Designated Offices and Common Tenure

by Philip Jones

Although equal security of tenure for all beneficed and licensed clergy is the general rule under the Ecclesiastical Offices (Terms of Service) Measure 2009, there are exceptions.  S.2(2) of the Measure makes clear that ‘common tenure’ is not incompatible with ‘appointments of limited duration’.

The only such appointment which is specifically referred to in the 2009 Measure concerns that of a priest-in-charge during a vacancy in the benefice.  The licence of a priest-in-charge may be revoked when the vacancy comes to an end (s.3(4)).  However, the Measure also provides that the bishop may revoke a licence granted to a person ‘in connection with employment under a contract of employment’ (e.g a school or hospital chaplain), if the contract is terminated by the employer (s.3(5)).

The Regulations issued under the 2009 Measure provide further categories of appointments of limited duration.  These are stated at Regulation 29.  Such appointments may be either

(1) for a fixed term (which may, however, be extended for a further period or periods indefinitely) or

(2) terminable on the occurrence of a specified event.

Some temporary appointments are fairly obvious.  They include

(1)  a post created to cover a colleague’s authorised absence from work

(2)  a post created as part of a mission initiative (mission initiatives are temporary in nature) and

(3)  a licence granted to an office holder who is above the retirement age of 70.

 However, Regulation 29 also provides for 3 categories of ‘designated office’ that are of limited duration:

(1)  Training posts.  These may arise where the office holder (e.g a recently ordained curate) is required by the bishop to undertake initial ministerial education.

(2)  Posts subject to sponsorship funding.  Such a post may arise where any part of the office holder’s remuneration ‘package’ (i.e stipend, pension, accommodation, expenses) is funded or supplied from outside the official Church (‘defrayed by a person or body other than a diocesan board of finance, parsonages board, parochial church council or the [Church] Commissioners’ (29(4)).  The post might need to be terminated for financial reasons if the sponsor withdrew support.

(3)  Probationary offices.  These may arise

(a)  where the office holder is returning to the Church after a career break (‘has not held any ecclesiastical office in any place during the [preceding] 12 months’ 29(5)) or

(b) where the office holder has a bad disciplinary record under the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963 or the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003, or was removed from his previous office under the capability procedure introduced by the 2009 Measure (29(6) and (7)).

Training and sponsorship posts (1) and (2) can only be licensed offices, not benefices.  Also, the office of team vicar may not be designated as a sponsorship post.  However, it would be possible, on the wording of Regulation 29, for a benefice to be designated as a probationary office. 

Regulation 29 is silent as to any procedure for the designation of offices.  It does not specify who does the designating, or how, or when.  Moreover, it provides only that offices ‘may’, not must, be designated as such.  This suggests that a particular office need not be designated as a training, sponsored or probationary office, even if it matches the description of one.

Although Regulation 29 is vague, it must be clear from its context that an office can only be designated by the bishop, or at least with his agreement.  The bishop confers title to the office, whether beneficed or licensed.  If an appointment is to be of limited duration, this fact must be recorded on the ‘statement of initial particulars of office’ to which the new office holder is entitled (reg 3(5)(j)).  The statement must be prepared by a diocesan officer nominated by the bishop (3(1)(a)).

The initial statement must be given to the office holder not later than one month after he takes up the office.  The Terms of Service Regulations also envisage that particulars of office may change after the office holder has been appointed.  In that case, the office holder is entitled to another statement ‘containing particulars of the change’ (Reg 6(1)).

It may be very unlikely in practice, but the vagueness of Regulation 29 suggests the possibility of a misunderstanding over the designation of a particular office.  The office holder might accept an office before realising that it is designated and therefore of limited duration.  The bishop might change his mind and designate an office after the office holder has been appointed, thereby reducing the office holder’s tenure.

A disappointed office holder could then have recourse to the diocesan grievance procedure required by the Terms of Service Regulations (reg 32), but this may not be a very attractive option as the grievance procedure is controlled by the bishop.

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