Ernie Stroud answers a question which perplexes many a member of a PCC – and may affect the future of the parish

PATRONAGE HAS a long and in the main commendable history in the life of the Church. In theory the Bishop is the person whose right and duty it is to allot to his clergy their various spheres of work.

But at a very early period of the Anglo-Saxon settlement of religion the Bishops adopted the policy of encouraging the settlement of priests in the several townships by agreeing with the Lords or the communities of the townships to allow them to select their own resident priest on condition that they found a house and maintenance for him. The right of nomination was given in perpetuity and so the Lords of the Manor often became patrons of the benefice.

The Bishop always retained to himself the right to refuse an unsuitable person. The refusal had to be for definite reasons which sometimes needed to be established in a court of law.

As the years have gone on the system has developed and PATRONAGE – the right of presentation to a benefice – is exercised by individuals, by colleges and trusts and by the Crown. A Patron is said to hold the ADVOWSON (probably derived from the French through the Latin – Advocationem), which gives the right of presentation to an ecclesiastical benefice. In itself, it is a form of property which may be transferred from one person to another although it may not be sold.

Under the Patronage (Benefices) Measure 1986 which came into force on January 1st 1989 the law of Patronage and Advowson was greatly simplified. A register of the Patrons of every benefice is required to be compiled and maintained in each Diocesan Registry.

The transfer of patronage is possible, but not during a vacancy. Each transfer is to be recorded, the consent of the BISHOP AND THE PCC having been obtained. In the case of transfer the PCC concerned has one month in which to make representation.

At the time of exercising the right of patronage, the Patron or its representative in the case of a body corporate, must be a Clerk in Holy Orders or an actual communicant member of the Church of England, failing which a person may be appointed on his/her behalf who does qualify.

When a vacancy occurs in a benefice the Bishops gives notice to the “designated Officer”, often the Diocesan Registrar, who is required to inform the Patron and the PCC of the benefice. The Patron or his representative is required within two months of being informed of the vacancy to make the required declaration with regard to his/her status.. Meanwhile within four weeks of the notice the PCC will meet and prepare a statement setting out the traditions, strengths, weaknesses and needs of the parish including its financial state. The PCC may request a meeting with the Patron.

It is for the Patron to present his nominee to the Bishop having first agreed with the Parish representatives. A refusal to approve the proposed offer must be communicated to the Patron in writing stating the grounds upon which the refusal is made. In such cases the Patron if he wishes may ask for a review by the Archbishop. When a Priest accepts an offer, the Patron sends the Bishop a notice presenting the nominee for admission to the benefice.

In certain circumstances the Bishop may refuse to institute a presentee. In such cases the Patron has the right to appeal to the appellate tribunal, amongst whom are the Archbishop of the Province, the Dean of Arches and Auditor. There is no appeal from this tribunal.

If a patron fails to appoint within nine months of the vacancy the right of presentation lapses to the Archbishop of the Province.

Ernie Stroud was formerly Archdeacon of Chelmsford He is a member of the Private Patrons’ Consultative Group.