Parochial fees, discounts and “extras”
On 4 January 2018, the Daily Telegraph carried the headline Church imposes £100 fine for brides who arrive late to their own weddings. Canon John Corbyn, vicar of Holy Cross Church Bearsted, Kent, was reported to have suggested the imposition of a “£100 fine for those who can not stick to their allotted time slot and arrive late to their service”. Subsequently, it appeared as though he may have been slightly misrepresented; he told the BBC that what he does is to offer a £100 “cashback” for punctuality.
Regardless of the exact facts of this particular case, in view of the media interest it is pertinent to consider to whether, in general, such a surcharge or reduction in fees is permissible under ecclesiastical law; the answer appears to be: “sort of”.
The initial Telegraph report suggested that the priest is yet to “fine” anyone, and is quoted as saying: “I’m not calling it a fine, but if you want to hire the venue for one hour or two hours, you pay different amounts; the money goes to the 20 or so volunteers who give up their time to assist at a wedding, including the verger, organist, choir and bell ringers”. Whilst to many (but certainly not all) this might seem to be a reasonable premise, linking the remuneration of volunteers &c to the hire of the church building is unhelpful; it is necessary to unpick the basis of the costs of a wedding. which are comprised of two components: statutorily-determined “parochial fees” and “extras”.
The CofE’s “Church Support Hub” provides the explanation to What are ‘parochial fees’ exactly? [emphasis added]:
“Parochial fees are the required (legally payable) fees for weddings, baptisms and funerals. They are set by agreement at the General Synod, or for some fees, by Parliament. For a basic service, you cannot charge any more or any less than the set fee. Guidance on what constitutes a ‘basic service’ and what should be regarded as ‘extras’ to this is available. See the Guide to Parochial Fees” [See also paragraphs 14 to 17 which address circumstances under which parochial fees may be waived].
The Church’s Clergy Resources further explain:
“[Schedule 2 to the Parochial Fees and Scheduled Matters Amending Order 2014] specifies that parochial fees include any costs and expenses incurred in relation to a service for routine administration (including arranging dates and times and the making of entries in registers), making the church available and lighting it. It is unlawful to make any additional charge, besides the parochial fee, for these items”.
Philip Jones’ post The Solemnization of Matrimony: Duties and Deposits gives a detailed explanation of the origin and breakdown of the statutory fees:
“Under the Parochial Fees Order 2017, 2 fees are payable for a marriage service, to (1) the diocesan board of finance (‘the DBF’) and (2) the parochial church council (‘the PCC’).
“These 2 statutory fees correspond to the 2 elements of the common law right: (1) the duty of the incumbent to solemnise the marriage, either personally or by deputy; and (2) the use of the church building for the ceremony. As the Prayer Book rubric says ‘the persons to be married shall come into the body of the church with their friends and neighbours …’. The PCC is…responsible for the upkeep of the church building.
He also observes “S.12(2) [of the Amending Order 2014] confirms that the Ecclesiastical Fees Measure applies only to England, and comments “[h]ow the Church in Wales is able to charge marriage fees is one of the great unsolved mysteries of ecclesiastical law, as the common law right is the same on both sides of the Severn.”
The CofE parochial fees for 2018 are published here; inset is the following summary of what constitutes “extras” [emphasis added]:
“The fees shown in the table do not include charges for heating, the services of a verger, music (e.g. organist, choir), bells, and flowers, which are fixed by the Parochial Church Council. In the case of a marriage service … any costs and expenses incurred in respect of routine administration (including arranging dates and times and the making of entries in registers), making the church available and lighting it are included in the fee prescribed as payable to the Parochial Church Council“.
This is further expanded in sections 23 to 25 of A guide to Church of England Parochial Fees which are reproduced below:
“23. Parochial fees do not include payment for “extras”. Examples of the items for which a parish may decide to make an extra charge include: heating; the services of a verger; the services of an organist, choir or bell-ringers; sheet or recorded music that has to be specially purchased; the provision of recorded or taped music; the taking of films, video or sound recordings (where permitted); flowers; special furnishings.
Note: This list is not intended to be exhaustive or prescriptive.
Charges for “extras” are normally payable to the parochial church council or to the person providing the item (e.g. the organist or choristers). The level of such charges is a matter for local agreement, from time to time, between the incumbent and the parochial church council and should take account of any guidelines laid down by the diocese.
25. “Extras” can only lawfully be charged for items over which those receiving the ministry have been given a genuine choice. Although parishes can generate much needed additional income from “extras” the charges need to be both realistic and fair.
“Extras” should never be imposed by the incumbent or PCC where those paying the fees have not agreed that they wish to be provided with the “extras” in question.”
Paragraph 25 continues by offering advice in relation to: the level of charges; heating; deployment of vergers; links to guidance provided by the Royal School of Church Music, Incorporated Society of Musicians, and the Diocesan Guild of Church Bell Ringers; and record keeping. Of primary importance is the principle:
“information should be provided that is absolutely clear about the level of any charges and what they cover. Best practise is to have an itemised breakdown, which can be agreed before the service with those who have requested it…Visit the Church Support Hub for an itemised form for marriage fees, prepared by the Weddings Project”.
The undertaking and detail of “extras” are subject to the incumbent’s control:
“under Canon B35(5) [w]hen matrimony is to be solemnised … it belongs to the minister of the parish to decide what music shall be played, or what furnishings or flowers should be placed in or about the church for the occasion’;
Canon F8(2) provides that ‘No bell … shall be rung contrary to the direction of the minister’ (see also Canon F15(1)).
However, both the incumbent and PCC have a role in setting the level of the charges for these activities.
So, on what basis might an incumbent incentivize the prompt arrival of the bride? A priest is not empowered to increase or decrease the statutory fee, and the only flexibility therefore is via the charges for “extras”. Incidentally, a couple cannot be required to pay any part of the statutory fee before the wedding as this only becomes due for payment when the wedding has actually taken place. However, if they wish to, a part-payment may be taken towards the statutory fee beforehand.
Consequently, any variation of the charges would have to be through the “extras” component, for which the guidance suggests:
- is normally payable to the parochial church council or to the person providing the item (e.g. the organist or choristers).
- the level…is a matter for local agreement…between the incumbent and the parochial church council and should take account of any guidelines laid down by the diocese.
The Church’s standard Wedding Fees Form 2018 provides for fixed levels of agreed “extras” – for choir, organist, bellringers, verger, flower arrangers, extra heating – although there is provision for “others”. Whilst “waiting time” might be appropriate in relation to taxi charges, it is not here; other than the possible inconvenience of church volunteers &c, only the organist’s extended pre-service improvisation involves additional effort. Thus whilst any additional charge imposed via “extras” would not be strictly contrary to ecclesiastical law, it would be difficult to justify. However, it is apparent from the Beaker Folk’s post Get me to the church on time and comments on Twitter on the issue that clergy have other non-financial means of incentivizing promptness.
Unlike the statutory provisions for marriage, ecclesiastical law requires that the whole of the marriage rite must be concluded by 6.00pm, (although the signing of the registers may take place after 6.00pm). A priest is therefore constrained from commencing the solemnization of a marriage where it is not possible for this criterion to be met.