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Tuesday, 12 February 2008

On Freehold and Common Tenure

I have been a freeholder for 12 years. This means I am incumbent of a parish and have ‘freehold’ rights to the church and vicarage of my benefice, whilst I hold the office as vicar there. 


But as Jacob, one of the General Synod representatives from our diocese keeps reminding me, it is not ‘Freehold’ as is generally understood in our society. For example, if I stick up a ‘For Sale’ sign up outside either my church, or even vicarage, the ‘authorities’ will be down on me like a ton of Victorian bricks.


More of an issue, for some more than 40% of my church colleagues though, is that they do not have freehold, nor indeed any other formal security of tenure in their positions. European legislation, chasing the Government, says clergy need to have proper employment rights now. So something needs to change. A whole raft of legislation and regulations are therefore coming in to re-apply a new sort of freehold for the 21st Century. Clergy Terms of Service, Ministerial Development, Clergy Discipline, Guidelines for Professional Conduct of the clergy, Capability Procedures, and Common Tenure have variously been coming through Synod over recent years.


Holding offices is something that clergy hold in common. So the term Common Tenure has been chosen to represent this new-style of office. However, as Jacob once again reminds me, from his experience in the real world or real estate, Common Tenure is another word that the church has chosen, like Freehold, with one meaning in the church, and a slightly different one outside. Perhaps we should have chosen different terminology. But actually it does, succinctly, say what we generally want it to mean.


There is a significant issue about parsonages, which caused much heat in the debate. There were many concerns over who would ‘own’ the vicarages and rectories of the Church of England under Common Tenure, and whether or not they become an asset of the diocese, the incumbent, the parish. Up to now they have been part of what is known as property of Corporation Sole. Don’t understand that, well nor did many Synod members before the debate - ask a friendly lawyer. However, if parsonages are moved in some way to the diocese, this might mean, if a diocese gets in to financial difficulties, some parsonage properties could be sold. How best to protect against this? There is quite a lot of worry here about whether we can trust those with the appropriate authority, to do with parsonages what is best for the church as a whole. In the end Synod opted for taking out the item on parsonages completely.


I’m for Common Tenure. I think a level playing field of employment and security is vital for all clergy, and there should not be a minority of folks without proper employment protection. This means that some, like me, will eventually be invited to relinquish our Freehold for what some probably mistakenly consider the lesser protection of Common Tenure. I don’t think it is just through altruism and ostentatious self-sacrifice, that I support Common Tenure, and will hand in my Freehold. I am not sure that Freehold as is really offers those of us who old it quite the sort of security it purports to do; and indeed there are a number of things that we would be ineligible for, unless we come under Common Tenure. So, bring it on.


Alastair GS101

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

If some clergy suffer from not having the freehold a better solution (not one that would EVER occur to the control-freaks on the bench) would be to give to them, not to make everything fair by taking it away from those who have it. Licensed clergy certainly need more security, and the management could see that this would be a reform forced upon the Church eventually, so they have acted pre-emptively to ensure, that along with the required increase in security for licensed clergy, clerical and parochial independence will be reduced yet further reduced in a host of other ways. Not you, but your successor, will be subject to compulsory assessment, have to go on courses, and generally justify his existence to the management just as the poor teachers and doctors do. Common tenure stinks.

Alastair said...

Anonymous said "...Common tenure stinks."

Well, over 40% of clergy currently, without freehold, and no practical hope of it, probably disagree with you. Freehold is already long broken.

Perhaps you missed the bit where I said I was prepared to give up my freehold, so this is far from an academic situation for me; rather the proposals for CTS, CDM, CT, CME and whatever other mnemonics, though not perfect, are moving in a positive direction.

Not just my successors, but I too, will have more effective CME and a Ministry Review system in my diocese that means I will see my bishop/archdeacon every year. Before this, I saw my bishop twice in 12 years, the second of those at my instigation. I don't have to justify my existence to 'control freaks', or the 'management' - but I do to my parish, and to God; and these measures help with that.

There were cogent arguments at Synod about what to do about housing. That was amended out, and dropped from the proposals. There were no arguments against the rest of the main thrust of the legislation, but rather support for it, from all quarters, & ecclesiologies. It has wide-ranging, and sensible support.

Anonymous said...

You can have "CTS, CDM, CT, CME and whatever other mnemonics" already without any need for, or connection with Common Tenure.

It won't be "Common" of course. You will still be paid less than the hierarchy and live in a much smaller house, although as an incumbent you are the one who needs the space, and the hierarchy don't as they generally have expensive offices in which to work.

And I somehow don't see Bishops being appointed on a fixed-term contract for five years. Which is what will happen to your successors.

Alastair said...

As I understand it, anonymous, the idea of 'fixed-term contracts' has already fallen apart, because under employment legislation, a Team Vicar on say a 5 year license, after being in post 3 years is considered in a permanent position, whatever the license from the bishop may say.

It is not at all the thinking that people appointed under Common Tenure may only be appointed for 5 years. I am not sure you have understood the legislation correctly.

As it is, making appointments absorbs a huge amount of time for diocesan senior staff, and they will not want to force moves and changes across the board at a much more frequent level, as you suggest - they have every interest in seeing stable, long-term parish appointments being made under Common Tenure, as they do under freehold.

Anonymous said...

I think I understand the legislation perfectly well. The whole point of common tenure is to remove the freehold-until-retirement which already exists. After that is done, the Archbishops' Council will begin to propose Regulations (s.1) in which Common Tenure itself will steadily be restricted to terms of years, diminishing with each new set of Regulations.

Where a fixed-term appointment has been made under this Measure, its determination will certainly be enforceable precisely because a Measure is an Act of Parliament and gives authority to the Church to do what it says on the face of the Measure.

And I have not mentioned the Pastoral Measure, which operates independently of this new legislation, under which a post can be declared redundant and the holder removed, whether an incumbent or not.

Once the current practice (or abuse) of appointing priests-in-charge comes to an end under the ToS Measure, you can be sure that dioceses will find other ways to dispose of clergy, either for "pastoral reorganisation", or to save a post, or to sell off a "redundant" parsonage house.

When it all comes to pass, remember that you saw it first on this blog.