Vacancy in a Benefice
It is the responsibility of the Churchwardens and the Area Dean, who are formally the sequestrators of a benefice, to maintain the life, worship and mission of a parish during a vacancy. This responsibility begins from the date of resignation, which is usually the date of induction or licensing in a new parish, or retirement of the incumbent. The Area Dean should be in touch with the outgoing priest and the churchwardens at an early stage to ascertain the needs of the parish during the interregnum.
The sequestrators are the Bishop’s officers in the parish during a vacancy.
Where there is a stipendiary assistant in a parish (not a curate in a title post), the Bishop may direct that he or she becomes Minister-in-Charge for the time being. A self-supporting minister may be asked to help the sequestrators in running the parish and its services, but only so far as his or her other responsibilities allow. Where the Bishop appoints a Minister-in-Charge for the duration of the vacancy, that person takes the chair at PCC meetings. Otherwise, the elected Vice-Chairman takes the Chair.
As far as possible these should continue as before. The Area Dean will advise on clergy to cover normal services and Occasional Offices. The Churchwardens will need to check that the following are covered:
Sunday Services, Festivals, Weekday Services, Baptisms, Weddings, Funerals, Home Communions and calling of Banns.
Registers must be maintained. Sequestrators must ensure that anyone officiating in the parish during the vacancy (whether clergy or LLMs) hold the Bishop’s licence or permission to officiate in this diocese.
The sequestrators are responsible for safeguarding confidential documents or files relating to the parish left in the parsonage house, parish office or vestry. Normally such documents or files should be kept locked in a secure place to which only the Area Dean has the key.
Any lodgers or tenants of any part of the parsonage and its premises must be given notice by the outgoing priest and the latest date for leaving must coincide with the resignation/retirement date of the incumbent. The Churchwardens are responsible for the security of the parsonage house. They should retain the keys and check the parsonage house regularly for possible break-ins and for post. If possible, curtains should be kept at the windows to deter intruders, and lights switched on sporadically at night to maintain the illusion of occupancy. If the parsonage is to be empty over the winter months, central heating should be switched on at a low temperature to avoid freeze-up and burst pipes. The telephone should not be disconnected. Arrangements should be made for the telephone account to be made out on the day when the priest moves out, and another account arranged for the day of the arrival of the new priest. The same should be done for the gas and electricity supplies. If the house is unlawfully occupied, this should be reported immediately to the Police and to the Archdeacon. The Residential Property Department should be informed in writing where the key of the parsonage house may be obtained.
The London Diocesan Fund provides insurance cover for the house and modest cover for theft of fittings. This covers Employer’s Liability in respect of a caretaker, gardener or casual labour such as a window cleaner and covers Third Party Liability for accidents to members of the public in connection with the house.
The Archdeacon and the Manager of the Diocesan Residential Property Department may inspect the parsonage house before or during the vacancy to assess vacancy works needed. If it is thought necessary for the sake of security to have a caretaker living in the parsonage, this must be arranged in consultation with the Archdeacon and the Residential Property Department of the Diocese (Mr Michael Lewis will advise on this – telephone number 020 7932 1209).
When an appointment has been made, the new Priest will look over the house with the Archdeacon and the Churchwardens, to decide what decorations are required before he or she moves into the house. The PCC is usually expected to contribute to the cost of interior decoration. No work should be done in the parsonage during the vacancy without reference to the Residential Property Department and the Archdeacon.
When a vacancy occurs because of the death of the priest, a widow or widower is entitled to remain in the parsonage house for at least three months.
Income and Expenditure during the Vacancy
The Churchwardens should liaise with the Parish Treasurer to ensure that a separate vacancy account (often known as a Sequestration Account) is kept to record income and expenditure explicitly related to the interregnum. This does not have to be a separate bank account, but may be if this is more convenient for the parish.
Income relates to:
- the proportion of fees payable to occasional Offices which would normally be paid to the PCC (i.e. Banns of Marriage, Funerals, monuments erected in the Churchyard, share of the Marriage fee). This includes fees for marriages or funerals taken by assistant or non-stipendiary clergy
- garage and other rents or income normally payable to the incumbent of the benefice during the period of the vacancy.
Expenditure relates to:
a. fees and travelling expenses paid to retired clergy officiating during the vacancy. The current Diocesan rate for expenses and the scale for fees paid to retired clergy can be found here on the Diocesan website in the downloadable PDF called Stipend Scales
b. travelling expenses for other visiting clergy (stipendiary or self-supporting clergy with a Licence, or clergy with Permission to Officiate) or Readers. Mileage rates can be found in the same document.
c. the telephone bill for the parsonage, unless this is normally paid by the PCC;
d. charges for gas and electricity in the parsonage during the vacancy;
e. central heating costs for the parsonage during the winter months (the minimum heating necessary to prevent damp and freezing-up).
f. Authorised caretakers of the parsonage are responsible for their own telephone, gas, electricity, heating and council tax bills.
At the end of the vacancy the income and expenditure (sequestration account) is totalled up, and if it is in surplus, the money should be sent to the Diocese, but if it is in deficit, the Diocese will refund the balance.
Meetings during the Vacancy
PCC Meetings and the APCM and Meeting of Parishioners must take place as normal, and should be chaired by the elected lay vice-chair of the PCC, unless the Bishop appoints a priest to be in charge for the duration of the vacancy. The Area Dean should be kept informed of important matters relating to parish meetings, and can be invited to the Annual Meeting if this would be helpful, though the presence of the Area Dean is not necessary for the Annual Meeting to take place.
Representations by the PCC to the Patron
(unless the patron is the Crown or the Lord Chancellor)
When there is a vacancy in a benefice the PCC is required to hold a meeting, often known as a “Section 11 Meeting”, within four weeks of receiving a notice from the Registrar as the Designated Officer for the purposes of
- preparing a statement describing the conditions, needs and traditions of the parish;
- appointing two lay members of the council to act as representatives of the council in connection with the selection of the incumbent;
- deciding whether to request the patron to consider advertising the vacancy;
- deciding whether to request a meeting with the patron and the bishop or their representatives;
- deciding whether to request a statement in writing from the bishop describing in relation to the benefice the needs of the diocese and the wider interests of the Church;
- deciding whether the PCC wishes to pass a resolution under the provisions of the House of Bishops’ Declaration on the ministry of Bishops and Priests (in relation to the ministry of ordained women in the parish)
The parish representatives have to approve the making of an offer by the patron to a priest unless the PCC has failed to provide a statement or given notice of the meeting.
The Incoming Priest
The Priest must obtain three written estimates for removals, and the diocese will pay the full amount of the lowest estimate. The new priest is entitled to a Resettlement Grant, and a First Appointment Grant is paid if it is the priest’s first living. The relevant forms will be sent to the new incumbent by the Finance Department.
The Institution/Collation and Induction Service
The Parish Priest designate and Churchwardens in consultation with the Area Dean or the Bishop’s Chaplain draw up an order of service of Institution/Collation & Induction (or of Licensing if the appointment is as a Priest in Charge). A copy of the service must be sent well in advance to the Bishop for approval.
The cost of the Institution and Induction Service
The costs of printing the order of service, the invitation cards and the refreshments afterwards are a charge on PCC funds.
The collection during the Institution Service
The total collection at this service is to be sent to the Area Bishop, and the cheque should be made payable to the “Bishop of ……………….’s Discretionary Fund.” The following notice should be printed at the appropriate place in the order of service: “The collection will be taken during the hymn for the Bishop’s Discretionary Fund. You are asked to support this generously, as it is used by the Bishop to assist clergy in special need and emergencies.”
When the Incumbent moves in
Please ensure that the gas, electricity and any other meters are read, and that the telephone bill and other bills are put in the name of the incumbent as appropriate. The incumbent should be responsible for any bills from the day of his or her occupation of the parsonage.