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Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Terms of Service - (c)27Feb2007

Government has required the CofE to look at Terms of Service for clergy. Many clergy have 'freehold' - but many do not. This is particularly so for new clergy, and for members of team ministries and those others with license as priest-in-charge, ie those who are not 'beneficed clergy', clergy holding a benefice. Under current legislation that means that some clergy, at the end of a fixed term of office, with no security of tenure, may be found in a tribunal to have been inappropriately dismissed - but no recourse to redress, as they are not employees. Plenty of responsibility; but with very few rights.

Some feel that freehold should be guarded at all costs - but it is clear that freehold has actually slowly been eaten away at over the years, and it does not necessarily mean what one might expect it to mean. For example, although I have the freehold, as soon as I stick up a For Sale sign up outside my vicarage, I expect the full weight of the diocesan structures to fall upon me like the proverbial ton of bricks the vicarage is constructed from. So, freehold - but not as we know it.

What is proposed is a move towards Common Tenure. However, again, from a lawyer's or surveyor's perspective, not as we know it. It appears the church has stolen a phrase in use elsewhere, and re-interpreted it for its own use. Sometimes this is good thing... sometimes it just serves to confuse. Hey ho.

Freeholders can, on occasions of stubbornness, clog the wider church's ministry in particular places. This is 'not a good thing' generally. However, the rights of the office-holder (rather than the employee) without freehold, do clearly need to be strengthened, but in a way that allows for duties to be effectively monitored, and with a realistic sense of accountability.

Common Tenure is, it is argued, actually at least as strong as freehold. That, and its universal application, I welcome. There are issues about property though - particularly parsonages (as vicarages and rectories are collectively called). Who will know 'own' these?

Current suggestions are that a new sort of Diocesan Parsonages Board, independent of the Diocesan Finances, is set up to hold these in trust for each individual parish. As this legislation moves forward, I suspect this is one of the areas that will be pored over in much more detail at the next revision stage of the legislation.

It has now been sent on to the Revision Committee, where a few small issues may be further teased out, but the substantial direction of the legislation is now set.

Alastair GS101

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