February 2012 Letter

Magazine article February 2012 – Who runs the church?


Who runs the church?  In our villages we take it for granted that whether we attend regularly or not, our beautiful village churches are always there as a symbol of God’s abiding presence with us, and as a place to mark with celebration or mourning the major milestones of our lives and those of our friends and family.  But in fact, just as the little mushroom that pops up on your lawn is actually just the visible sign of a much bigger network of underground tendrils that has been growing and developing unseen, so our church buildings are just the visible sign of the village community that supports them.


Contrary to what many people believe, local churches are run entirely by local people – you and me and our neighbours.  There are a number of different levels at which we can get involved, and the system can only work properly when as many people as possible DO get involved in one way or another.  Otherwise it can become a vicious circle as a dwindling number of increasingly stressed people try to do everything, while their neighbours perhaps start to regard the church as a bit of a ‘closed shop’ which has little relevance to their lives.  The end result of that can be disaster – how many times, when a village loses its church, or shop or Post Office, are people shocked and deeply distressed, only then realising that their involvement and support might have made a real difference?


At this time of year, all Church of England churches are preparing for their Annual Meetings, so it seems a good time to run through how the system works.  At the end of it, if you care enough about your local church to be reading this article, I hope you will take the opportunity to help ensure that it grows and thrives as a vital part of the village community for the years to come.


We can imagine the way the church is run a bit like an archery target, with different circles from the outside to the centre.  The biggest circle, believe it or not, includes everybody legally resident in the parish, whether they attend church or not.  ALL parishioners are entitled to attend the Annual Meeting of Parishioners and vote for the two Churchwardens.  The Churchwardens are appointed by the bishop to represent the parish, and they work with the vicar and the PCC (of which more later).  They are appointed for a year at a time, are always free to stand down at the end of their year’s service, and new rules now say very sensibly that they should not normally do the job for more than 6 years.  It isn’t a life sentence!  Nor should they be the ones that are expected to do all the work – they are part of the whole team.  It is very important that there are two of them.  Two people working together with different gifts can support each other and help each other to see if they are getting bogged down and need to call for help.  They are your representatives.  You don’t need to be on any membership list – if you can vote in local elections, you can vote for your Churchwardens.


This is the safeguard that means that the Church of England really is there for everyone, and can’t become a sort of private religious club run solely for the benefit of a few.  The Annual Meeting has by law to be advertised well in advance in the church porch and will always take place sometime before the end of April.  It shouldn’t be a formality – it should be a place where we can all support and thank those who give their time and efforts to something we all value; where we can make constructive suggestions for ways the church might engage better with the community that it serves and where if necessary we can help to change directions that have become unhelpful.  So please do come to yours if you possibly can!


The next circle is the Church ‘Electoral Roll’, which is the nearest thing that we have to a list of ‘members’, and says who can vote at the APCM, the second part of the of the Annual Meetings (held immediately after the election of Churchwardens), which deals with the accounts and other more detailed issues about running the church.  It is revised every year before the annual meeting, so if you are not already on it, you can make sure you are able to vote by filling in a form.  It is open to anyone who ‘habitually’ attends the local church and who regards themselves as a member of the Church of England – and ‘habitually’ here doesn’t mean ‘regularly’ or ‘every week or month’ but simply that this is the church where you worship.  So even if you come only a few times a year on Sundays and festivals, if this is your church and you are over 16, you can join the electoral roll and have a vote at the APCM.  Surprisingly, this can apply even if you are a member of another church!  If you belong to a church (for instance, a Methodist or URC or Roman Catholic church) which believes in the doctrine of the Trinity but you nevertheless attend the local parish church and regard yourself as a member there too, you can go on the electoral roll.  In villages, this can be a common situation.


Of course, day to day business needs more focused leadership, so the APCM elects a PCC or Parochial Church Council to run the church on its behalf for the coming year.  They will meet at least 4 times during the year to further the mission of the church; to work with the vicar to plan services and other events and initiatives, raise funding, and make sure the church roof doesn’t fall on anybody’s head!  A good PCC (and we are blessed with some wonderful PCCs in our churches here) is not a boring meeting but a group of friends and neighbours collaborating on something very special and important that makes a real difference to people’s lives.  The more different talents and personalities that are represented, the better it will work.


But of course the church does not just run on the talents of the PCC and Churchwardens.  If you have skills that could be used to make the church better, they will always be welcomed – please do offer your services at whatever level.  If 50 people are involved, the burden will be so much lighter for each of them, and running our precious churches will be what it should be – a pleasure and a privilege; a blessing to us and our neighbours and to our children and grandchildren, just as we have been blessed by the past contributions of those who now lie in the peace of our churchyards.


So; please pray for all our local churches and those who help to run them; please join the electoral roll if you regard this as your church; please come to the meetings and listen and offer support; please think what gifts and talents you have which could help the church thrive; and please remember that a healthy church can only emerge from a healthy, supportive community. 

See you there!

Rev’d. Karen Spray                01392 877400                         church@revdkaren.org.uk




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