Regulations allow parishes to opt in and out of any of the three Resolutions whenever they want, but this can be disruptive, as Paul Griffin explains

Under the current regulations, it is permissible for a parish to change its stance on any of the three Resolutions at any time. This applies either way, with a parish opting in or out of the Resolutions. It is particularly difficult when it involves a change of bishop, but also tricky for teams, groups and even benefices when, for example, they have a woman priest in charge.

Keen as I am on the principle that a parish is entitled to have the particular arrangements it wants, I bear in mind that many in the past have had to soldier on for years with an unsuitable incumbent, who nonetheless has not offended against canon law or common decency. In our anxiety to cure this anomaly, we must take care not to introduce a worse one, causing disruption and ever-fresh pastoral reorganization.

The problem can occur at any time a parish cares to review the Resolutions. It is particularly difficult in interregna, when by custom and common sense, change has been discouraged in the past. Yet we now have a regulation stating clearly that during interregna such a change can be made. This means that the vote is taken without any other guidance than that of the rural dean, archdeacon or other person outside the parish itself.

Threat to stability

What happens in an interregnum is that a meeting is held to decide what sort of incumbent the parish wants, after which the process of advertising, interviewing and appointing begins. This takes time, but with luck can be achieved within six months, the normal minimum time of an interregnum. The trouble is that interregna these days can go on for years, during which new PCCs will be elected, new power blocks arise and new views be formed. It is not good for the health of a bishop or archdeacon, who has just found a suitable man, to be told that the parish has now changed its position and wants another sort entirely. This does happen.

It could be suggested that under team systems there are no interregna. This is strictly true, but the combined effect of losing a loved Father in God and the long wait for a replacement, which can still happen, may well produce similar effects.

What then can be done to improve matters? It is unlikely that interregna will shorten, so for a parish under the traditional benefice system, I can see little alternative to banning changes of Resolution altogether, until they have a new incumbent with whom to discuss the matter. Certainly the regulation specifically allowing changes should be revoked. For other types of ministry this may be impracticable, the problem being that of parishes wanting to change horses (or bishops) in mid-stream, and thereby threatening whatever stable situation had existed up to that point.

For example, a lady rector in a cluster of a dozen or more parishes should not be under constant threat of being rejected by a palace revolution in one of the neighbouring parishes. There is quite enough pastoral reorganization without our creating a need for more, and at short notice. Anyway, the reaction of less traditionally-minded parishes, never very sympathetic to our cause, does us no good, and will eventually lead to a demand for Resolutions D and E, permitting parishes to rule out any possibility of a male priest. Fair, after all, is fair.

Common sense solution

On the one hand, the right of a parish to have what they want surely must be protected; on the other, it is a right that traditionally they have not been able to exercise immediately (see my first paragraph). One answer to the problem might be to allow instant changes of Resolution, but to insist that no resulting pastoral reorganization needs to be undertaken for a period of, say, three years. It goes without saying that sensitive pastoral arrangements within the benefice, group or team would have to be provided in the meantime.

There may be other solutions; but I feel this problem now has to be faced.