Keeping the Faith: a brief introduction to the SMF

Posted on the 2nd January 2017 in the category Resources



Keeping the Faith: An article by Fr William Davage for the journal Together, reproduced here with permission. 


In the wake of the Oxford Movement, the Society for the Maintenance of the Faith was founded in 1873 by two brothers, Canon Edward Wood, Vicar of St Clement’s, Cambridge, and James Wood, a lawyer. Its object then, and now, is “to promote and maintain Catholic teaching and practice.” From its inception, the principal means of doing this was through the acquisition and exercise of patronage. None of it was purchased, unlike the practice of other patronage trusts. The founders considered trade in advowsons to be uncanonical. Advowsons came to the Society by gift or bequest and still do today.

 

The Society was to have a lay President and lay Trustees in whom the advowsons (as a “peculiar property”) were vested. There was a Council from which was drawn a Patronage Board that had to be chaired by a cleric. The intention was that the Society would be the main holder of patronage for the Catholic Movement. Although it holds the largest number of advowsons (some ninety), other Catholic societies or institutions also exercise patronage.

 

Major changes in the exercise of patronage were made by General Synod in the mid 1980’s and the powers of the patron were circumscribed. There is now a tripartite system where the patron, the bishop and elected parish representatives have particular roles in a series of checks and balances between them. There were difficulties for a private or a corporate patron to exercise their rights with the increasing use by bishops of the power to suspend the rights of a patron for reasons of pastoral re-organisation. This sometimes bore adversely on the ability of the Society to maintain a Catholic tradition in its parishes. Further more recent changes which saw the abolition of freehold for Common Tenure also saw a widening of the reasons available to suspend. Although the Society retains sole patronage in about half of its Livings, others are shared, sometimes with several other patrons.

 

Today the Society seeks to fulfil its historic role and wishes to keep faith with the past and to assert the importance of the parish in the Church’s mission of pastoral care and service to God’s children. As well as appointing Incumbents, the Society also supports those parishes under its patronage with grants, usually for repairs or improvements to the fabric of the church, when funds allow. The Society can often provide independent advice to its parishes or incumbents. Given that most of the Society’s work is out of the wider public gaze, its membership is small but is open to any who can subscribe to its aims. Applications can be made and need to be countersigned by a member of the Council. There is an Annual Festival and General Meeting and a Buffet Luncheon, usually in May. 

 

The President of the Society is Dr Brian Hanson. The General Secretary is The Revd John Hanks and the Membership Secretary is The Revd Philip Warner. See smftrust.org.uk

 

This article first appeared in Together, published by The Society under the patronage of St Wilfrid and St Hilda, and is reproduced here by permission. 



Advice to Churchwardens during a Parish Vacancy

Posted on the 18th October 2016 in the category Resources



Churchwardens & the Vacancy in the Benefice: Notes by the Hon Sir John Owen DCL LLM, lately Dean of the Arches, one of Her Majesty's Justices in the High Court, and a Churchwarden.

1. How does a vacancy come about?

A vacancy in benefice may occur through the death of the incumbent; by his resignation; by exchange (with consent of the respective patrons and Bishops); by cession (usually preferment/promotion); by deprivation; by compulsory retirement or by declaration of avoidance made by the Bishop after a serious breakdown in the pastoral relationship between the incumbent and the parishioners, caused by one or either or both over a substantial period.

2. What happens during a vacancy?

A. Churchwardens, together with the Rural Dean, become Sequestrators, i.e. trustees of the income and property of the benefice. 
This happens automatically (C. of E. Miscellaneous Provisions Measure 1992). The Bishop may appoint one other person as an additional sequestrator if he considers this desirable. Under sequestration, the income of the parish church is ordered to be taken by the sequestrators and applied as required in the circumstances. Generally, nowadays the income received by the sequestrators is confined to marriage, burial and other fees, since, by virtue of the Endowments and Glebe Measure 1976 other income is paid directly to the diocese and an annuity or augmentation paid to each incumbent so long as he has the cure of souls. A vacancy brings these payments to an end until restored to the new incumbent.

B. Priests-in-charge. 
Whenever a benefice is under sequestration, the Bishop has power to license a minister to be the priest-in-charge for so long as the sequestration continues. However, it is not usually considered necessary to license a priest-in-charge for the comparatively short interval which normally elapses between the vacation of a benefice by one incumbent and the admission of the next. Nevertheless, in recent years appointments of priests-in-charge have become much more common than formerly, partly because it sometimes takes time to find a suitable new incumbent owing to a shortage of clergy but principally because of the increasing exercise by diocesan Bishops of their power under section 67 of the Pastoral Measure [1983] to suspend presentations to benefices. The exercise of this power will be appropriate when a pastoral scheme for reorganisation is in mind. Some other occasions will be harder to justify. In general, a priest-in-charge has the same duties as an incumbent, as regards the convening and chairing of meetings of parishioners (for the appointment of churchwardens), of parochial church meetings and of meetings of the PCC etc.
Only the Bishop may require a priest-in-charge to reside in the parsonage house.

C. Expenses
The Bishop has power to determine the amount of remuneration to be paid out of diocesan funds for the performance of occasional ecclesiastical duties during a vacancy and where any such duty is performed by a person, other than a person in Holy Orders, the person to whom the remuneration is paid. If the Bishop makes such a determination it is binding on the sequestrators subject to the approval of the Bishop - who may have delegated to the Archdeacon – and the Sequestrators may, out of the income of the benefice, make provision for:
a. the proper care and custody of the house of residence of the benefice if any,
b. the upkeep of any garden, orchard or other land belonging to or occupied with such house of residence,
c .the remuneration payable in respect of any professional assistance.

D. A vacancy does not relieve Churchwardens of any duties or responsibilities.
Churchwardens, albeit first Parish Officers, are also Bishop’s Officers which entitles them to seek help from the Bishop and his staff, but more importantly, they remain representatives of the Parish as a whole. They continue to be required “to use their best endeavors by example and precept, to encourage the parishioners in the practice of the true religion” and to promote unity and peace among the parishioners.

They continue to have responsibility to ensure the necessary steps are taken when a Faculty is required.

Although the books belong to the P.C.C. and should be in the custody of the incumbent, the Churchwardens have custody of the Church Registers during a vacancy. This may well necessitate ascertaining the whereabouts of these books and taking physical possession of them. Leaving them in the church would probably be a breach of duty.

In the absence of an incumbent, it is likely that the responsibility for ensuring that visiting clergy are available for the church services held in the church will fall initially on the Churchwardens although both the P.C.C. and the diocese may well be involved. If the Churchwardens have difficulty they should seek help from the diocese although normally the Rural Dean, as a fellow sequestrator should be able to resolve difficulties. Churchwardens should ensure that visiting clergy sign the service book.

Churchwardens should ensure that the necessary arrangements are made with visiting clergy to provide for the choice of hymns etc.

Churchwardens should take custody of the Parson’s keys. Any separate church hall is likely to be the property of the P.C.C. and under its control although the building will probably be vested in the Diocesan Authority. If the incumbent has managed the hall as Chairman of the P.C.C., the Council will have to make arrangements. A hall or room integral with the Church is likely to be part of the freehold and during a vacancy will be under the control of the Churchwardens and not the council. The faculty authorising such use will make the position clear.

Although the freehold of the Church and churchyard is normally vested in the incumbent, possession of both is vested jointly in the incumbent and Churchwardens jointly. This fact requires the Churchwardens to prevent entry to the Church by any person claiming to enter for any purpose not authorised by law. A vacancy might suggest to burglars that there would be easy pickings in the Church.

If an incumbent dies and there is a parsonage house attached to the benefice, his widow may continue to reside in the house for two calendar months, presumably, the widower of an incumbent would have a similar right. The sequestrators will need to ensure that the parsonage house remains insured, especially if vacant.

Under Canon F15 it is the duty of Churchwardens to maintain order in the Church and Churchyard especially during Divine Worship. Although they may remove persons disturbing or clearly intending to disturb a service provided that they use no more force than is necessary it would be wiser, whether there is a vacancy or not, to seek help from the Police.

It may be that the annual meeting of parishioners (often still called the Vestry) and the annual parochial church meeting become due in a vacancy. In such circumstances, there being no Minister, the Churchwardens should convene the first meeting and sign the notice stating the date, time and place etc. (Churchwardens Measure 2001), and the Vice-Chairman or Secretary of the Council or some person authorised by the Council should sign the second notice. Although the Churchwardens and such person are required to make these arrangements, the Chairman of the Meeting will in each case be chosen by the meeting.

If, when a vacancy occurs, there is in the parish a licensed curate, he or she continues in office. Churchwardens should appreciate that for the curate, the vacancy may present new problems and will certainly involve a much-increased workload.

3. Selection of new incumbent
· When a benefice becomes vacant other than through the resignation of the incumbent, the Churchwardens must inform the Bishop and the Registered Patron.

· Patronage is the right to present to a benefice. Each diocesan registry should have a register of Patrons. All transfers should be recorded. In general terms the right to make a presentation occurs when a benefice becomes vacant, but before that can happen there are many procedural requirements.
Churchwardens should not be put off by this statement. They can obtain advice from the diocese and no doubt the Rural Dean will give guidance.

· When the Bishop becomes aware of a vacancy or an impending vacancy, he is to give notice of that fact to the designated officer of the diocese - very possibly the Diocesan Registrar will be that officer, or the Secretary of the Diocesan Pastoral Committee.

· The designated officer shall give notice of the vacancy to the secretary of the P.C.C. belonging to the benefice and to the registered Patron.
· If he wishes to exercise his rights - and he should - the Patron is required to act in accordance with the terms of the Patronage (Benefices) Measure 1986.

· Occasionally a Bishop or a designated officer has been known not to act in this matter as speedily as he should. This results in time consuming and unnecessary delay, which, in the light of the tight schedule which the 1986 Measure imposes, is to be avoided. The process of selection and presentation has to be completed within 9 months beginning with the date on which the benefice becomes vacant. Time can become a pressing consideration if the parish representatives or the Bishop exercise a veto or the Patron submits an appeal for review to the Archbishop of the province.

“Section 11 Meetings” of the Selection Process

Within 4 weeks of the secretary of the P.C.C. receiving notice of the vacancy the P.C.C. shall hold one or more meetings in order to:

a) prepare a statement (sometimes called a Section 11 Statement) describing the conditions, needs and traditions of the parish. Clergy seeking a benefice will no doubt decide whether they are still interested in the vacancy only after considering this statement, which should be regarded by the P.C.C. and the Churchwardens as of the utmost importance;

b) appoint 2 lay members to the P.C.C. to act as representatives of the council in connection with the selection new incumbent. No doubt the Churchwardens may be the 2 representatives but there is no requirement that this should be so. It is important that the lay members, whilst not delegates, are to be representatives of the P.C.C. and not only of their own views;

c) decide whether to ask the Patron to advertise the vacancy. If so it would seem appropriate for the P.C.C. to offer to pay the cost. The two representatives would make known to the Patron the views of the P.C.C.. Either representative may do exercise a veto of any proposed candidate for the vacancy;

d) decide whether to request a joint meeting (i.e. a “Section 12 meeting”) with the Patron and the Bishop to exchange views on the Section 11 statement. The Bishop or the Patron may also request such a meeting, even if the P.C.C. makes no such request, but only if the request is made within 10 days of receiving a copy of the S11 statement. If requested, the meeting must be held within 6 weeks of the request. At least 14 days notice must be given of the time and place of the meeting;

e) decide whether to request from the Bishop a statement describing, in relation to the benefice, the needs of the diocese and the wider interest of the Church.

Meetings Generally

It is in the interests of all parties to build up and maintain trust and open relationships and mutual respect between the Bishop, Archdeacon, Rural Dean and Lay Chairman of the Deanery Synod, all of whom must be invited if there is to be a Section 12 meeting, the parish representatives and the Patron. Patrons are sometimes unknown to the Churchwardens and members of the P.C.C. and a Section 12 meeting may provide an opportunity to remedy this. Such a meeting may well be difficult especially as the P.C.C. will be without the guidance of their previous incumbent - neither he nor his spouse may attend such a meeting. It is common practice for the Rural Dean, Archdeacon, or even the suffragan Bishop to attend meetings (and they have no right to attend Section 11 meetings) assume the chair and, for good or ill, take over the proceedings. This is illegal at Section 11 meetings and at Section 12 meetings. When even the Bishop will be present at a Section 12 meeting, it is still for the whole body of persons present to choose a chairman. At ordinary P.C.C. meetings no one other than members of the council may attend unless invited by the council itself to do so; and then they may be invited only to speak but not to vote or preside. The P.C.C. and the lay Vice-Chairman should remember that it is their meeting and act with firmness and courtesy.

Where a candidate is turned down, requests for further advertisements again may suggest reimbursement of additional costs to the Patron; but in any event neither the P.C.C. nor the chosen representatives have any way of insisting that their views are accepted.

Even when the Patron has decided to whom he wishes to offer the benefice, he cannot make the offer without the approval of the Bishop and the P.C.C. representatives (the veto of one representative is sufficient to prevent the appointment). The Patron sends them a notice (Form 36 or 37) requesting their approval. If the Bishop wishes to refuse, he must do so by notice within 4 weeks from the date that the notice was sent. If the P.C.C. representatives or either of them wish to exercise their veto, the notice of refusal must be sent within 2 weeks of the notice being sent. The representatives use form 37 and must give reasons for refusal. If the presenting Patron, within the time limits laid down, receives no communication, approval is deemed to have been given.

The Measure does not give any clear indication of the grounds on which a veto may be made. It is thought that even in the case of the Bishop they need not be such as would justify his refusal to institute the priest in question. It has been suggested that for example the Bishop or the P.C.C. representatives could withhold consent i.e. veto if the priest failed to meet some important requirement in the P.C.C. statement or the Bishop’s statement, particularly if the Bishop and the P.C.C. are agreed on that requirement. Another possible ground might be that the Bishop or the P.C.C. representatives feel that the priest’s personality makes him unsuitable for the parish and unlikely to be able to minister effectively in it. 

On receiving a refusal i.e. veto from either the Bishop or the parish representatives, the Patron may lodge a request to the Archbishop of the province to review the matter. The Archbishop is required to give his reasons for his decision in writing and to send copies to the Patron, the Diocesan Bishop and the P.C.C. Representatives. If the Archbishop authorizes the Patron to make an offer to the priest concerned he may do so.

It is comforting to know that little use has been made of this procedure. It seems that marital status cannot provide grounds for veto, which would be sustained on appeal to the Archbishop. Nor can race or age, although this last point may be of great importance to a P.C.C. as may marital status.

4. Presentation of new incumbent.
On receiving from a priest under the age of seventy an acceptance of an offer of the benefice, the Patron sends notice to the Bishop, presenting the priest to him for admission to the benefice and the end of the vacancy. Even at this stage difficulties may occur.

5. Admission is by institution.
A Bishop may refuse to institute i.e. refuse to admit to the cure of souls of a parish as the incumbent, a presentee in the following circumstances:
a) if there was a change of Patron in the year preceding the vacancy
b) if not more than 3 years have passed since the presentee was made deacon
c) if the presentee is unfit through physical or mental infirmity or incapacity, serious pecuniary embarrassment or scandal concerning his moral character.
d) if he has knowingly been a party to a transaction related to the presentation, which is invalid.
e) if the presentee has fewer than three years experience as a full time parochial minister.

Both the Patron and the presentee have a right of appeal against a Bishop’s refusal to institute. The appeal is to the Archbishop of the province sitting with the Dean of Arches or Auditor of the Chancery Court of York (the same person). There is no appeal from this tribunal. Objections by the Bishop at this stage are very unlikely to occur. However should a churchwarden for example have grounds for believing that the presentee is unfit as described in (c) above, he or she should inform the Bishop. Of a Bishop’s officer no less should be expected.

Before the incumbent is instituted notice of the Bishop’s intention to admit must be sent to the secretary of the PCC at least three weeks in advance and affixed to the church door, where it must remain for two weeks and the presentee must take the declaration of assent and take the oaths of allegiance and of canonical obedience. The churchwardens should ensure that the notice is displayed.

6. Induction
The incumbent is put into possession of the temporalities of the benefice by induction, which is performed by the Archdeacon on the Bishop’s mandate or sometimes by the Rural Dean as the Archdeacon’s deputy, and on his mandate. In practice, institution and induction take place at a service held at the parish church. Induction should always be after institution.
Subject only to the rights given in law to the Bishop and his officers, (e.g., the right of the Bishop in person to officiate or preach; the Faculty Jurisdiction of the Chancellor or Archdeacon; Visitation, &c.) once in possession of the benefice the incumbent has in it the exclusive duty of ministering and the exclusive rights to the emoluments of the benefice.

7. Temptation
With presentation, institution and induction churchwardens may be tempted to sit back and let the new incumbent get on with it: This temptation should be resisted.

 

These notes were first published by the English Clergy Association, and are reproduced here with thanks. More useful information for Churchwardens and Private Patrons can be found on the Association's website at www.clergyassoc.co.uk




SMF's Response to the Simplification Group Report

Posted on the 22nd July 2015 in the category Resources



The Report of the Simplification Task Group can be viewed here. Their proposals affecting patronage are on page 29.

 

22 July 2015

 

Thank you for the invitation to respond to the proposals set out in the recent Simplification Group report. The ​Society for the Maintenance of the Faith (SMF) is a patronage trust that holds the right of presentation (for the most part jointly with others) to 84 livings across 29 dioceses.

 

Our particular concern is with Recommendation 17a," In relation to the Patronage (Benefices) Measure 1986: ... Provide for the right of presentation to lapse to the Diocesan Bishop rather than the Archbishop of the Province after nine months."This proposal would fundamentally upset the delicate checks and balances that allow the patron, the parishioners, and the bishop, each a proper role in the appointment of a new incumbent. As pastoral reorganisation brings about the combination of parishes into increasingly larger benefices, there is an ever diminishing number of benefices to which a presentation can be made by a private patron or patronage trust etc. without their having to exercise patronage jointly with the bishop as joint patron. In such cases the bishop will usually want to take the lead in managing the appointment process, and consequently, in many cases, the bishop already has an effective veto at an early stage. Furthermore, if, as is now proposed, the bishop could be certain of introducing a favoured candidate to a benefice simply by default after the lapse of nine months had elapsed, the temptation to draw out the process with this in mind might well prove too great to resist.

 

We note from Annex 1 to the Report that concern was expressed that the nine months lapse is in fact unnecessary. The SMF shares that concern, and is dismayed to find that no recommendation is made in the report to address it. If we actually were allowed the full nine months period in which to make a presentation we would be content, but increasingly we now find that the formal Notice of Vacancy is not issued until some weeks or even months after the benefice becomes vacant, ostensibly in order to allow the possibility of pastoral reorganisation to be discussed by the diocesan MPC. For example, the benefice of Brighton St Michael & Brighton St Paul, (Diocese of Chichester) of which the SMF is sole patron, became vacant on 30 November 2014, but it was not until 15 January that the Notice of Vacancy was finally issued, i.e. more than six weeks later. It is not suggested that there is any intent in such circumstances to frustrate the patron's ability to make an appointment in the specified time-frame, but that is often the outcome.

 

If the provision for the right of presentation to lapse after nine months must in fact be retained, we would nevertheless wish to propose a modest amendment to the legislation, so that the nine months' period should be deemed to commence not on the date of the actual vacancy, but instead on the date of issue of the formal Notice of Vacancy. This simple reform would both restore the legitimate right of the patrons to exercise their duties within a reasonable time-frame, and also allow the diocesan authorities time to consider necessary pastoral reorganisation without thereby making the patrons' task unnecessarily difficult.

 

The Reverend John Hanks

General Secretary, Society for the Maintenance of the Faith



Whither Patronage?

Posted on the 1st April 2014 in the category Resources



FROM time immemorial the Patron has been the pivot around which the parish system has worked. Nowadays you sometimes hear people talking about “private patrons” in a pejorative or slighting way. What is often implied is that “private patrons” are an anachronism; that somehow they usurp a role properly belonging to others. Bishops seem particularly disposed to this view. This is unsurprising in a Church that is seeking to centralize power and authority which, it is maintained, will lead to greater efficiency and further the kingdom of God.

However, the Patron, or rather his predecessors, probably built the parish church and the patron's interests and responsibilities embrace most aspects of the parish system. This system is the rock upon which the Christian Church in this country has flourished for centuries. It is this system that is now under threat.

The origins of ecclesiastical patronage are firmly rooted in property. Some would argue that its origins are pre-Christian. There is some evidence that in the area we now know as Germany, it was pagan practice for the local lord to provide and pay for a priest and a place of worship to the gods which he considered as his property. When Christianity arrived, so the theory goes, the same arrangement remained in place with a Christian rather than a pagan priest.

In England, the parochial system grew up in a spontaneous and haphazard fashion: it was not all neatly planned by St Theodore. It seems fairly clear that as far back as Saxon times, the lord of the each manor built a church on his land, appointed and paid a priest, and regarded the benefice as his personal property.

The modern role of the patron took shape as a result of the reforms of a series of Councils culminating in the Lateran Council of 1215 which made provision for every parish to have its resident incumbent. This was essentially the creation of the parish system as we know it today. Under this system, the parish priest is able to fulfil his pastoral and liturgical responsibilities as a leading member of the community in which he lives, a source of great comfort, inspiration and security to all his parishioners. Christian worship and service is not only a very personal matter but is very much a community activity.

The most important benefit acquired by the patron who built the original church and who often paid for the parish priest, was the right to choose the incumbent for appointment by the bishop. Arriving at this point had not been entirely straight-forward.

In English Law, the church fabric was regarded as the property of the landlord until the fifteenth century. The priest existed on a grant of land from the lord of the manor and patron, the glebe. This was normally two yard-lands, twice as many strips of land in the common fields as were held by other members of the village community. He had a double share of the other rights of the community such as grazing, gathering wood and the like. There were also dues and offerings from the parishioners, originally shared with the lord of the manor. Later there were tithes.

The Norman Conquest complicated things. The Normans liked religious communities. They seemed to think that parishes would be well looked after by monastic houses, so they gave advowsons (the right of presentation of a priest to a Living or Benefice) to monasteries and monastic orders. Initially, such parishes were served by members of the religious communities. During the course of time, this was not always seen to be desirable and vicars (deputies) were appointed and paid to take care of the parishes on behalf of the monastery. Later, the monasteries often succumbed to the temptation to take most of the income from the parishes and to pay only a fraction of it to the vicars, keeping the, often substantial, profits for the monastery.

During the passage of time bishops and ecclesiastical bodies felt a need to acquire the right to present priests as incumbents in parishes. For example, the Dean and Chapter of St Paul's Cathedral acquired many Livings in the City of London. Did it staff them with keen, young Minor Canons? No: it rented the rights of presentation to priests and laymen who took the responsibility to provide pastoral care and the conduct of Divine worship. Bishops did the same. Abbot Samson of St Edmunds Bury invested the abbey's surplus funds in the purchase of advowsons.

The Investiture Controversy which continued from the late eleventh century into the twelfth century is relevant to the development of the present position of lay patrons. The Holy Roman Emperor and other lay princes and magnates claimed the right to invest abbots and bishops within their lands with the episcopal and abbatial ring and staff or crozier. Although this custom was closely allied to the exercise of lay patronage, it was condemned by Pope Nicholas II in 1059. All such lay investiture of the spiritualities of office was specifically forbidden by Pope Gregory VII in 1075. The dispute continued unresolved for several decades. A formal settlement was reached in 1122 and re-asserted at the Second Lateran Council the following year. The Emperor gave up his right to invest the spiritualities but continued to bestow the temporalities of the see of the monastic house, and he continued to receive homage. This was further endorsed by Pope Alexander III at the Third Lateran Council in 1179.

The dispute spread from the continent to England and took a similar course when St Anselm as Archbishop of Canterbury refused to do homage to King Henry I or to consecrate any bishop who had acquiesced in lay investiture. A compromise was reached where the King was permitted to receive homage and grant investiture of the temporalities of an office in return for a promise of freedom of clerical election. In this way it came about that private clerical or lay patrons present a candidate to a Living or Benefice and the incumbent is instituted by the bishop.

The Reformation made little or no difference to the exercise of patronage in England. The patronage of the dissolved monastic institutions was simply re-distributed. For example, the patronage of Bolton Abbey and its former parishes are now in the gift of Christ Church, Oxford given by the King to his college. Compare this with the continent. Napoleon's later destruction of the great institutions of Europe included the dismantling of most ecclesiastical patronage.

The incumbent priest, presented and instituted, was never a serf. Unlike others who held land from the lord of the manor, he was not bound to work on the lord's land. He owed his allegiance elsewhere, to his ecclesiastical superiors. In this way the idea of freehold developed. Vicars were granted that freehold in 1215 by the Lateran Council. The priest was secure in his freehold against dictation or oppression from lord, bishop or the patron. It is clear that the security that the freehold gave saved both the Evangelical and Oxford Movements from episcopal suppression.

The Church of England has long been a disputed church and never more so than in the nineteenth century. Various parties, interest groups, office holders fought to promote their views, sought to extend their influence. One way to do this was by acquiring patronage, enabling a committed individual or patronage trust to promote those who shared their theological views and ecclesiastical outlook: this was fairly easy to do. Were you to have read the Morning Chronicle of 2 June 1824, you would have learned that Mr and Mrs P. L. Wellesley were offering for sale a number of advowsons in Essex. (The family had fallen into debt through gambling). The right to present the next Rector of Wanstead was one of those for sale. The newspaper informed prospective purchasers that the annual income of the Living was £653, the age of the present incumbent was sixty-two and the cost was £2400. If that was too expensive, you might have bought the advowson to Roydon for £580. It was not, however, such a good deal: the annual income was £200 and the sitting incumbent a healthy forty-six year old.

When Samuel Wilberforce became Bishop of Oxford, he was dismayed to find that he had so little patronage and set about acquiring key parishes. He learned that the advowson of St Aldate's, Oxford was to be auctioned in the city. He set off to bid for it, but his horse threw a shoe and he arrived too late. The Simeon Trustees bought it and own it today, and St Aldate's is an Evangelical stronghold in the city. Other Evangelical patronage trusts similarly acquired advowsons.

In the wake of the Oxford Movement, or the Catholic Revival, in the Church of England, the Society for the Maintenance of the Faith was founded by two brothers, Canon Edward Wood, Vicar of St Clement's, Cambridge, and James Wood, a lawyer. Its object then, and now, is “to promote and maintain Catholic teaching and practice.” From its inception, the principal means of doing this was through the acquisition and exercise of patronage. None of it was purchased, unlike the practice of other patronage trusts. The founders would have nothing to do with a trade in advowsons, believing this to be uncanonical. Advowsons came to the Society by gift or bequest.

It is easy enough to point to past abuses in the Church and to misunderstand practices that were once commonplace but which we now find odd or would consider quite wrong. Protestant propagandists and Whig historians have always delighted in pointing to the failings of the late medieval church. But they neglect to understand that one of the great achievements of the Church in this country has been the provision and support of priests in parishes, interrupted for a short time only by the so-called Interregnum. However, we have come more and more to appreciate, through the work of such scholars as Eamon Duffy, just how much lay involvement and leadership there was in the pre-Reformation Church. In that, patronage played an important part.

In the modern parish, lay involvement is represented, in part, by the Parochial Church Council consisting of the elected leaders of each church and parish community who, together with the incumbent and the churchwardens, form the executive committee of the parish church.

Independent of this parochial structure stands the patron who, especially a resident one, can act as a source of appeal and disinterested advice in time of trouble. Patrons have been approached for advice by incumbents, churchwardens, members of the PCC and parishioners. Patrons can often be useful sources of unbiased wisdom and safety-valves for pent-up parish feelings.

Against this historical background the Society for the Maintenance of the Faith wishes to keep faith with the past and to assert the importance of the parish in the Church's mission of pastoral care and service to God's children; to maintain the integrity and value of the freehold for incumbents as a guarantee of security for the parish. Despite occasional highly-publicised abuses, the incumbent's freehold of the church, vicarage or rectory, is held in trust by each incumbent and represents in brick and stone the relationship of a priest to his people. The continued existence of private patronage through history into the contemporary Church provides a necessary element of independence and a system of checks and balances against the exercise of overbearing episcopal power.

Proposals expected to come before General Synod during the course of its present session would, in the view of the Society, some other patronage trusts and other private patrons, pose an unwarranted threat to these arrangements. The proposal to introduce common tenure for parish priests would abolish the freehold. It would also fundamentally alter the nature of the patronage operated by private patrons and would be an interference with their property rights. Similarly, the proposal to transfer the ownership of parsonage houses to a diocesan board would impinge upon the property to which a patron presents an incumbent and although appeal procedures are envisaged, it would render the sale of parsonage houses easier. While this may appeal to diocesan bureaucracies, it must be a matter of concern to patrons and incumbents. It will increasingly become an issue to be faced if the amalgamation of parishes continues. It forms part of an increasing centralisation of diocesan and church structures invariably achieved at a cost to and at the expense of parishes. If this trend continues unchecked, it will lead to the effective obliteration of the parochial system.

A study of proposals in the Peterborough diocese in the recent past provides a salutary warning. In 2004 the diocese proposed in a document entitled Setting God's People Free a radical re-organisation of the parish structure. From a document with such a liberating title it may have been expected that it might contain proposals such as a reduction in the cost of a top-heavy, self-augmenting hierarchy (in which Peterborough is far from unique), thereby releasing funds to re-invest in sufficient parish clergy to fill benefices of manageable size. A reduction in the amount required in parish share (“the Quota”) and re-allocation of parish income to provide direct support to more parish clergy. A return to parishes in kind, or more likely in cash which is left over after being squandered, of the glebe which was confiscated by the Endowments and Glebe Measure. A release to the parishes by the bishop of all patronages which he has acquired, since it is clear that he cannot possibly do justice to more than a fraction of them. Proposals to revitalise the parish system by seeking to provide every parish with a priest, not necessarily stipendiary, but someone ordained to celebrate Holy Communion with and for the local church: which although not ideal might have been an acceptable compromise. Setting God's People Free suggested none of these. Rather, its proposals were quite the opposite leading to further central, bureaucratic control. It was spin worthy of Mr Alistair Campbell. More seriously, it represented a dreadful indictment of the Church hierarchy for their administrative misdemeanours over a century and their failure to meet the real needs of the people. It was a set of proposals which saw the wholesale abandonment of the parish system and its replacement by the enticingly and romantically entitled “Sustainable Units of Ministry and Mission” (SUMMs).

The Report did not understand, or even ask, what were the motivations of parishioners to give active support to their parish church. Its proposal for the further centralisation of worship would provide no greater freedom of worship for parishioners, rather, it would result in the precise opposite. The proposed closure of churches would be matched by a loss of income, rather than the reverse. There was unlikely to be money enough available to sustain the Sustainable Units of Ministry and Mission, never mind anything in excess for diocesan requirements. A series of redundant churches, possibly derelict churches would provide the worst of images of a church in decline and failure. A well-kept church is usually the focal point of every parish and a sign that the Church of England is alive and well. A redundant or derelict church will demonstrate that the Church has abandoned that parish. Experience tells us that generally people will not travel to neighbouring parishes on a regular basis. It is a cared for and active parish church that keeps the Church alive. Without that the result will be a rapid decline in church attendance and a consequent decline in income. The strong allegiance to a parish church is not readily transferable. Cut off the roots of a tree and the tree will eventually wither and die.

Inextricably bound up with these proposed changes and others like them, is the position and fate of the parish clergy. In many cases, clergy feel that their vocation and its self-sacrifice, is being abused and there is little sense of appropriate pastoral care from bishops for their clergy. It is a sad reflection on the times and the state of the Church that many parish priests feel undervalued by a system which seems to have embraced the ethics of business rather than those of service and pastoral care. The language of Sustainable Units of Ministry and Mission, Rural Deans as line managers, and bishops as the chairman of a diocesan plc is depressing.

There are also many clergy, not least among those beginning their ministry, who are unsettled and apprehensive about the erosion of freehold and its effective abolition through the introduction of common tenure. There is also uncertainty and anxiety about both the decline in the standard of parsonage houses fit to meet the demands of parish responsibilities and the transfer of ownership from patron and parish to a central diocesan board. Having held this property in trust as the incumbent, the parish priest becomes a tenant of a diocesan board.

The changes proposed in the Peterborough scheme would have meant the wholesale suspension of the rights of presentation. At least Peterborough had the honesty to admit what has been common practice in other dioceses for several years, much to the frustration of patronage trusts and other private patrons.

In opposing the Peterborough proposals one private patron obtained a legal opinion from an eminent ecclesiastical lawyer, the Worshipful Mark Hill. The patron had been concerned that the proposals not only effectively abrogated a patron's rights but seemed to be entering unawares in a minefield of Ecclesiastical Law, the Law of Real Property and Employment Law most of it enshrined in Statutes, Government Regulations, Pastoral Measures and European Law.

Chancellor Mark Hill was of the opinion “that suspension of presentation to every parish or benefice as they become vacant is not permissible under the terms of the present Pastoral Measure.” The preponderance of authority points the other way. He was also of the opinion that the Peterborough report “embraces and requires the dismemberment of parish structures, most of which are governed by statute or measure [and the] failure to engage with the legalities devalues the force and sustainabililty of its conclusions.”

The Peterborough proposals showed in microcosm the threat to the parish structure. Whereas it is clear enough that in a period of declining church attendance and disregard of the Christian religion, dioceses are hard pressed financially, it cannot be right that their solution is cutting or amalgamating parishes, the principal tool of mission and community service, and cutting the number of parish priests, those who engage most completely and daily with those among whom they live, minister and witness. Rather than dig up the roots, might it not be more prudent severely to prune the top branches, feed and water the roots well and the tree will revive and it will flourish.

Paul Conrad
Christopher Davidge



 

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