John Masding explains the importance of the Association in its 75th Anniversary year
A private luncheon to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the English Clergy Association was held at the Oxford and Cambridge Club on 9th September. Among those present were several members of the English Clergy Association Council, Trustees of the Benefit Fund, members of the Association and a pleasing number of private patrons.
The Association was founded in June 1938 at a meeting held at St. Martin-in-the-Fields. A strong-minded Rector, Edward G. Courtman, Proctor in Convocation and a Governor later of the Church Commissioners, became Organizing Secretary, and soon Chairman, and office he retained with his Rectory until he was in his mid-nineties.
At one time there was a substantial group of Proctors belonging, who met during sessions, and a membership in thousands. The defence of the parson’s ownership of glebe ranked high on the agenda, but rather draconian emergency legislation introduced during the War foreshadowed the threats to the Parson’s Freehold itself.
A potent article
Article 39 of the Magna Carta, which can be translated as follows, reads: ‘No free man shall be taken or imprisoned or his goods seized or be outlawed or be exiled or be in any other way ruined, nor will we come upon him, nor send upon him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.’
William III quoted this in December 1688 in his speech to Parliamentarians when he came over and accepted the throne, after James II had fled, having lost his fight to deprive the President and Fellows of Magdalen College of their freeholds.
The modern relevance of this article remains potent, for the necessary freedom of clergy to work without over- prescription by ecclesiastical bureaucracy and hierarchy in order to secure the exercise of responsible ministry and service in good spirit. Incumbents are not delegates of a bishop, but independently able to exercise in carrying out their office, subject only to statutory limits and higher jurisdictions exercised in due form and process the powers which are intrinsic to the office of a beneficed clergyman.
Writing in the Association’s magazine, Parson & Parish in 1942, Dr. Headlam, formerly Regius Professor of Divinity, and at that time Bishop of Gloucester, had spoken of the Parson’s Freehold as a guarantee of a clergyman’s liberty to act and speak, the very icon and exemplar for society of the Free Man whom Magna Carta had protected. The work of parsons, the Bishop wrote, is the work of free men.
The work of the Church of England would be no better performed were they to become ‘salaried officials, with small incomes.’
Well, the Glebe was lost in 1976, and Endowment, Trusts and Fees have all been subsumed within the diocesan maw. The future freehold of office was also lost; but we did at least have the satisfaction of seeing the freehold of his property in the Church and Parsonage remaining with the incumbent.
His basic legal position is still that of a free man, holding office, not employed and subject to contract, even on Common Tenure; although the powers of a diocese have grown, are growing, and ought to be diminished.
Mr. Masding has chaired the Association since 1991 when he was Vicar of Hamstead. He serves with permission to officiate, and is Secretary of a local Deanery Synod, and on Diocesan Synod as one of the few retired clergy there.
He is a Trustee of several Charities, active in the world of heritage bodies, is Patronage Secretary of the Prayer Book Society, and has recently been Chairman of the Bath & County Club.