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 Issues | General Synod | July 2006

General Synod

Clergy Terms of Service Review

A presentation will be given to the General Synod on the progress regarding the review of the clergy terms of service.   The most controversial proposals to date have been related to changes in clergy freehold and the property relating to freehold.

We are grateful to John Masdin of the English Clergy Association for permission to publish the following article on clergy freehold and some of the changes being consiidered.

Clergy Terms of Service Review - John Masding

Synod ought not to be bamboozled by the wrong-headed and disingenuous persistent recommendations of the Clergy Terms of Service Review Group. The recommendations to change the ownership of Parsonage Houses are not appropriate. The Group’s earlier report The Property Issues Revisited (GS1593) was debated by the Synod in November 2005. It took account of the reservations expressed by Synod during the February debate and replaced them with recommendations that the parsonage house should vest in the Diocesan Parsonages Board (and not, it is said, be accessible to creditors in the event of the DBF's insolvency) and that decisions about the houses of parochial clergy should no longer be taken by committees with more general finance or property responsibilities. Is this plausible, and right? Quite apart from the asset-stripping implications, most parsonages having been locally provided effectively by Patrons and Parishioners, or earlier Incumbents themselves, there will be untoward consequences. First, people would be less inclined to bequeath or donate monies and estates to local Churches when they saw how easily General Synod could legislate to expropriate property. Second, in the event of legal proceedings over the debts or bankruptcy of a diocese or its Board of Finance, it is far from certain that the Courts would not be persuaded by urgent creditors that a Diocesan Parsonages Board was just a device: not truly an independent corporate body holding ring-fenced assets! Are we not asked to be not a little naïve? Parsonages would likely go into the pot of debt. To be inaccessible to diocesan creditors, Parsonages are safer in their present ownerships by incumbent clergy. Third, the continued ownership and control of their Freehold property by Rectors and Vicars as Corporations Sole is some small consolation to vulnerable clergy, and in Natural Justice modest compensation for the fact that they are not, like almost everyone else, able to have the home security of a personal freehold property. Human Rights are at stake. If the law obliges Incumbents to live in official residences approved by the diocese, and not in private houses, they would be now doubly the losers, possessing neither kind of security. They are already in a far weaker position than Dignitaries, who are well empowered in Church decision-making and lose less by not having freehold of their houses.

GS 1593 also recommended that “the vestigial (sic) legal estate in the church and churchyard should continue to vest in the incumbent as ‘corporation sole’. An amendment which would have had the effect of leaving the ownership of the parsonage house with the incumbent as corporation sole was narrowly lost by 11 votes.” The Group listed various rights and duties in relation to Churches and Churchyards, curiously without stating the obvious implications of freehold, which are well established in law. These facts were ignored. The Incumbent is the only person entitled to the keys of the Church. He is the only person entitled to go in and out at will. He has, under such law as may apply, control of the Church’s use – although the Churchwardens may legitimately comment on the use to which he puts the Vestries; and, if rooms have been built attached to the Church on consecrated ground or in its curtilage, they will be under the Incumbent’s control and the Faculty will perhaps have asked the P.C.C. to record in its Minutes that it knows this, and understands that in a Vacancy it will be not the P.C.C. but the Sequestrators who exercise the Incumbent’s guardianship of his Freehold. The Review Group’s assertion of vestigiality is as misleading as its assertion about the equivalence of “defined rights and responsibilities instead of property ownership – essentially the same protections will be afforded”.

King William III. Declared that one of James II.’s most notorious legal transgressions had been against the Fellows of Magdalen College, Oxford, who “were turned out of their freeholds, contrary to law, and to that express provision of Magna Charta, that no man shall lose his life, or goods, but by the law of the land”.

It is not appropriate that General Synod should put legislation to Parliament which would remove from the weak the small security of their goods, their undoubted local Freehold – which is theirs for service of the people, a kind of trusteeship for the good of the Parishioners at large – for no clear and certain benefit to clergy or people, setting a dangerous confiscatory precedent which later could be applied to other local Church properties such as Halls.

John Masding
Chairman, English Clergy Association.

Previous Reports on this issue

Clergy Terms of Service Property Issues - November 2005

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