Advice on the following topics is available on this page.
- Parsonage properties
- Annual Parochial Church Meetings
- PCC meetings
- Other meetings
- Archdeacons’ visitations
With the suspension of public worship, those who give by cash or envelopes at the collection will no longer be giving; revenue from shops, cafes, hall bookings, guided tours and so on is likely to be significantly reduced even if the decision has not been taken to close or suspend them; and investment income is likely to reduce.
Many businesses will be facing similar challenges, and redundancies seem highly likely. This too will affect giving, among those who give through the Parish Giving Scheme or standing order.
Churches throughout the diocese and across the country are playing a leading role in helping to support all those most affected by not only Covid-19 itself but also by the measures that are being implemented to address it. Much has been written about support in the form of prayer, combatting loneliness, supplying food and so on. But you may also like to encourage your congregations to offer financial support. For example, if a theatre or conference ticket has been booked, could they donate the cost of the ticket, rather than seeking a refund? If a cleaner is unable to attend through self-isolation, could they be paid anyway?
Similar considerations apply to churches. Recognising that some will be unable to continue to give to their church, can those who are better placed to withstand the economic impact increase their giving to help churches continue to meet their outgoings despite the financial pressures? Some advice on sustaining financial support to your church in these difficult times can be found here and here.
Similar considerations again apply to the Diocesan Board of Finance. A number of parishes have already expressed concern about their ability to continue to meet their parish share pledges in full. We recognise that some parishes will be more affected than others. But in the same way as PCCs need to continue to meet their outgoings, the DBF must continue to pay stipends, salaries and other outgoings. We would therefore urge all parishes who can maintain their parish share payments to do so for as long as they can, so that we can all continue to support each other within our household of faith. As with individuals giving to churches, could those parishes who are better placed to withstand the economic impact, whether by reason of continuing income or unrestricted reserves, increase their pledges?
If you have concerns about your ability to pay your parish share, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org (or if you do not have email access01273 425 046).
Many parishes will have staff and be concerned about the implications for them. We are not qualified to offer employment law advice, and parishes will need to seek advice from Sussex HR (email@example.com, 0800 074 1066 or 01323 890 010) or elsewhere on particular issues. Sussex HR have kindly offered to give general advice related to Coronavirus free of charge to support parishes as part of the community. If more significant work is needed, they are happy to discuss deferred payment to ease cash flow.
Meanwhile, we can offer the following suggestions of things to think about.
- If an employee is ill and unfit to work, whether because of coronavirus or another reason, your usual sick pay policy and procedures will apply. It is thought that Statutory Sick Pay is payable in all cases from the first day of absence (usually it is the fourth) but clarification is awaited.
- If an employee self-isolates without being ill following written notification to do so from the 111 service or their GP, they will be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay. This entitlement will start from the first day of their absence. It seems that the same applies if an employee voluntarily self-isolates in accordance with government advice but again clarification is awaited. If you usually pay enhanced sick pay, you will need to decide whether to pay in these circumstances too. It would be good practice to decide this and tell any employees as early as possible, and ideally before the situation arises.
- If anyone voluntarily self-isolates, but can and does work from home, you should of course pay full pay for the hours they work. Otherwise you will need to decide whether to choose to pay full pay or not. The employee could of course choose to take annual leave.
- You will also need to choose whether to pay staff who are unable to work because they need to look after children or other dependents. The statutory position is that this is limited to 1 or 2 days and unpaid.
- Ensure that any temporary measures are confirmed in writing to all employees because currently we do not know how long we may have to implement changes to working environment or hours, but at some point all employees will need to return to their normal working environment and contracted hours.
- It is important to maintain usual sickness absence procedures so that absence is recorded by the employing parish for HR records and payroll purposes. Staff should report in when they are unwell. Make sure you record whether the absence is coronavirus, other sickness, self-isolation following government guidelines, or dependants leave to look after children or other dependants.
- Also ensure that the communication is two-way and that you are checking in on staff who are working from home, self-isolating or (if appropriate) unwell, to see how they are doing.
- Parishes who employ staff may find that some or all of their work can no longer be performed or that income has been reduced to such an extent that they are no longer able to pay their wages. The government is making available a Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, under which grants are paid to employers of 80% of an employee’s salary up to a maximum of £2,500 per month, plus minimum pension contributions and employer’s national insurance, if the employer places the employee on ‘furloughed leave’ as an alternative to making employees redundant. The employee can do no work while on furloughed leave.The regulations around this have not been published yet but guidance can be found here. If seeking to do this, you should seek professional HR advice. Parishes should however consider the wider needs of the country and bear in mind that the government’s intention with the retention scheme is to underwrite salaries for people who cannot work at this time and would otherwise be made redundant rather than a tactical cost-cutting measure. You should also seek professional HR advice if you need to consider staff redundancies.
- If you would like to do some background reading on more general HR issues such as redundancy, to gain an understanding of what questions to ask, there is a helpful toolkit on the Diocese of Guildford website. Note though that as it says on the front page, it is no substitute for specific legal or HR advice and neither the Guildford nor the Chichester DBF can be held responsible for any errors or omissions, and that updates to reflect changes such as furloughed leave will not have been included.
In view of the advice that has been issued by the government, asking all of us to stop all non-essential contact, we have taken the decision to suspend the quinquennial repairs and improvement programme for 2020. While the quinquennial programme is an important part of our work to keep diocesan houses in good repair, it is felt that the risks of having people in their homes at this stage is too great, and will do nothing to help slow down the spread of this virus.
If we were due to undertake quinquennial or improvement works this year, they now will not take place, and we will defer the works until 2021.
If you do have an issue at your house then you are advised to report it to the property department, in the usual way, by either e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or telephone (01273 425 683), and we can then discuss with you the options and decide the best course of action together.
We will continue to undertake works to get properties ready for priests who are joining or moving within the diocese if and when they are able to move, as these works take place in empty properties, so the risk of transmission of the virus is low.
We will obviously be keeping an eye on what advice or rules the government issues over time, and will review the above as necessary.
We appreciate that some of you may have questions about this approach or the future plans for your house. We are likely to be under increased pressure over the coming weeks, as we adapt and change the way we work, so please be aware that response times may not be as quick as you might like. We also want to ensure that we are dealing with people who are asking for us to deal with repairs or issues at their properties, rather than answering general questions about the above approach.
Annual Parochial Church Meetings/Annual Meeting of Parishioners
As part of church legislation, it is important that all dioceses take a common approach to how we address APCMs. Following much discussion between diocesan secretaries, diocesan registrars and the Church of England Legal Office, it was agreed that the deadline for holding APCMs and Annual Meetings of Parishioners will be extended to 31 October for 2020. A copy of the legal document which has been signed by the Bishop to bring this into effect can be found here.
That deadline is not being extended further but the Bishop has now signed a further legal document enabling APCMs and AMPs, as well as meetings of Deanery Synods and PCCs, to be held electronically, so that decisions taken at those meetings during these exceptional times have the same force as if taken at a physical meeting. A copy of that further document can be found here.
It is therefore now necessary to assess the best time and manner of holding the meetings during September or October. The following advice is offered:
- Rules M23 to M29 of the Church Representation Rules will continue to apply, but you should also bear in mind the general principles set out in the practical considerations for annual meetings below.
- Please bear in mind that the electoral roll has to be revised in advance of the meeting following the usual procedure and deadlines in the Church Representation Rules; this needs to happen even if the electoral roll was revised in March but the APCM did not follow.
- If the expected numbers of attendees would be manageable within your risk assessment for the church or other venue, and subject to further Government or Church of England guidance nearer the time and any local restrictions, then it may be possible for the meeting to be held physically. There is (at present!) no legal restriction on the size of gatherings that can take place inside churches and church halls, so many parishes may be able to hold their annual meetings in their church with the usual attendance for such events (which is rarely large!) at the same time as maintaining social distancing requirements (including face covering). The legal restriction on gatherings of over 30 people applies only to private dwellings, vessels and public outdoor places.
- However, if it becomes clear that it would not be safe or sensible to hold the meeting physically, it is now allowable this year for the annual meeting to take place virtually. You may wish to set a date now (we are particularly aware that for multi-parish benefices incumbents are likely to want to spread these through September and October) but confirm nearer the time whether it will be a physical or virtual meeting (though bearing in mind the need for notices).
- It is for the Chair to determine the arrangements for the meeting and an appropriate method of electronic or other voting, which will depend what software is being used, and whether any parishioners are attending in small groups on the same device to enable those without internet access to attend.
- Although a virtual meeting will enable essential business to be conducted efficiently and without further delay, there are certain practical considerations which need to be taken into account:
- The APCM is a meeting for all those on the church’s electoral roll. As with a physical meeting, it is important to be clear who has a right to vote and a right to speak. The purpose of this meeting is to receive the reports referred to in Church Representation Rules rule M5 and to make the elections and appointments referred to in CRR rule M6. The management of all of this in a virtual meeting is likely to be challenging and so you might wish to consider publishing the reports and proposals in advance, being clear about how the information can be accessed.
- The annual meeting of parishioners is a meeting for all those on the church’s electoral roll and all those resident in the parish whose names are on the civil electoral roll of the parish. The purpose of this meeting is to elect the churchwardens. The provisions concerning nomination in section 4 of the Churchwardens Measure 2001 continue to apply and some thought will need to be given as to how the nomination paperwork can be co-ordinated in advance of the virtual meeting.
- The new arrangements permit the meeting to take place in a virtual ‘location’ (for example, on an interactive video-conferencing platform such as zoom) and for voting to take place electronically rather than ‘in person’. It does not change the procedural requirements for the convening of the meeting and notices of it (see CRR rule M2), and some care and creativity will be needed not only to comply with these rules, but also to ensure that the meeting (and the arrangements for accessing it) are clear and widely published so that those entitled to attend are informed about it.
- The meeting must take place in a way which is inclusive (so far as is reasonably possible). Inevitably, this will mean that some may not be able to participate (for example, because they do not have access to internet or computer facilities), but it may also enable some churches to ‘host’ a meeting in a more inclusive way (for example, to include those who are shielding, or where numbers would need to be restricted in a physical meeting in order to comply with Government and Church of England guidance). It may be possible to allow some who are reluctant to use technology to gather with others to ‘attend’ together if conducting the meeting by video conference, or alternatively it may be possible to enable some who are shielding to join a physical meeting by video conference. Do note that it is possible for those without internet access to join a Zoom meeting by telephone instead and instructions can be found here.
- The platform for the meeting must be interactive such that those participating can at least hear and be heard (and preferably also see and be seen). It cannot simply be a video platform (such as YouTube) or a video with a ‘comments’ facility (such as Facebook).
- Thought will also need to be given to how voting will be conducted. Zoom includes a polling facility which enables votes to be taken. Other videoconferencing applications may also provide similar facilities.
If the APCM had not been held before 19 March 2020, the consequences of the extension to 31 October 2020 are as follows:
- the churchwardens who were elected in 2019 will continue to hold office until 31 January 2021 (unless their successor is admitted to office earlier than that);
- deanery synod representatives who were elected in 2017 (or those appointed since then to fill casual vacancies) will continue to hold office until 30 November 2020; and
- representatives of the laity elected to the PCC who are due to retire at the 2020 APCM will continue to hold office until that APCM actually takes place, even if that is between 31 May 2020 and 31 October 2020.
- The annual revision of the electoral roll must be deferred, as this must be completed no earlier than 28 days before the APCM. Please send the number of names on the roll to Church House by 1st December. See here for the forms.
If the APCM was held before 19 March 2020
If the APCM had already been held before 19 March 2020, when the Bishop signed the first instrument, then:
- The newly elected members of the laity will be PCC members and those who were due to retire at the APCM will duly have retired.
- However, the deanery synod representatives who were elected in 2017 (or those appointed since then to fill casual vacancies) will still continue to hold office until 30 November 2020 and those who were elected at the 2020 APCM will not take up office until 1 December 2020, rather than the usual 1 July.
- Similarly, the churchwardens chosen in 2019 remain in office and the churchwardens chosen in 2020 will not take up office until they are admitted (which could be as late as 31 January 2021).
- In this event, we would be grateful to know how many names were on the electoral roll at the date of the meeting by the usual deadline of 1st July. See here for the forms.
The annual report and accounts must be provided to the APCM for discussion but they do not need to be approved by the APCM before they are filed with the Charity Commission. PCCs who are registered with the Charity Commission should therefore approve the accounts in accordance with the meetings guidance below and file them with the Charity Commission without waiting for the deferred APCM. Although the deadline for PCCs (whether registered with the Charity Commission or not) to send a copy of the annual report and accounts to Church House is not until 28 days after the deferred APCM, we would be grateful to receive copies sooner rather than later.
General Synod elections
As matters stand, elections to the General Synod will still take place this year. That means that secretaries of deanery synods will still need to provide details of the names and addresses of members of the houses of clergy and laity of deanery synod by 1 July 2020. The relevant members of the house of laity will be the ones elected in 2017 (or subsequently to fill casual vacancies, even if the APCM has already taken place. Further details about this will follow nearer the time unless the position changes.
Physical PCC meetings should not be taking place. However, Charity Commission guidance has suggested that holding meetings electronically will, exceptionally, be permissible, even in the absence of a specific power in the Church Representation Rules: “Where there is no [electronic meetings] clause in your governing document and you decide to hold meetings over the phone or using digital solutions, we will understand but you should record this decision and that you have done this to demonstrate good governance of your charity.” In addition, many parishes have already passed resolutions setting out parameters for making decisions by email, but all parishes may now do so for any business the chair considers can properly be conducted by correspondence.
We therefore encourage PCCs to continue to hold meetings using video or telephone conferencing facilities where possible as part of preserving what normality we can, keeping parish mission and ministry on the go and subject to constructive challenge, and crucially as part of good charity governance. Some guidance on two of the main options can be found here . Parishes may like to consider starting small, by holding a remotely accessed meeting of the standing committee first and moving to a full PCC meeting when confidence has been built. The following procedure is recommended to preserve good governance:
I. Enquiries should be made as to how many PCC members have the facilities and ability to take part in a meeting by video and/or telephone conference.
2. Where over two-thirds of PCC members indicate that they are willing and able to do so, meetings may take place by video or telephone conference provided that:
(a) the agenda for the meeting is circulated at least 72 hours in advance by email to all members with access to email; and
(b) the agenda for the meeting is posted by first-class post to any member without email access at least 5 days before the meeting.
(c) Usual quorum rules shall apply, but no items not on the agenda shall be discussed (whether under “any other business” or otherwise) unless a quorum of two-thirds of the total membership of the PCC is present on the video/telephone conference.
3. Decisions must be confirmed by a written resolution of the PCC, as follows:
a. A proposed resolution is emailed by the Secretary or Chair to all PCC members (and anyone else entitled to attend meetings if there is a group ministry), with a request that votes in favour or against are received before a stated deadline selected by the Chair and a statement of how many members will need to object to prevent the proposals being approved. The deadline should allow sufficient time for the resolution to be delivered by post to any members without access to email. It is recommended that if any objections are received, the proposals should not be approved unless two-thirds of members vote in favour, but this is not required.
b. The same resolution is posted to any PCC member without access to email the same day, together with details for that person to register a vote in favour or against by telephone;
c. Unless the stated number of objections are received before the deadline, the proposals will be treated as approved by the PCC when the deadline passes.
d. The PCC Secretary must keep records of all proposals made, noting whether they were approved, and the number of objections received from members. The Secretary must report these to the first in-person meeting following the lifting of the current restrictions.
This procedure can also be used to make decisions without a prior electronic meeting. In that case, PCCs may wish to engage in prior discussion over email or by post in appropriate cases.
Similar considerations apply to other meetings such as Deanery Synods. Unlike PCC meetings, there are however no provisions as yet relating to decisions being taken by correspondence.But if a decision is made to hold meetings and make decisions in practical ways, and the making of that decision is recorded to demonstrate good governance, that decision will be respected.
Along with all other non-essential contact, archdeacons’ visitations are suspended. This applies both to visitations to swear in churchwardens (which could in any event not take place before Annual Parish Meetings have taken place) and to visitations to individual parishes. Parishes should however continue to maintain their log books. If your log book is kept in hard copy and you are not able to access it, please keep notes to enable you to update the log book when restrictions are eased. It would be wise to share those notes with others.
Much of the information on this page is drawn from a communication from the Diocesan Secretary issued on 20th March. The original communication can be found here.