Synod Spectator

Vol.1 No.2

 

Pension Prospects

David Williams is happy to report that C of E pensions are at last being put on a sound footing

Clergy pensions are in the news again. At least, they are in Synod.

We passed the "Draft Pensions Measure" which will enable Synod committees to refine, develop or change the details before it is brought again to the General Synod in July.

Before I go into details, I would like to share a few thoughts from my perspectives as a parochial clergyman about the whole pensions issue, which I tried to do on the floor of Synod - but was unsuccessful in catching the chairman's eye.

Firstly, I would like to say on behalf of fellow clergy that we are immeasurably grateful for our pensions provision. It has improved greatly over the years and, again, for this we are sincerely thankful.

Secondly, we realise the privilege not only of receiving a stipend for working for the Lord and His Church, but also experience that generosity for when we have retired from active full-time ministry. This in itself should bid us look forward to the greater generosity and amazing grace of our eternal God when we receive the upward call, "Well done, my good and faithful servant, enter now into the joy of your Lord."

Thirdly, I do have to acknowledge that some clergy have become increasingly uneasy about their future pension prospects. They have known the rigours of financial stringency many times during their stipendiary ministry, and can only foresee difficulties continuing throughout their retirement.

Fourthly, we must learn to change with the times! Hitherto we have maintained continuity with the past in that our pensions were paid out of past generosity and gifts to the Church. In the future our pensions will rely on the generosity of the present Church we serve. I would hope that this change leads to a renewal and deepening of the fellowship of Christian commitment - of clergy to laity with devoted service and inspirational leadership, but also of laity to clergy to pray, cherish and care for their clergy. The laity have been asked in recent years to fund an increasing proportion of stipends, and in future years this trend will have to go further. They will have to fund an ever larger proportion of the total remuneration package which includes both the stipend and provision of pension benefits.

Fifthly, we need to do some homework for a communications exercise. There needs to be a new definition of the clergy pension - probably along similar lines to our definition of the clergy stipend, which is in terms of a living allowance. We need a code of practice for the responsibilities and privileges relating to parish pension contributions. This would have to include the extent to which there was to be any legal, moral or spiritual obligation for such parish pension payments on behalf of the clergy - or whether such payments were to be purely optional. There is also a pressing need for a tighter definition of the pension package currently available to clergy, since the current phraseology can be so misunderstood by even the most devout Church people. I have actually heard it described as "a very comfortable package" of a non-contributory pension amounting to two-thirds of final salary, with a generous golden handshake.

Back then to the Draft Pensions Measure. The first paragraph (or clause) declares that there shall be two schemes with respect to the pensions and lump sum payments payable to "clerks, deaconesses and licensed lay workers and their widows, widowers and dependents." The first scheme (the existing pensions arrangements) will relate exclusively to past service and will be known as The Church of England Pension Scheme. The second scheme, relating to future service, will pay pensions and lump sum payments out of a pension fund. It will be known as The Church of England Funded Pension Scheme. These new arrangements will be introduced on a date to be set (probably 1st January 1998) and paragraph 2 authorises the Pensions Board, under the direction of the General Synod, to operate the pension fund.

Paragraphs 3 and 4 relate to the Funded Scheme. They authorise (and oblige) DBFs to provide funding from the parishes for the non-contributory pension scheme of the future. Considerable anxiety was expressed both at a Pensions Board briefing meeting for Synod members and also during the Synod debate as to whether parishes would be able to afford their contributions, whether Diocesan Boards of Finance were in a position to make contributions compulsory and what would happen in the event of parishes defaulting.

Paragraphs 5 to 8 relate to the Church Commissioners' commitments. Their funds have to cover past service, and the notional accrual of pension rights for the first part of the 37 years which merit a full pension package. The big question is how much of their assets should be transferred or allocated for this purpose, and I will return to this question shortly.

Paragraph 9 covers the constitution of the new Pensions Board. Of the 15 members, five shall be representatives of the members of the new pension scheme. Paragraphs 10 to 12 cover some miscellaneous provisions, interpretations and amendments to existing legislation.

The big question on most people's minds is how much of the Church Commissioners' assets should be transferred to the new pension fund. Independent actuarial advice indicates that a sum of 1.34 billion should be transferred to the pension fund to meet all existing commitments. This is based on informed financial estimates and predictions over a very long period, but would be reviewed every three years. This fund would need to cover perhaps as much as 50 or 60 years of future pension payments and, in an ideal world, would slowly run down and cease as the final pensioner dies. However, I suspect much debate will focus on whether this sum should be transferred totally to the new combined pension fund under the Pensions Board, or whether the Church Commissioners should transfer several tranches of funds over a period (depending how actuarial predictions varied in future years) or indeed if the Church Commissioners were merely asked to "ring-fence" a proportion of their assets, the income from which would be transferred to the Pensions Board for disbursement.

If you have a particular contribution to make, do write in to the General Synod Office. Pray for Father John Broadhurst, who is the Chairman of the Draft Pensions Measure Steering Committee. Please pray for me, recently elected, and others on the Pensions Board.

What then of the future? We know sadly that there are many active clergy with families who have to depend on State aid or charitable gifts to make ends meet. Are we able to look forward to the time when the retired can give this testimony, as the Psalmist did, "I have been young and now I am old. I have not seen the righteous forsaken nor his seed begging for bread."

Rev David Williams is Team Rector of St Mark's, Cheltenham and has been on General Synod since 1990. He is a Church Commissioner, a member of the Central Stewardship Committee and has just been elected to the Pensions Board.

 

Where Angels Fear to Tread

Michael Alison wonders how Parliament will digest Turnbull

Working as one body (The Turnbull Report) proposes a massive diminution of the powers of the Church: Commissioners:

"Most of the functions of the Church Commissioners, including decisions about the detailed allocation of their income, should be transferred to the (Archbishops') Council."

And I need not remind you of the paradox, that that part of its functions, the technical management of its "Historic assets", in which in recent years the Commissioners are held to have fallen short, is precisely the residual and only function to be left to them under Turnbull. The Church Commissioners are to be ejected, from being at the very heart of the Church of England family, to a place at the margin - to becoming in effect simply the family stockbroker. This may be all well and good, but there is a snag. It is on to this marginalized role and function, with the number of Commissioners reduced from 95 to 15, that Turnbull succinctly and somewhat starkly rests the weighty proposition that -

"The Church Commissioners would continue to embody the important historic partnership between Church and State."

Presented visually and graphically, it reminds me of that old advertisement for John West's tinned salmon in which a superb salmon is depicted as leaping up out of the water, but it looks back with some surprise along its torso, since a whole chunk of its middle section has been excised, leaving a yawning gap. The message on the advertisement simply reads: "John West took the best." This little caricature pinpoints, I hope, the serious point I am seeking to make. It is the somewhat forlorn and emaciated creature I have depicted which "would continue to embody the historic partnership between Church and State."

How will parliamentarians view this proposition if they were to be presented with our proposals along these lines? In seeking to advise the Synod in this context, I make no apology for dipping into a bit of history, since it is our common heritage. Historians, for example, remind us that, with very few exceptions, all the Chancellors of the Exchequer and Treasurers of England from the Norman Conquest to the Reformation were bishops, or sometimes deans or archdeacons, and the speeches with which they opened parliaments were usually a mixture of policy statements and sermons.

But nobody can now deny that the systematic trend since those earlier days of almost organically intermingled Church and State - with the House of Commons effectively the forerunner of our own House of Laity - is best and most briefly encapsulated, so far as the Church of England is concerned, in those pivotal words of the Prodigal in the immortal parable, "Give me the portion of goods that falleth to me."

The first response to that request, I suggest, was Peel's Act of 1836, establishing the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, with important delegated powers of legislation involving financial administration. Then, following a complaint by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1919 that it had taken 12 years to get a church bill on patronage and tenure through parliament, parliament responded with the passing of the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act of 1919, which is essentially why the General Synod exists today. And in 1947 the Church Assembly proposed the Measure, which parliament accepted, for amalgamating the two historic streams of cash, property, and other flows of assets which irrigate and fertilise the Church of England.

These two streams were the Bishopric and Dean and Chapter Estates on the one hand, and Queen Anne's Bounty, originating from the Crown, on the other.

The Turnbull proposals, as they stand will represent a further, and highly significant step along the road of granting to the Prodigal that which falleth to him. Frank Field's Select Committee Report on Church of England Pensions, published last year, had this introductory thumb-nail sketch to give of relations today between Church and Parliament -

"The House of Commons has adopted a rather laissez-faire attitude in this century to the affairs of the Church of England. The limited statutory responsibilities of the Ecclesiastical Committee in respect of legislation passed by the General Synod, a brief oral question period with the Second Estates Commissioner representing the Church Commissioners every fourth Monday the House sits, and short debates on unamendable Church of England Measures do not amount to a major part of the life of the House."

That is a far, far cry from the days when Bishops introduced budgets in parliament, or Archbishops complained that church measures took decades to get through the two Houses. In my judgement, if Turnbull goes through in its present form, even the four-weekly Church Commissioners questions slot in the House of Commons will atrophy and disappear. What will be the point, or indeed the propriety, of a back-bench MP answering questions about the proposed Archbishop's Council, with which and in which he - or she - has no organic or functional link or responsibility? And if Parliamentary Questions go, can the presentation of Church Measures to parliament be far behind?

So the Prodigal's request for a further tranche of the portion of goods that falleth to him, perhaps in its final and definitive form in Turnbull, is full of implications for Church-State relations in the years ahead. One such implication might be pinpointed in the form of that tiresome figure in the parable of the Prodigal, the Elder Brother. He might well start asking awkward questions - perhaps eyeing Queen Anne's Bounty - like "falleth that Bounty indisputably and solely to the Church of England?" The assets deriving from Queen Anne's Bounty, after all, represent something like one-third, or more, of the Commissioners total portfolio! I cannot imagine a Turnbull Measure being debated in this or in the next parliament, without this sensitive issue being raised. The debate will be extensive and searching, thanks partly to the special space which - very helpfully - the Standing Committee tried to make in Synod for a parliamentary input to Turnbull. So a radical and critical examination of what Turnbull is proposing - a foretaste has been provided in Frank Field's Social Security Select Committee - is likely to be the order of the day. The Church of England will need all the friends it can find in parliament.

What therefore does my analysis suggest? First, that an incremental, evolutionary approach to change, as change we undoubtedly must make, will allow the necessary thought to be given as to how such changes will affect the Church-State link. I welcome, therefore, the White Paper as a helpful stage in that process, and I think that the proposed order-making power allowing for the phased transfer of the Commissioners' powers could be most useful. It could allow, if appropriately drafted, for proper consideration and consultation of how any transfer of functions will make its impact, both in parliament and beyond. For example, in the sphere of redundant churches, we will need to consult with bodies such as the Department of National Heritage, and the Churches Conservation Trust, (a joint Church-State body); these bodies are used to dealing with, and have confidence in, the Church Commissioners, who - following the Wilding recommendations - are the pivotal players in the field of redundant churches. Careful thought will be needed in preparing any new arrangements, indeed changes are really needed, if they are to attract similar confidence and funding.

The Synod must, therefore, weigh seriously the effect that the proposals within the White Paper will have on the existing Church-State links and through which the Church seeks to serve the nation. I echo what the Bishop of Chelmsford said in his speech to Synod last November that "disestablishment should not happen by stealth, by accident or by inadvertence on our part." Church and State are standing at an important cross-roads in terms of their relationship and careful thought must be given to the direction in which each wishes to move.

Rt Hon Michael Alison, MP is Second Church Estates Commissioner. He is an ex-officio member of the House of Laity of the General Synod.

 

Cinderella Gets a Look In

Mary Nagel thinks the C of E has still not got evangelism on its agenda or in its heart

During the recent General Synod elections (very recent if you live in Southwark) a large proportion of election addresses contained phrases like, "I believe in the mission of the Church." These phrases were repeated at hustings meetings, which is not surprising, considering that we are at the mid-point of the Decade of Evangelism. With Mission on the hearts of those returned to General Synod, the subject was bound to be on the agenda, and so it was in February - two sessions in fact! But the vagaries of the synodical system meant that we had but 1 hours to debate both a report and a private member's motion on Mission.

The Bishop of Wakefield gave us a joyful introduction to the Board of Mission's report Signs of Life. He was lively, cheerful and hopeful. Responses ranged from the pessimistic to the carefully optimistic, with most concern being shown in the area of youth. It is a drastic situation which needs urgent action, we were told. How can we attract and keep our young people? And so the debate seemed set to continue, except that time was running short and very few people could be called to speak. There were many who had stories to tell, experiences to share and points to make, but we had to stop for lunch. As for our young people, there was to be a report in April with opportunities to debate it in July. Maybe there would be more time then.

The private member's motion fared no better - we had nearly half an hour! But it was adjourned until July, so the debate can be continued at York. Gerry O'Brien's motion requested PCCs to encourage every person on the electoral roll to get on the mailing list of one of the world mission agencies. In his opening speech he reminded us that the missionary societies had spearheaded the spread of the gospel. However, in recent years, the proportion of parish income that had been given to the mission agencies had been steadily falling. "Mission must be given a higher profile in parishes," he argued. The proposal would cost very little to put into effect, but had the potential of being very effective. The Archbishop of Canterbury warmed to the motion and urged us to pray for those engaged in missionary work, which is often undertaken in very difficult circumstances. Prayer is effective in supporting the work of mission. A returned missionary reported how she had felt uplifted by the prayers of those at home.

The Archbishop also urged us to encourage PCCs to tithe their income for the work of spreading the Gospel. (Personally, I find it strange that there are churches who do not already see this as a priority. We ask our people to give generously to the work of the Church; should the Church not give as generously to the work of the mission agencies?) Dr Carey went on to ask us to consider encouraging Diocesan links with third world countries, as a number of Dioceses already do. We can learn from others in different situations and in this way deepen our own faith and commitment.

Signs of Life suggests that the Church of England greeted the Decade of Evangelism with mixed enthusiasm, but in spite of English reticence it is having a profound impact on our Church. We all wear the Cross of Christ made on our foreheads at our baptism; we must all be witnesses and make Christ known.

The question that is being asked is, "Where do we go from here?" I expect that people reading articles like this are already committed to evangelism and mission, but what about the rest? Aren't we all tainted with the late 20th century malaise of apathy? How many of us are content with the hope that someone else will do it? Evangelism and mission are personal responsibilities as well as corporate ones. It is all very well to blame the structures of Synod for not allowing enough time to debate mission, but we have to admit that there are many who are unwilling to be witnesses for Christ. As the Bishop of Wakefield said, "The report shows that evangelism is on the agenda, but it is not firmly in our hearts."

Mary Nagel is a lay member of General Synod. She represents the Diocese of Chichester.

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