Monday 24 December 2012

Men on the roof

Mary and Joseph have been popping up in different forms and at different venues across North East Lincolnshire during Advent as part of an Advent Calendar organised by the local Churches Together.  Today they are models at the top of St Michael’s tower.  It took more work than I had imagined securing them in place in a high wind, and a police car ‘blue-lighted’ from the other side of town to see what was going on when someone dialled 999 to report men at work on the church roof possibly pinching the lead.  Happy Christmas.

Monday 17 December 2012


“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.

Monday 10 December 2012

Believing in Common Tenure

Eighty-five per cent of the serving Bishops in the Church of England don’t want to share the new terms and conditions of their clergy.

Nearly two years ago (at the end of January 2011) all serving clergy without long term security of tenure (such as Priests-in-Charge, Team Vicars and Curates) were automatically moved onto new terms and conditions called Common Tenure. Since then all new clergy appointments have been on this basis. It was also open to those who did have long term security of tenure (such as Archdeacons, Rectors and Vicars) to opt in as well. Both Archbishops opted in to begin the cascade, and I see that my own formal Common Tenure paperwork is dated from 1st March 2011.

There have been something like twenty new Bishops appointed since then, and these all now serve under Common Tenure. What about the other ninety or so of our present serving Bishops who were already in post by January 2011? A question was asked at the recent General Synod about how many of them have opted in. The answer was eleven.

Although there is absolutely no obligation on them to do so, I had a quite disproportionately depressed reaction when I read this last week. I suppose it is the dull sense that if they really believed it was the best for us they would have grabbed the opportunity to be part of it themselves. I suppose it is the even duller sense that such a high proportion of Bishops are overseeing terms and conditions for us to which they chose not to be subject themselves.

Anyway, part of the new terms and conditions is a mutual obligation between Bishop and clergyperson to provide and to participate in appropriate schemes of ministerial development review (at least once every two years) and continued ministerial education. Of course these things are not new - indeed fifteen years ago I was working full-time for the diocese trying to operate the good practice recommended at that time in these areas.

I’ve written before about such things, especially when I was engaged in a ministerial development review experiment in the summer of 2010 which was part of the diocese's preparation for the introduction of Common Tenure. The process was not completed then (my Archdeacon never responded to the draft Role Description I was obliged to send her, and no offers of relevant continued ministerial education came my way), but it was only a trial run.

The keen eyed will spot the fact that this was more than two years ago, but I know the other Archdeacon’s Secretary has now been given extra hours to get the diocesan scheme moving (she included me in an e-mail a little while ago when she was trying to find out who had been trained as reviewers for it), and I suppose I will not be ‘overdue’ for such a review until March, so I simply have to trust that those who will supervise my terms and conditions hereafter  really do believe in them.

Monday 3 December 2012

Building in fields

There is a large and detailed mid-eighteenth century map showing the boundaries and names of all the fields in the single estate which was the parish of Little Coates. It is held in the North East Lincolnshire Council Archive behind Grimsby Town Hall. I’ve had a photocopy of it across several A3 sheets for some time. Recently I’ve tried to copy it across on to a contemporary map, and the picture above is an extract.

Although some fields had been divided and other united, the rural parish was substantially the same nearly two hundred years later in the 1920s when the estate was auctioned in separate lots. So it is not a surprise to see the way modern housing fits into the old field pattern. For example, at the south-western corner of the map, the present Laceby Acres estate occupies exactly the land which was High Field, Mill Close and Old Close.

Some of what I’ve drawn isn’t quite right, but there were an impressive number of places where careful measuring of where to draw a line took me to exactly the place where whole lines of properties back on to each other. For example, just east of St Michael’s, the way the parts of Church Meadows accessed from Laburnum Drive and the parts accessed from Cherry Tree Crescent back on to each other shows very neatly the old boundary between Chapel Field and Home Close.

The power of many old parish boundaries fascinates me. They may date back to patterns of land ownership in the Dark Ages formalised into larger territories as soon as any centralised forms of early English government arranged obligations or taxation by area. This is strikingly visible on this map. Little Coates became part of the Borough of Grimsby in the 1920s, Great Coates in 1970s, and building then took right up to but not across these ancient parish boundaries, so that suddenly they became visible to the naked eye. For example, travelling from Aylesby along Aylesby Road one can look across fields to the edge of Laceby Acres (which follows the ancient Little Coates – Laceby boundary) and the edge of Wybers Wood (which follows the ancient Great Coates – Aylesby boundary).

But the story is not yet over. Consultation is underway to create a new Local Plan for North East Lincolnshire. We are told that we need to build 9000 new homes in the next twenty years or so. Land owners have been asked to identify where they think these might be built, and something like 16000 sites have been offered. Planners now need to know which of these to include in the new Local Plan. Since so much recent building has been on the eastern side of Grimsby (from Scartho Top to New Waltham), and since access to the A180 and potential areas of employment growth are on the western side, there may be some presumption that much new building will be planned on the western edge of the built up area.

So I saw the map last week which shows potential development a field or so further west. Offers of sites exist for some 2868 houses. A new Aylesby Park could be built north-west of the present Aylesby Park across Aylesby Road. A new Wybers Wood could be built south-west of the present Wybers Wood. A new Laceby Acres could be built west of the present Laceby Acres north and west of Morrisons.

If any of this started to become real and immanent possibilities then we would need to have conversations with our neighbouring ecclesiastical parishes because the new Wybers Wood development would actually be in the present ecclesiastical parish of Aylesby, although the houses would all be much nearer St Nicolas’, Great Coates than the tiny village of Aylesby. And the new Laceby Acres development would be in the present ecclesiastical parish of Laceby; in the case, although separated from it by fields, the new houses would be as close to the larger village of Laceby as to St Michael’s, Little Coates.