Reimagining the Benefice
Service rotas across benefices vary considerably, often shaped around the aspiration of providing a full suite of services for all parish churches, and retain previous pastoral arrangements.
A summary of the changes in benefice organisation and supporting legislation are as follows:
- Number of meetings - the requirement PCCs to meet four times a year has been replaced by “a sufficient number of meetings to enable the efficient transaction of its business.”
- If the parish has fewer than 50 on the electoral roll, there need be no more than three persons on the Standing Committee (the minister, and two who do not have to be the churchwardens) who can carry out the business of the PCC between meetings.
- A Joint Council covering more than one parish, to which the PCCs of each church within a benefice can transfer assets and responsibilities, without abolishing the separate parishes. Joint Councils now have legal personality, able to hold property and employ people.
- Services – the requirement in Canons B11 and B14 for each parish church to hold services of Morning and Evening Prayer and Holy Communion every Sunday has been replaced by a requirement to hold these services once in a benefice each Sunday.
The changes offer an opportunity to bring together PCCs from across a benefice and review governance and regular worship.
A ‘Festival Church’ is not a concept with legal meaning – different models are being promoted in different places. This allows churches to offer occasional services, the legal changes to benefice changes make this easier.
Current governance arrangements for parishes with seven churches, often mean six separate APCMs, and at least 18 PCC meetings a year with at best twelve churchwardens, with many wardens acting as PCC Secretary or Treasurer, and probably one vacancy for Secretary or Treasurer. The proposed changes to structure makes it easier to start a formal review of existing patterns of worship and governance, which could include:
- Setting up a Joint Council for the whole benefice, holding all the assets for the parishes and making joint decisions (only ONE Secretary and Treasurer required)
- Setting up one or more Joint Councils for sub-groups of parishes which work closely together.
- Decide that some PCCs don’t need to meet as often, or will delegate most of their work to a smaller Standing Committee.
Many Sunday services in a benefice work on a rota, with some churches having weekly services, others fortnightly or monthly, at different times and of different formats.The changes to the Canons suggest a review, which might include the following:
- The requirement for only one service of Holy Communion in the benefice may release a priest to put more energy into all-age/family services.
- All-age/family services are the modern form of Morning Prayer - the changes suggest a family-friendly service somewhere in the benefice every week.
- The changes still state a requirement for Evening Prayer – Sunday evening services can be a key way to reach those who find Sunday mornings complicated.
- Fixing the service at the same time every week in a particular church, even when for format/service type varies widely, can be a major aid to growth.
- The movement of the canonical services to benefice level means that if a particular church is moving in a Festival Church direction, it need not have any regular services at all, but only those organised for particular occasions, which can be of any format.
- What is the weekday provision? Could it be increased? Sunday should remain special – because it is how we hallow time by celebrating the day of the Resurrection in the weekly pattern given by Scripture.