Anne Gray draws on recent experience to offer some advice
Review the Resolution
The House of Bishops’ Declaration states in paragraph 21: ‘Parishes which have passed a resolution should review it from time to time, especially when a vacancy in a benefice arises.’ There is no requirement to vote on the resolution again and go through all the associated rigmarole, nor a mandatory five-year review, as was the case with the former Act of Synod, just a recommendation to review the resolution from ‘time to time, especially when a vacancy in a benefice arises’.
The Oxford dictionary definition of review is: ‘A formal assessment of something with the intention of instituting change if necessary’. So the process may be as simple as your PCC checking that the majority of its members are happy with the Resolution and recording the fact in the minutes: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! And whatever some people may try to tell you, the words ‘when a vacancy in a benefice arises’ do not mean you have to wait until your priest has actually left. ‘Arises’, according to the same dictionary, means ‘emerges’ or ‘becomes apparent’, and of course a vacancy becomes apparent as soon as your priest announces he is leaving.
Don’t assume the Archdeacon is an expert on the law
… or that he or she knows what plans are in store for your parish’s immediate future. In an interregnum the archdeacon tends to be the person who represents the diocesan bishop. We realize that the majority are well-informed and will initiate clearly set-out, transparent deanery or archdeaconry plans with the full knowledge and consent of everyone involved, which is how it ought to be. But be aware that there are some who are not like this! It is possible – and there has been more than one isolated instance of this – that the Archdeacon doesn’t possess or follow any concrete plan about the future of a parish, has very little understanding of its theological conviction, and has scant knowledge of the Five Guiding Principles.
One of the most important conclusions of Sir Philip Mawer’s Sheffield Report was about the urgent need for education in the dioceses. As more bishops and archdeacons are appointed who were not part of the process which formulated or first embraced the Five Guiding Principles, that need for education is, if anything, greater than it was before.
Remember always to remain polite and courteous, but don’t be afraid to stand up for what is right.
If there are problems, Contact us – Early
If problems arise and you need advice, don’t be afraid to ask – and don’t delay. Mutual support is one of the strengths of The Society.
Contact your Bishop’s Representative, who is the eyes and ears of the Society bishop in your diocese. His details are available on The Society’s website under the tab marked ‘Dioceses’. Generally, he should be your first port of call, as he will have local knowledge and be of good standing in the diocese. If you are a Bishop’s Representative, please make sure you have an up-to-date list of priests with PTO who are willing to celebrate Mass in vacant resolution parishes which you can pass on to the churchwardens. Where would we be without our retired Society priests?
If you have questions the Bishop’s Representative can’t answer, contact the Forward in Faith office or me (see the FiF website for details), and we will respond as quickly as possible. If the question is legal and we need to seek advice, it may take a few days to get back to you, but be assured we regard all such questions seriously.
Whatever you do, don’t just sit doing nothing.
If presentation is to be suspended, find out what the process entails
If presentation to your benefice is suspended, it is sound advice to find out:
- how your diocese goes about appointing a priest in charge,
- to what extent your Society bishop is likely to be consulted, and
- the level of involvement the parish representatives are likely to be allowed.
Ensure you have the best possible PCC
The PCC holds the key to the resolution in your parish – and it includes, ex officio, the deanery synod members – so act prayerfully when electing members at your APCM. It is so sad to hear from priests nearing retirement such things as, ‘I would love to have a resolution in place before I leave, but not many on the PCC reflect the outlook of the congregation. They were elected because they were good at…’, and they name something else. It is even more sad when the priest departs and a PCC rescinds the resolution. Fortunately, that has happened in only three parishes as far as we are aware but, like the wise bridesmaids of St Matthew’s Gospel, always be on your guard!
If you happen to be from a parish without a resolution, consider passing one
It is still perfectly possible to do it. Don’t be charmed by an archdeacon offering a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ promising that a male priest can be appointed to your parish without a resolution being in place. Yes, occasionally that does still happen. It is sexist, without merit or theological conviction, and contrary to the Five Guiding Principles, and ensures nothing except misogyny. There is only one way you can ensure that your parish is and remains under the pastoral and sacramental care of a Society bishop – and that is for your PCC to pass a resolution under the House of Bishops’ Declaration.
Mrs Anne Gray is the Projects Officer of the Council of Bishops of The Society. She gave this address at the 2018 National Assembly.