Being able to gather names from further afield.
- Having wide contacts, not simply of those looking to move, across the country.
- Ensuring that clergy who are outspoken on important issues are not sidelined because Dioceses do not want ‘troublemakers’.
- Providing support and advice to parishes if things do not go smoothly.
Somebody, somewhere, has to pay some of the bills associated with patronage but it is not a cost borne directly by parishes and when Patrons are allowed to get on with their role it eases considerably the burden on Diocesan administration.
Overall the Patron has a role in providing a proper balance between finding the person of God’s choice and fulfilling the needs of the parish without being unduly influenced by other factors.
Other help Church Society Trust endeavours to provide:
- Supporting clergy who can often feel isolated in their ministry. Sometimes clergy facing crises say that Trust members or Directors were the only outside people to be interested in them.
- Praying for the work in the parish (please do use the Church Society prayer diary for this purpose).
- Mediating when problems arise in the parish.
- Providing resources for parishes (this is particularly the role of Church Society).
- Contacting clergy on a regular basis (Trust members are asked to be the primary point of contact).
- Practical help, which most often means providing visiting preachers including in an interregnum.
- Keeping parishes informed of issues that will affect them, and being a resource on pastoral, doctrinal and legal matters.
- Being an advocate for parishes, both locally and nationally, by tackling issues which have an impact on parishes.
Other patrons will be involved in other ways. For example, the parish I was brought up in was under the patronage of a Cambridge college. The Rector was able to enjoy a reading week in the college, grants were provided and at least once college students helped with a parish mission.
The Patronage system is not a quaint relic of a past. Patronage is an outworking of the fact that the Church of England is neither a congregational federation, nor an episcopal hierarchy, but part of the body of Christ with all manner of intriguing interconnections enabling different parts of the body to strengthen and help each other.