Common Tenure

Peter Mullen is not in two minds as he outlines the end to an ancient tradition of English parochial freedom

Anew arrangement by which the clergy of the Church of England hold office will come into force by law at the end of next year. This is called Common Tenure and it will replace the historic Parsons' Freehold, which will be abolished.

This is only the latest and most destructive bureaucratic swindle operated by the bishops and General Synod in order to transfer power from the individual parson to the central authorities. Parsons' Freehold is an arrangement of genius adopted by the CofE in the Middle Ages, from a similar practice in Orleans and Lyon five hundred years before that. So, of course, it has to be done away in the interests of the centralising ecclesiastical apparatchiks, who have already almost abolished private or lay patronage of parochial livings and secured maleficent instruments by which parochial property can more easily be assignedtothe dioceses.

The Parsons' Freehold is not - as its vicious opponents insist - a cumbrous and outmoded system which needs to be 'modernised.' It is an arrangement proven by time and used to provide a degree of independence and protection for the incumbent. Along with the equally ancient office of churchwarden, it is one of the checks and balances which for a thousand years have provided a decent foundation of autonomy for the parish.

There was, until the current Measure, a four-fold principle of interdependence which involved the parson, the churchwardens, the patron and the bishop. Authority was proportionate and shared among these parties so that none could coerce or bully the others. There were always procedures by which a criminal or negligent parson - or one who was an open and notorious evil liver' - could be

removed. These procedures were administered through the consistory court, presided over by the independent judiciary, and provided a convenient and humane authority for the good order of the church.

This has now been destroyed by the very men who were appointed to preserve it - the bishops, aided and abetted by the modernising General Synod which increasingly seeks to model its procedures on the managerial methods of secular bureaucracy. To give them credit, they admit as much, hence all their talk of grievance procedures' and 'job security But all those protections were already being met by Parsons' Freehold. And so the only reason to change a fair and balanced system for one that is partisan and despotic is in order to grab power for the secularising central bureaucracy.

Again, the secular structure of the new form of governance is admitted by the innovators who say, 'Bishops' human resources responsibilities will increase exponentially with the coming into effect of this Measure.' Which, being interpreted, means a whole lot more secular managers and administrators will be appointed, paid for by the parishes.

Astonishingly, the authorities state: "Those of you with the Freehold will be invited to indicate whether you are willing to move to Common Tenure.' This is to ask turkeys to vote for Christmas. Since it is the parochial clergy who are already pressured intolerably by central authorities to raise vast sums from their long-suffering congregations to compensate for the colossal wreckage which the same authorities have made of the church's finances, that 'invitation' to opt for Common Tenure amounts not only to the turkeys being asked to vote for Christmas, but also to contribute to the cost of their stuffing.

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