Advice to Churchwardens during a Parish Vacancy
Posted on the 18th Oct 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.
D. A vacancy does not relieve Churchwardens of any duties or responsibilities.
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
· 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.
· 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.
· 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.
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.
5. Admission is by institution.
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.
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