John Masding warns his fellow clergy to be on their guard with the arrival of Common Tenure and its radical change of church culture

The Ecclesiastical Offices (Terms of Service) Measure has passed Parliament and received the Royal Assent. Parts are now being implemented. The Regulations have been made. The (binding) Code of Practice is being prepared.

Have you read them? They are available online (on the Church of England’s website). Do not believe everything you may be told, of course. Your informant may be well­intentioned, but wrong, or wrong-headed. Understandably – these are complex matters.

The English Clergy Association advises those with freehold of office not to agree to surrender it, and not to go over to the basis of common tenure, under which you may at times feel rather like a mere serf. This is our advice to all archdeacons, rectors and vicars, deans and canons, and even bishops themselves.

Vestige of freehold

When the Measure is fully in force, future appointed such persons will all be on common tenure, so far as office is concerned. But the freehold of parsonages will remain vested in rectors and vicars, something for which we campaigned, and where the Archdeacon of Berkshire and others in Synod were so elective.

The new legislation does not affect the freehold of the church and parsonage that the incumbent will continue to enjoy; but future rectors and vicars will have no freehold of office given to them in their institution and induction, merely the property freehold, still very important in itself.

I have campaigned for a better deal for curates and other licensed clergy in the past, and in the Eighties succeeded, through the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament, in persuading General Synod to give curates and others a legal right of appeal against summary withdrawal of a licence by a bishop. Of course, a bishop remained able to givethree months’ notice, even so.

Now therefore we are glad to see that licensed as distinct from beneficed clergy do gain a little security under common tenure. Summary dismissal will not be possible: due process of law will be required. What this may actually mean in practice has yet to be seen, and case studies will be revealing.

Fewer suspensions

It will probably take some time for the full elect of these radical changes to the underlying culture of the Church of England to become fully apparent. It has been said that fewer presentations to livings will now be suspended, so that there will be fewer priests-in-charge; and there will therefore be more rectors and vicars appointed by patrons of livings, subject as before to the usual consents, by the bishop, and by each of the parochial lay representatives. We shall see. Dioceses may still be motivated to suspend by a desire to get the house – and in future maybe the church itself, as anecdotal evidence is beginning to suggest.Bullying is an issue raised by the trade union Unite. One ought to be looking carefully at the Ecclesiastical Offices (Terms of Service) Measure, the Regulations made thereunder, and the draft Code of Practice crucially covering capability and grievance – procedures – all now to be mandatory, and not matters that will ‘go away if you don’t look’. Equally to be compulsory are ministerial review and continued ministerial education – not a Chinese labour camp, of course, but still a matter of episcopal direction rather than something for a clerk to undertake at his or her own choice. So there are improvements in aspects of the position of those clergy who merely have licences, and are not beneficed, I agree, but even for them not all is improvement.

Human resources

Under the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure (and even under the revised version of the Incumbents (Vacation of Benefices) Measure), there was an element of judicial objectivity) – a jury-like system of persons sitting with the totally independent judge, the Chancellor, under the EJM, and a requirement that proof be beyond all reasonable doubt.

The new tribunals under the Clergy Discipline Measure not only are obliged to have regard to the bishop’s position of authority in these matters, but, made up wholly of unelected people, they make their judgement against an accused clerk on the balance of probabilities, the so-called ‘civil standard’

In the case of capability proceedings under which, no less than under the Clergy Discipline Measure, a clerk may be deprived of his or her benefice or licence, appeal will lie to unfamiliar industrial tribunals – and a steep learning curve for all involved! At every stage the bishop and his officers will be heavily dependent upon a new breed for the Church, the HR-adviser… ‘Human resources’ is a revealing term – for resources are expendable.