ecclesiasticallaw

Ecclesiastical law

Tag: Parish Centre of Worship

The English Parish

Phillimore’s Ecclesiastical Law records an ancient dictum that ‘A parish is the place in which the people belonging to one church dwell’ (2nd edition, 1895, quoted at p.1638).  On this view an ecclesiastical parish has three essential elements, a territory (the place), a community (the people) and place of worship (the church).  However, a place of worship will require an incumbent minister, who will in turn require to be appointed and maintained.  A community will also require some form of governance.

It is therefore argued that a parish has 9 constitutive elements.  This is an attempt to identify and describe them, but not to provide a comprehensive account of the law by which they are regulated.  (That would require an entire book.)

1.  Territory

Blackstone describes a parish as ‘that circuit of ground in which the souls under the care of one parson or vicar do inhabit’ (Commentaries vol 1, p.107).  The English parochial structure remains strongly territorial in character.  This territoriality is, of course, the basis of the Church of England’s proud claim to be a truly national Church, with ‘no inch of territory … no place … beyond the reach of the spiritual ministrations of a priest or place of worship’ (L Paul The Deployment and Payment of the Clergy (1964), p.23).

The area of a modern statutory parish will now usually be indicated on a map or plan annexed to the scheme by which it is constituted (Mission and Pastoral Measure 2011, s.52(2)).  Every new parish must be named by its constituting scheme (s.31(2)).

Parishes are subject to extra-parochial places, which are defined as universities, colleges, schools, hospitals and other public or charitable institutions (Extra-Parochial Places Ministry Measure 1967, s.2(1)).  As their name implies, such places are outwith the parochial structure, even if physically located within the territory of a parish.  However, a person who resides in an extra-parochial place is deemed to reside in the parish which it abuts, and hence to be a parishioner.  Any uncertainty on this point is determined by the bishop’s council of the diocese (Church Representation Rules 1(3)).  Any uncertainty about whether a particular area or place is, or is within, a parish or extra-parochial place is determined by the Church Commissioners after consultation with the bishop (s.105(2)).

Independent mission initiatives may also operate within parishes.  Mission initiatives first received legal recognition under the Dioceses, Pastoral and Mission Measure 2007.  They are now regulated by the 2011 Measure (ss.80-84).  A mission is constituted by order of the bishop.  The objective of the mission should be ‘fostering or developing a form of Christian community, to promote or further the mission of the Church, or any aspect of it’.

If an ecclesiastical parish is understood as a territory, it follows that ‘parishioners’ may include persons who are not members of the Church of England.  Roman Catholics, Methodists and Muslims are obviously not members of the Church of England but they are still all parishioners, because they all live within the territory of a parish.

2.  Community

While English law defines the parish as a territory, Roman Catholic law defines it as a corporation.  According to the Code of Canon Law 1983, a parish is ‘a definite community of the Christian faithful’ (canon 515.1).  Thus, in contrast with English law, persons who are not members of the Church cannot be parishioners.  A commentary suggests that the word ‘parish’ is derived from a Greek word that originally meant ‘a pilgrim people’ (in contrast to the English idea of a settled community), and that ‘however important territorial factors are in parish organisation, what is really constitutive of the parish is its being a community of persons’ (The Code of Canon Law. A Text and Commentary eds Coriden, Green and Heintschel 1985, Paulist Press, New York, p.416).

Despite its corporate character a Roman Catholic parish ‘as a general rule is to be territorial’ (canon 518).  However, personal parishes may be established if this is ‘useful’ (canon 518).  Thus Eastern rite Catholics within the jurisdiction of a Latin rite bishop may be constituted as a personal parish.  The Anglican Ordinariates comprise personal parishes of former members of the Anglican Communion.

As the churchgoing population has become more mobile, modern English law has extended the definition of a parishioner to include persons who worship regularly in the parish church but who do not live within the parish.  A non-resident lay communicant is entitled to have his name entered on the electoral roll of the parish if he has worshipped regularly in the parish church during the previous 6 months (Church Representation Rules 1(2) and (4)).  He also has the same right as a resident parishioner to marry in the parish church (Marriage Act 1949, s.72(2)).  The Marriage Measure 2008, as amended in 2012, extended the right to marry in the parish church to persons who can show a personal or familial connection with the parish or the church.

3.  Church

If a building is not already a parish church it cannot be legally constituted as such until

(1) the Commissioners approve it as ‘suitable’, and

(2) it is consecrated (Mission and Pastoral Measure 2011, s.41(2)).

‘Suitable’ is not defined further.  Canon law suggests that only a permanent place of worship should be consecrated.  The original Roman Catholic Code of 1917 forbade consecration ‘if it can be reasonably foreseen that a church will be turned to profane uses’.  Churches made of wood or iron were not supposed to be consecrated on account of their impermanent character (canons 1165, now abolished).

A parish has no right to a parish church.  Thus a new parish may be created even if it has no parish church (2011 Measure, s.31(4)).  A scheme may also provide that an existing parish church shall cease to be constituted as such (s.41(1)).  If there is already a church in the area of a newly-created parish, this may, but need not, be designated as the parish church.

However, a parish with no parish church must still have some place of worship.  If a parish has no church the bishop must licence a building, or part of a building, within the parish for public worship (s.43(1)).  Thus the bishop consecrates a permanent place of worship but licences a temporary one.  This rule seems to echo the canon law.

A licensed place of worship may also be designated the parish centre of worship (PCW).  Thus a building which is not a church requires to be both

(1) licensed for public worship by the bishop and

(2) appropriately designated by him

in order to become a PCW.  The designation of a PCW must be under seal (s.43(6)).

Although the bishop is obliged to licence a place of public worship he is not expressly obliged to designate a PCW.  S.43(3) suggests that a bishop may designate a PCW even if there is already a parish church.

4.  Benefice

While upholding the fixed territorial character of parishes, modern ecclesiastical law permits considerable flexibility of parochial ministry.  A single incumbent may have pastoral responsibility for more than one parish.  Contrariwise, a single parish may be under the pastoral care of more than one incumbent.

The former arrangement may be effected in one of two ways:

(1) the single incumbent may hold two or more benefices in plurality (2011 Measure, s.32)

(2) the benefices themselves may be united or merged into a single united benefice (s.31).  A distinction is therefore drawn between a parish and the area of a benefice.  Several parishes may share the same benefice.

A plurality is obviously a looser arrangement than a united benefice.  The bishop may permit the incumbent of a plurality to resign one or some benefices but not all of them (s.32(4)).  Also, on a vacancy in the benefices, the plurality may be terminated at the instance either of the bishop or one of the parochial church councils (s.32(2)).  A united benefice may not be dissolved in such circumstances, unless its constitution provides for this.

The latter pastoral arrangement may also be effected in one of two ways:

(1) In a group ministry, each incumbent is required to assist the other incumbents in the group ‘so as to make the best possible provision for the cure of souls throughout the area of the group’ (s.35(1)).

(2) A team ministry is a more radical departure from traditional parochial ministry.  It is a sharing of the cure of souls by two or more clergy within the area of one benefice (s.34(1)).  A team ministry comprises a team rector and one or more team vicars.  In a traditional parish a rector and vicar never work side by side.  Teams vicars are quasi-incumbents, though their offices are licensed, not beneficed (s.34(4).  A team vicar, or other member of the ‘team’, may be assigned a special cure of souls of part of the area of a benefice or a particular ‘pastoral function’ within the team ministry (s.34(8)).

Group ministry and team ministry are not mutually exclusive.  A group ministry may include a benefice which is constituted as a team ministry (s.35(6)).

If a benefice is vacant for a long time, a licensed priest-in-charge acts in place of the incumbent.

5.  Patronage

A right of presentation to a benefice, or advowson, was originally a right of property, a so-called ‘incorporeal hereditament’ similar to a right of way.  However, as a result of the Patronage (Benefices) Measure 1986, most advowsons have been severed from land (s.32).  Now they are merely the personal right of the patron.  Only rights of presentation attaching to benefices and bishoprics retain a connection to land.  Thus if an incumbent is ex officio the patron of another benefice, the right of patronage continues to be part of the incumbent’s benefice property.

The patronage of a statutory benefice or plurality should be provided in its constitution (2011 Measure, s.46(2)).  If the constitution is silent the right of presentation vests in the diocesan patronage board (s.46(3)).  The patronage of a team rectory and the appointment of a team vicar are regulated by schedule 3 of the 2011 Measure.

A patron’s title is now proved by registration on a diocesan register (1986 Measure, s.1).

The patron’s exercise of a right of presentation (as distinct from his ownership of it) may be suspended under s.88 of the 2011 Measure.  Hence the need for a priest-in-charge.

6.  Endowment

The mediaeval canon law discussed in the preceding post suggests that the parish church and the supporting endowment were originally inseparable, and that together they formed the basis of the ecclesiastical parish.  Blackstone held that the boundaries of a parish were originally determined by the appropriation of tithes to a particular church and incumbent (Commentaries, vol 1, p.109).  From the middle ages until relatively recently, incumbents resembled self-employed farmers, men of property who lived off the rents and profits of their glebe land, and, of course, tithes.

The case of Greenslade v Darby (1868) 37 Law Journal 137 suggests that the churchyard may be a kind of hybrid of church and glebe.  Like the church it fulfills a religious and parochial purpose but, like glebe, it is also a source of profit from cultivation.  The rector (who in that case was a lay rector, not an incumbent) therefore has the right to use the churchyard land for profit, albeit only to the extent that this use is not ‘unseemly or inconsistent with [the land] being consecrated’ (p.143).

Tithes were originally payable in kind (wood, grain, cattle, sheep, poultry etc).  Later, they took the form of a payment of money called the tithe rentcharge or corn rent.  The Tithe Act 1836 commuted almost all tithes into rentcharges.  Tithe rentcharge was finally abolished a century later by the Tithe Act 1936.

The Endowments and Glebe Measure 1976 finally severed the ancient connection between parish church and endowment.  Under s.15 of the Measure, all benefice glebe that had hitherto vested in the incumbent was transferred to the diocesan board of finance (s.15), and so became part of the diocesan glebe instead (s.45(1).  Modern incumbents therefore resemble salaried employees rather than gentleman farmers.  The diocesan board of finance is now responsible for the payment of clergy stipends (Miscellaneous Provisions Measure 2000, s.1(1)).  There is a national minimum stipend fixed by the Archbishops’ Council (Terms of Service Regulations 2009, reg 11(1)).  Pensions are also administered nationally by the Church of England Pensions Board.

7.  Parsonage

Although he is no longer master of glebe and tithe, the incumbent remains the nominal freeholder of the parsonage (the official residence of the benefice) even if his occupation of it now resembles that of a tenant or licensee of the Church.

The Parsonages Measure 1938, extensively amended by more recent Measures, and the Repair of Benefice Buildings Measure 1972 are the two principal statutes regulating parsonages.

Much of the 1972 Measure resembles a kind of statutory lease, stating the respective rights and duties of the Church and the incumbent towards the parsonage.  It regulates the incumbent’s occupation of the parsonage.  The 1938 Measure, by contrast, regulates dealings with parsonages between the Church and outside third parties.  It is principally concerned with the sale of old parsonages and the purchase of new ones.  Thus, while much of the 1972 Measure resembles a lease, the Parsonages Measure resembles a conveyancing contract and protocol.

Although the incumbent is freeholder, the Endowments and Glebe Measure 1976 confers a power of compulsory acquisition of the parsonage from him, if the Church considers that it is no longer necessary for his ‘convenient occupation’ of the incumbent (s.32).

A house that is built or purchased for use as a parsonage must be certified as such by the bishop (Parsonages Measure 1938, s.11).  The constitution of a benefice may, but need not, designate the official residence of the incumbent, or of a team vicar (Measure and Pastoral Measure 2011, s.45(1)).

An incumbent has no a priori right to a parsonage house, just as a parish has no right to a parish church.  However, under the new regime of ‘common tenure’ introduced by the Ecclesiastical Offices (Terms of Service) Measure 2009, other full-time stipendiary clergy and lay ministers are entitled to accommodation ‘for the better performance of [their] duties’ (s.4(1)).  A priest-in-charge of a vacant benefice will usually live in the parsonage (cf. 2011 Measure, s.86(4)).

8.  Churchwardens

The normal rule is two churchwardens to a parish, but the Churchwardens Measure 2001 permits a different number of churchwardens on the basis of local custom or special statutory authority (s.11).  Moreover, if a single parish has more than one parish church, or has a parish church and a PCW, there must be two churchwardens for each church or PCW (s.1).

If there is a team ministry for a parish containing more than one church or place of worship, the constituting scheme may allow for deputy churchwardens for each, and for the functions of churchwardens to be delegated to them (Mission and Pastoral Measure 2011, schedule 4.3(2)(d)).

9.  Parochial Church Council

Every parish must have a parochial church council (‘PCC’).  The constitution of the PCC is provided in the Church Representation Rules.  The PCC must include a certain number of lay members elected at the annual parish meeting by those enrolled on the electoral roll of the parish.

The Church Representation Rules permit parishioners to make certain variations to the structure of parochial administration.  Such variations may also be authorised under the Measure and Pastoral Measure 2011, but on a temporary, experimental basis only.  There are five particular variations:

(1) If a parish has more than one place of worship, the PCC may be specially structured ‘in such manner as to ensure due representation of the congregation of each church or place [of worship]’ (rule 18).  Thus each congregation will be separately represented on the PCC.

(2) More radically, a separate district church council (‘DCC’) may be constituted for the district of the parish in which a church or place of worship is situated.  A DCC need not be constituted for every district in the parish containing a place of worship, and it is possible to have both a specially structured PCC and one or more DCCs at the same time.

Variations (1) and (2) apply to a parish with more than one place of worship.  The other three variations depend on the benefice rather than the place of worship:

(3) There may be a joint PCC where two or more parishes share a single benefice or where benefices are held in plurality (rule 19).

(4) A team council may be established where two or more parishes are served by the same team ministry (rule 20).

(5) A group council may be established for the parishes served by a group ministry (rule 21).

However, notwithstanding these variations, each individual parish retains its own PCC at all times.

The Right to Worship

No parish or parishioner has a right to a parish church.  There is no rule of common law that a parish must have a church, or that a parish may not be constituted as such without a church.

S.31(4) of the Mission and Pastoral Measure 2011 follows earlier Measures in providing that a pastoral scheme may create a new parish even though it has no parish church.

However, s.43(1) of the Measure apparently obliges the bishop to provide a place of worship in every parish.  According to s.43(1), where a parish has no church, the bishop must license a building, or part of a building, for public worship.

According to s.43(2), where there is no parish church, the bishop may designate another church, or a building already licensed for worship, as the parish centre of worship (‘PCW’).  The PCW is then deemed to be a parish church.  A parish church may not itself be designated a PCW.  The wording of s.43(2) suggests that a PCW may be designated even if there is a parish church already.

S.41(5)(a) of the 2011 Measure alludes to the common law rights of parishioners in providing that, where a parish has more than one parish church, the parishioners have the same rights of worship in each.  However, it does not define these rights further. 

The rights of parishioners over their church (where there is at least one church) are described by Chief Justice Holt in Britton v Standish (1705) 90 English Reports 976:

‘Parishes were instituted for the ease and benefit of the people, and not of the parson, that they might have a place certain to repair to when they thought convenient and a parson from whom they had right to receive [religious] instruction’. 

The case of Taylor v Timson (1888) 20 Queen’s Bench Division 671 is often cited in support of the right to worship in the parish church.  Master Taylor was a pupil at a ‘reformatory’, evidently a school for delinquent boys.  The boys were not welcome in the parish church.  Mr Timson, a churchwarden, forcibly prevented Taylor from entering the churchyard to attend divine service in the church.  Taylor sued Timson for assault.

The court held Mr Timson liable for assault, because he had no right to prevent Taylor from attending the church.  Taylor was a parishioner and therefore had a right to attend service.

However, the court went further than this.  It held that a churchwarden cannot lawfully prevent a person from attending service, even if he honestly believes that the church is full up, and even if the person is not a parishioner.

The reason for this is that a churchwarden ‘ha[s] no interest in the freehold of the churchyard or the church itself … such an act [of exclusion] … ought, if done at all, to be done by the clergyman’ (p.674).  The churchwarden’s authority is limited to the distribution of seats.  If the seats are all taken, the churchwarden has ‘[no] right to say that people shall not stand in the aisle’ (p.675).  The court declined to speculate what should happen if the church is overcrowded.

This is not a very satisfactory analysis.  First, it is a surprising assertion that only the freeholder of property, acting in person, is entitled to control entry to that property, and that no agent or custodian may do so on his behalf.

A difficulty would arise if the incumbent is not the freeholder of the church.  Presumably the non-delegable power to exclude then vests in the lay rector, but the lay rector may not be available.  This notion in turn conflicts with the judgment in Griffin v Dighton and Davis (1864) 122 English Reports 767, which makes clear that the lay rector’s freehold of the parish church is ‘naked and abstract’ with no right of possession.

It is also difficult to see how the right to allocate seats can, either in principle or practice, be separated from the right to control entry to the church.  If the churchwardens can decide where people should sit, they ought also to decide whether, or where, people may stand.  It is illogical to allow the churchwardens the former right, but deny them the latter.  It also effectively deprives the churchwardens of the ability to maintain order during service.  Someone might decide to stand in the pulpit, or at the altar, thus obstructing the service, yet the churchwardens would be powerless to restrain him.

There is plenty of authority for holding that the churchwardens’ function extends to the maintenance of order during divine service.  The allocation of seats is but one aspect of this function.  The symbol of the churchwarden’s office, the stave, alludes to the maintenance of order.  Canon 19 of 1603 required the churchwardens ‘not [to] suffer any idle persons to abide either in the churchyard or church-porch’.  Canon 28 required them to send non-parishioners back to their own churches.  Canon 60 requires them to repel unauthorised preachers.  Canon E1(4) now provides that the churchwardens shall ‘maintain order and decency in the church and churchyard, especially during the time of divine service’. 

The parishioner’s common law right to attend service in the parish church is not incompatible with the churchwardens’ duty to maintain order.  The churchwardens are themselves parishioners, and one at least is elected by the parishioners.  For the practical reasons stated, the churchwardens’ duty is really necessary to give effect to the common law right.  Divine service must be orderly, and this requires somebody to keep order.

Of course, it is always possible that the churchwardens may abuse their power, wrongly excluding people they dislike on spurious grounds.  (This may well have been the case in Taylor).  In that event, the excluded parishioner has two possible remedies:

(1) he can complain to the bishop, whose officers the churchwardens are, and /or

(2) he may ask the secular court to enforce his right to worship.

(Master Taylor actually sought an injunction in this case, but the court declined to grant it.) 

However, neither of these remedies denies the churchwardens’ custodianship of the church under the incumbent.

The court in Taylor made the farfetched point that, if the churchwardens prevented a parishioner from attending service, that parishioner might be prosecuted in the ecclesiastical court for his non-attendance.  There was no possibility of such a prosecution by the 1880s, but, if there had been, the parishioner would have an obvious defence, that he presented himself at church but was refused admittance by the court’s own officers.

The case of Cole v Police Constable 443A (1936) 3 All England Reports 107 arose from an altercation in Westminster Abbey.  Mr Cole used to offer his services as a guide to visitors to the Abbey.  The Dean did not approve and gave orders that he be excluded.  Mr Cole persisted in plying his trade.  Police were called, and ejected him.  Mr Cole sued the police for assault.

Although Westminster Abbey is a royal peculiar, not a parish church, Mr Justice Goddard (later Lord Chief Justice Goddard) took advantage of the case to discuss parishioners’ rights over their church.  He doubted the view, suggested in Taylor v Timson, that the right to worship is correlative to the statutory duty to attend service that was imposed by the Acts of Uniformity after the Reformation.  Instead he concluded that

‘the parishioner’s right to attend his parish church must be of far more ancient origin than that [i.e the Acts of Uniformity], and may be described as a common law right.  The church, by being dedicated to sacred uses, is being dedicated to the use of parishioners to be there for worship … the right of the parishioner to attend his church … depends, not upon the statute, but upon the wide and common law right’. 

This dictum supports the view that the origin of the parishioners’ common law right is proprietary.  Common law recognises that parishioners have a right of worship in their parish church, because the land and building were first given so that they might do this.  Common law therefore gives effect to the donor’s intention.

In an unpublished dissertation ‘Rights of Passage: The Basis of Lay Entitlement to the Occasional Offices’ (Cardiff University 2002), Jacqueline Humphries concludes that the legal rights of parishioners ‘recall [the Church of England] to its mission to the whole nation’ (p.93).  This may be so, but it would be more accurate to say that these legal rights are concerned, not exactly with the Church of England’s mission to the nation, so much as with its possession of a substantial amount of the nation’s property.

Only a parishioner has a common law right to attend the parish church.  Goddard J held in Cole that no non-parishioner has the right to attend.

Moreover, the right is limited to attendance at acts of public worship in the church.  The Court of the Arches held in Jarrett v Steele (1820) 161 English Reports 1290 that ‘no person has a right to enter [the church] when it is not open for divine service’, except with permission of the incumbent and churchwardens.

Thus there is no right to be in the parish church for private prayer.  The regrettable modern practice of locking churches for almost all of the time is not unlawful.

Disorder, or ‘brawling’, in the church and churchyard was formerly punishable by the ecclesiastical courts, which usually imposed a short period of excommunication or suspension ab ingressu ecclesiae on the sinner.  This jurisdiction was abolished by the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860.  Perhaps this encouraged the court in Taylor v Timson to take such a restrictive view of churchwardens’ powers of keeping order in church.  However, the 1860 Act only abolished the ecclesiastical power to punish disorder in church.  It did not abolish the churchwardens’ function of maintaining order. 

Since 1860, offences of ‘riotous, violent or indecent behaviour’ in places of worship and churchyards, and disturbance or molestation of preachers and ordained ministers when they are performing their duties therein, are triable in the magistrates court, which may impose a fine or term of imprisonment of up to two months (s.2 of the 1860 Act).