Monday, 17 December 2012

Proportionality

“It is your busy time of year.” Yes, but that has nothing to do with Christmas being so near. I have been called three times in the last six weeks to diocesan briefing events at the Lincolnshire Showground, in Scunthorpe and in Lincoln. I find I have notes from all three still on my desk awaiting action or at least cascading the sometimes quite disproportionate information to others.

The Bishop wrote to say attendance at the renewal training about safeguarding (child and vulnerable adult protection) was mandatory, and we do indeed need to maintain the highest levels of good practice here. The Church of England’s general rigour has meant that the systematically predatory no longer look on involvement in the church as an easy route by which to access the vulnerable. It was also clear this year that one diocese’s lack of rigour has been the cause of real harm to some vulnerable individuals, which may be in part what spooked the diocese into providing renewal training now.

What this means in practice for this parish, apart from an annual review that everything from Childline posters to awareness of proper reporting systems remain in place, is that we have Criminal Record Bureau (CRB), now Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), checks in place and renewed every five years for about a third of the one hundred or so regular church attenders in the parish. This applies even to the ones for whom a CRB clearance is already in place for another area of their lives – I’m still separately checked by the church, hospital and FE college, although there is a chance that DBS checks may become more proportionate by becoming ‘portable’.

At the moment I’m also just setting up the next safeguarding awareness training evening for two new people who will be joining the teams taking Communion to homes. The briefing reminded us that we should really have two references and a job description sheet on file for each of them as well.

The second briefing was about how we handle fees - the diocese said it hoped all parishes would be represented at this, so I could actually have asked someone else to go and report back. It was here that the word ‘proportionality’ sprang most forcibly from my lips.

At present the three church Treasurers collect fees which are technically part of my stipend and I send their cheques to the Diocesan Board of Finance (DBF) at the end of each quarter. Should our auditors or the diocese want a break down then it would take the Treasurers a little extra paperwork but it could easily be provided.

From 1st January the legal status of this money changes. It becomes the property of the DBF, which has decided how it wishes us to account for it and how it wishes to police both our handling of it and our good practice in the way we charge ‘extras’.

So the DBF will now require that we generate a separate form relating to each and every individual fee generating activity – and we return over £10 000 of fees from this parish each year. For some fees, it wants this form e-mailed straight away so it can collect the payment direct and then send the parish’s portion and extras to us. For other fees, it wants us to collect the payment and then send the DBF the form and its fee, and to do this monthly not quarterly.

For every wedding, the DBF now requires us to tell it what extras were charged, although this has nothing directly to do with accounting for the fee money which belongs to it. For every funeral, the form requires us to state not only which Funeral Director’s firm is involved but the name of the member of staff dealing with the particular funeral. For every churchyard memorial the form requires us to state not only the grave to which it relates but also to provide contact details for the next-of-kin of the person buried there.

I was in a tiny minority raising questions about this, but I actually wonder whether some of it is even in breach of the Data Protection Act - I can understand a requirement that we have accounts which show clearly how all payments to us have been handled, but I seriously doubt whether it is legal for the diocese to build up a computer database of next-of-kin on the back of this process.

A Churchwarden from a tiny parish said she was grateful to have a system set out on a form she could follow through step by step when she had the odd wedding or funeral to deal with in a year. An incumbent of a major parish said it would be simple for her administrator to change all the parish’s systems and use the diocesan forms as the basis for the parish’s own record keeping. So what had I to worry about?

The final briefing was about marriage preliminaries and registration. The Bishop wrote that he expected incumbents and priests-in-charge to give attendance the highest priority. It was in part prompted by concerns about ‘sham marriages’ about which the Diocesan Registrar confessed we have been na├»ve (as I did in a post here in April 2011). But this post is already too long, and the briefing was really to promulgate the disproportionate approach about which I already posted then.

Meanwhile, the picture shows our effort this year to make links between Christingle and the outside giving of our three churches. The orange / world has our link parish in Zimbabwe marked. The ribbon / blood is made up of Christmas cards being sent in response to information from Action of Christians Against Torture. The cocktail sticks / fruit carry the sorts of tins which members of the congregation contribute to a local food bank. The candle / light of the world is marked for the Children’s Society for whom each year Christingle is a major source of education, prayers and funding.

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