On Tuesday 16 February, General Synod debated a motion from the Worcester Diocese on Parochial Fees, (GS 2017A and GS 2017B) when the Venerable Nikki Groarke, Archdeacon of Dudley (Worcester) moved on behalf of the Worcester Diocesan Synod:
“That this Synod call on the Archbishops’ Council to exercise its powers under s.1 of the Ecclesiastical Fees Measure 1986 so that fees prescribed as payable to parochial church councils in respect of funerals and weddings should include any costs and expenses of providing a verger.”
The motion was lost on a show of hands and a second motion at item 13 on the agenda, which made a similar request in relation to the costs and expenses of providing heating, was not debated, the Synod agreeing to move to Next Business.
The Background Paper from the Remuneration and Conditions of Service Committee (RACSC), GS 2017B, explains that the legislation relating to parochial fees underwent extensive revision by the General Synod in 2011; the Ecclesiastical Fees (Amendment) Measure 2011 amended the Ecclesiastical Fees Measure 1986 making a number of changes to the legal framework relating to parochial fees, including the provision of an express power to prescribe what costs and expenses are included within the statutory fees.
Following extensive consultations, in July 2011 the first ‘new-style’ draft Parochial Fees Order was laid before the General Synod for approval; this specified that the provision of heating and the provision of a verger or caretaker were both included in the fees prescribed for wedding and funeral services in church. General Synod declined to approve the draft Order, the principle reason being that a large number of members were concerned that the inclusion of too many items within the prescribed fees – and in particular the cost of heating – made the arrangements too inflexible.
When a new draft Order was laid before the General Synod in February 2012, the cost of heating the church and the cost of providing a verger or caretaker were removed from the matters that were included in the fees prescribed for weddings and funerals in church; the removal of those items was welcomed and the draft Order was approved. This is described in more detail in our post Church weddings, increased fees and “extras”. Although the Ecclesiastical Fees (Amendment) Measure 2011 came into force in 2011, it did not become effective until 1 January 2013 under the Parochial Fees and Scheduled Matters Amending Order 2012. The fees for 2016 are available here and those for 2017 will be set in October this year.
In 2013 the Archbishops’ Council reviewed the newly-introduced fees; the terms of reference of its Remuneration and Conditions of Service Committee include “[making] recommendations about the scope, structure and level of parochial fees.” The Worcester Diocese responded to RACSC stating inter alia that there should be change with regard to the way vergers and heating were dealt with. In September 2013, RACSC’s responded that whilst it had some sympathy with the concerns raised, but pointed out that it was at the instigation General Synod that these elements had been excluded, and the Committee did not feel it appropriate to recommend this change without a further debate in the General Synod on Synod’s fees policy.
The background paper notes that there are practical issues associated with the derivation of a notional figure for heating costs and the deployment of vergers and also the matter of the effect in the relative costs of a funeral in a church or at a crematorium.
The Worcester Diocese Motion sought to reopen the debate around standardized costs for vergers and heating, suggesting that a standard element for heating should be included in the statutory fee, despite the variation in size of church buildings. The Motion argued for the deployment of a verger as being an essential requirement for conducting a service and therefore should not constitute an “extra”.
In view of the extensive consultation and discussions leading to the Measure, it is difficult to fault the logic of the Background Paper, i.e. the recommendation that any changes such as those proposed in the DSM should wait until the next Parochial Fees Order is due to be made in 2019, rather than by way of amending the existing 2014 Order part-way through its period of operation. Synod’s vote in Tuesday indicates that this course of action will now be taken. Nevertheless, the Motion presented “an opportunity for the newly-elected Synod to revisit these issues … at this juncture, mid-way in the current 5 year Order and will inform preparations for the 2019 Order”.