February 2004 the Synod debated proposals to change the status
of ‘beneficed clergy’ from Incumbent to something
described as ‘Common Tenure’. The report dealing
with this was passed but with about one quarter of the clergy
and one fifth of the laity voting against.
One of the major problems identified is that at present the
parish property belongs to the benefice and thus in a highly
restricted way to the Incumbent. The report proposed that the
beneficed property should be transferred to the Diocesan Board
of Finance. This would be a dramatic shift in the Church of England
away from the parishes and towards a centralised structure. Much
of the parochial property (endowments and glebe) was transferred
in the early 1970s and it is arguable that whatever benefits
this brought (equalization of clergy pay in particular) it has
also had a detrimental effect on parochial finances.
The primary issue is ecclesiological however, because the Church
of England is a national Church, a Church of the people and
therefore it is not a large corporation.
Alongside this fact lies the spectre of what is currently happening
in some states in the USA where congregations who uphold orthodox,
historic, Biblical teaching have been thrown out of properties
which they paid to build because the Diocese is the legal owner
(or this is what they claim) and refuses them permission to
use the buildings. Given the speed with which the hierarchy
of the Church of England is also abandoning historic Christian
teaching such concerns look increasing real in this country.
In the event in February 2004 the Synod passed a resolution
expressing ‘grave reservations’ about the proposals
in relation to property (218 votes to 135).
Therefore, further work had to be done on the proposals and
the present report is a progress report on this in order to gauge
the strength of feeling.
The Committee considered and wished to pursue the option of
transferring Churches and Churchyards to the Diocesan Board of
Finance. However, in the end they decided that there was too
much opposition and much that could be lost by doing this. They
therefore propose that these properties remain vested in a corporation
sole as at present (that is a corporation with a sole member – the
clergyman). If legislation goes ahead to bring in Common Tenure
then the person who holds this position would be the sole member
of the corporation.
However, the Committee has proposed that Parsonage houses be
dealt with differently. Again the proposal had been to transfer
these to the Diocesan Board of Finance but they recognised that
this could be misunderstood. They have therefore brought new
proposals to transfer them to the Diocesan Parsonages Board.
One of the chief practical implications of this is that an incumbent
will lose the right of veto on proposals to change or even replace
the parsonage whilst he is living in it. DPBs already carry out
most of the work in relation to Parsonages, although the responsibility
lies with the Incumbent and he can if he chooses carry out the
work himself. However, again it needs to be remembered that historically
most of the parsonages were given or paid for by the local church
and even when this is not the case (such as with some Curates
and Team Vicars) the funding at Diocesan level comes from local
Churches, even from former local Church property and land.
There does not seem to be any good reason for this change other
than the fact that it is a step along the way to achieving what
was originally in view. It is true that this move would not have
quite such a dramatic impact on the Church but it does represent
a further shift away from the local Church to the large corporation,
which so much legislation in the last 40 years has assumed.
articles on freehold:
See earlier article
: Freehold and the Church of
should own the Parsonage? Cross†Way article commentating
on the November 2005 Synod's discussions on parsonage ownership.