The governance of the parish: an Anglican perspective

Now there are varieties of gifts but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varities of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one.                                                                    I Corinthians 12:4  RSV


Last Sunday, at The Most Precious Blood, Borough (the first parish in the country to be placed in the care of the Ordinariate) we held an Annual Meeting after the Sung Mass. Those of us who come from Anglicanism into the Catholic Church will be very familiar with the Annual Meeting, or to give it the full title, Annual Parochial Church Meeting (APCM). A brief explanation might be useful for (life-long) Catholic readers.

Every parish in the C of E is required, by law, to hold a meeting of parishioners each year before the end of April. At this meeting two Churchwardens (senior lay people) are elected along with a Church Council. The priest and Council meet regularly during the year for the running of the parish. The priest has no vote in the lay elections, and the Council must authorise financial and building matters.

Our meeting at Precious Blood, attended by 48 parishioners, differed significantly, of course, from the Anglican model because the Canon Law of the Catholic Church places the governance of the parish in the hands of the Parish Priest. Many Catholic parishes now have a Pastoral Council which advises and collaborates with the priest in significant areas of parish life. On this provision we based our understanding of the purpose and aims of our meeting. First, in a series of (very) short reports we gave thanks to God (and took some satisfaction) on all that is going well and growing in our parish. The Treasurer reminded us (gently but firmly) of the need to make the parish financially secure. The Ordinariate group thanked the parish for its welcome, and the parish extended thanks to the Parish Priest – who then reminded us that we were not two separate groups, but united in the Catholic Faith and in our mission to our area. (Applause) The Pastoral Council is not elected, and so our priest asked us for written nominations, from which he will draw a balanced group of people best placed to work with him in all the areas of parish life.

I hear objections. The first is that this way of working gives the laity no real power, that it is too close to the old  autocratic clericalism.  True, it is dependent on a priest who wishes to work in collaboration with this people, who trusts them – and they him. It requires of the priest a confidence in his own ministry – to teach the faith, to preside at the Eucharist, to celebrate the other sacraments, to reconcile and to give spiritual counsel, to guide and even to rebuke – and to have the maturity to allow the laity to develop their God-given role and talents as the People of God. The leadership of the priest is not modelled on  the Chairman of the Board, but rather as the one ordained to preside at the Sunday Eucharist. He calls the community of faith together, he consecrates the Body and Blood of Christ; by his strong and humble presence at chair and altar he enables those who read and pray and take holy communion to the sick to do so effectively and for the good of the Church. He neither domineers, nor does he abdicate his responsibility.

This last point was brought home to me some years ago by a wise bishop. I had gone to him in desperation about a small group of people who seemed determined to undermine every plan I had for the parish. I could not get them to be open about this, (criticism was always behind my back) nor did they ever produce an alternative to solve the many difficulties we had over buildings and finance.  The bishop pointed out to me that, if I did not lead, there were people in the parish who certainly would! But the difference was that I was accountable to the Bishop, and they were not. If they led and got it wrong then they could walk away. On reflection I knew that there were many parishes like this; the Catholic Church may have its difficulties through clerical domination, but it is also true that many Anglican parishes have been blighted by domineering laity and infighting which has nothing to do with the Gospel. St Paul warned the Corinthian Christians, and his words warn us 2,000 years later.

So I am not uncomfortable with the way in which Canon Law places the governance of the parish in the hands of the Parish Priest. This ‘power’ is about responsibility and service and the priest exercises it wisely and humbly. I also know from experience that a community of people grows where each is valued – and used – for what each brings of him or herself for the common good.  If we truly know ourselves to be the Church whose life and work Christ has entrusted to all the faithful, and not just priests, then we shall demand much more of ourselves and each other than a  minimalist religion – in which duty is fulfilled but no more – and which takes us nowhere.


About Scott Anderson

Formerly an Anglican priest (ordained 1975) received into the Catholic Church in February 2012, and ordained to the Diaconate on 27th July 2013. I took early retirement, and divide my time between London and northern France. I am deeply committed to the Ordinariate as a gift of the Holy Spirit in the search for unity. Like many Ordinariate members I feel a personal gratitude to Pope Emeritus Benedict, together with loyalty to our Holy Father, Pope Francis. My blog tries to make a small contribution to the growth of the Ordinariate by asking questions (and proposing some answers) about the 'Anglican Patrimony'. I have always been fascinated by the whole issue of growth and decline, and therefore concerned for appropriate means of evangelisation in western Europe. I believe that the Holy Spirit is constantly renewing the People of God and that we must be open to him. My love of music and motorcycles will occasionally surface in my posts. On Saturday 19th October 2013, I was ordained to the Priesthood at Most Precious Blood, Borough, by the Most Revd Peter Smith, Archbishop of Southwark, for the service of the Ordinariate of our Lady of Walsingham. I continued to serve the Ordinariate group and Parish at Most Precious Blood until the end of 2014. Subsequently, I helped in the care of the Ordinariate Groups at Hemel Hempstead and Croydon, and in the Archdiocese of Southwark, until the beginning of September 2015. With the agreement of my Ordinary, Mgr Keith Newton, the Bishop of Amiens appointed me Administrator of the Parish of Notre Dame des Etangs (Pont Remy) in Picardie, France. This appointment is to last for a year, to give the Bishop the opportunity to assess the future of the parish.
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7 Responses to The governance of the parish: an Anglican perspective

  1. Catherine says:

    Thank you for your very interesting report on the meeting at Most Precious Blood. I am a Catholic who is fascinated with the new Ordinariates and have been reading the blogs and websites on this topic with interest. I entered the church at 19 as an unbaptised person from a secular background. My parents had been christened in the Anglican church but had no belief or practice, so although I have no background in the Anglican communion, as an English person and convert I am very interested in this new development. It is also very interesting to see the melding of an established parish with our new brothers and sisters in the faith (including the new P.P.!) as they explore and establish their expression of the faith in a their “home” environment. As I live in a wine region in Germany it is like an introduction of an historic grape to an established vineyard. What new wine will result? It depends on the environment of the field, the elements in the soil and the weather but ultimately we can trust that this vintner knows what He is doing. All the vines in the field will still have to be pruned hard every year to produce a rich harvest however! So don’t be surprised if it takes a while for the new roots to settle.

    God Bless Most Precious Blood (what a beautiful name).

  2. David Murphy says:

    I am interested to read about the canonical basis of the Parish Council in the archdiocese, which is very different from the German situation.

    In Germany each parish has a Pfarrgemeinderat (Parish Council) and a Kirchenvorstand (Church Executive), which are both elected by the parishioners.

    In the diocese where I live, Münster, the Kirchenvorstand, which is responsible for the financial affairs and property of the parish, is provided for by a state law dating back to 1924, which has been ratified post-war by the current state parliament. The bishop then decrees an election procedure in accordance with the law. The chairman of the Kirchenvorstand is by law the Parish Priest.

    The Pfarrgemeinderat, provided for by Statutes decreed by the bishop, is responsible for all pastoral matters and has at least twice the number of elected members as ex officio members and co-opted members together. (the co-opting is done by the Council itself and not by the Parish Priest and according to the Statutes). There is an Executive which is formed of the elected Council chair, deputy chair and secretary, plus the Parish Priest, who is not Chairman!!

    An Annual Meeting of the parish is held once a year.

    you can perhaps understand that I am a little surprised that this electoral element is absent in your local system.

    What is the situation in the Ordinariate? I would imagine that if a German bishop can fix statutes of the kind I have described, that the Ordinary probably has these powers too.

  3. David Murphy says:

    Out of interest, here are some excerpts translated from the Statutes of the Pfarrgemeinderat in the Archdiocese of Hamburg:

    Tasks of the Pfarrgemeinderat (Parish Council):
    – to explore and discuss all matters concerning the parish with the Parish Priest, to decide on measures with him and to ensure their execution, if no other responsible body can be found
    – to support the Parish Priest in his office, to seek and promote cooperation with him
    – to awaken awareness of the co-responsibility of the faithful in the parish, to activate cooperation and participation
    – to win and enable parish members for service in catechesis
    – to make suggestions and proposals for the composition of worship services and for the active participation of the whole parish in liturgical celebrations
    – to be aware of the particular life situations of the various groups in the parish, to do them justice in parish activities and to seek possibilities of pastoral and charitable help
    – to seek contacts with those people who are distant from parish life
    – to promote service in charitable and social fields
    – to maintain awareness of the reponsibilty of the parish for missionary and “one world” activities
    – to seek and promote ecumenical cooperation
    – to promote Catholic organisations, institutions and initiatives in the Parish whilst respecting their independence, and to coordinate tasks and activities in dialogue with them and other groups, to observe social developments and everyday problems, to reflect on them, make appropriate suggestions and decide on suitable measures.
    – to represent Catholic interests in the public domain
    – in cooperation with the Kirchenvorstand to develop priorities for the use of financial means and to
    express a position on the Kirchenvorstand’s proposals
    – to inform the parish regularly in written and oral form about their work and any problems arising
    – to establish a list of priorities for necessary activities
    – to inform the archbishop in writing about the current situation and specific needs of the parish before a new Parish Priest is appointed
    – to organise and carry out elections to the Pfarrgemeinderat and Kirchenvorstand in accordance with the statutes

    Particular responsibility of the Parish Priest:
    The Parish Priest is the pastor and parish leader sent out by the archbishop with particular responsibility
    – for the unity of the parish as well as the unity with the Archbishop and hence with the universal Church
    – for the correct proclamation of the message of salvation
    – for the celebration of the liturgy and the sacraments
    – for the ministry of “diakonia” in the parish.

    • victor2378 says:

      You shouldn’t forget to mention that these elected Parish councils bring their problems too. I know of several cases where there are hardly as many candidates as there are seats to be elected; turnout is usually very low (is the council representative if it is elected by under 30%?); more often than not the councillours are under the illusion that it is they who run the parish; and of course – the German model of Parish councils is contrary to Canon Law (but sadly, nobody cares).

      • David Murphy says:

        A cursory reading of the Code of Canon Law (relevant Canons attached) shows that the power to decide how members of pastoral and finance councils are appointed resides with the bishop (this clearly includes the possibility of universal suffrage). He also has the power to determine the modus operandi of the councils, not the parish priest.

        The function of the pastoral council is to assist the bishop (diocesan council) or parish priest (parish council) in fostering pastoral activity. However, the role (of the diocesan council) is defined as investigating, considering and proposing practical conclusions about things which pertain to pastoral works. (under the authority of the bishop). One can assume, by analogy, that the functions of the parish pastoral council are the same vis-à-vis the parish priest.

        It is made clear that these councils have consultative character – the ultimate authority lies with the bishop or parish priest. But the extent of the responsibilities and powers delegated to the councils must clearly be fixed in the norms decreed by the bishop (after hearing the presbyteral/governing council).

        The only thing that exists in Germany but does not comply with the Code is the fact that in Germany the chair of the Pastoral Council is a layman – in Canon 536 § 1 it is clearly the Parish Priest.

  4. Harry says:

    Very brief, please don’t re-introduce PCCs, Deanery Synods, Diocesan Synods and especially General Synod – I’ve still got the scars!

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