Church acts to put power in hands of new council

Turnbull report: Disastrous losses in property market prompt move to cut power of commissioners and synod committees
Click to follow
Radical changes to the Church of England's government were proposed yesterday by a commission set up by Dr George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, after the loss of a third of church funds in property speculation in the late Eighties.

The commission, under the chairmanship of the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Rev Michael Turnbull, recommends that the Church of England be led in future by a national council chaired by the Archbishop,which would direct its work and set budgets to be approved by the General Synod.

The Church Commissioners, whose property speculations precipitated this overhaul, will not be abolished. But they will be drastically streamlined and reduced to an investment trust with no responsibility for spending the money they raise.

The staff of the commissioners will leave their imposing offices opposite the House of Lords and move into Church House, Westminster, where the General Synod meets and has its staff. There will be some job losses as a result. However, it is claimed there will be savings of pounds 1m a year once the church's central staffs are integrated. The Archbishop will keep his personal staff of 40 in Lambeth Palace.

The whole top layer of the synod: its boards, councils and policy-making committees will disappear or be absorbed into the new national council. Such bodies as the synod's board for social responsibility, responsible for the controversial report on the family, will disappear.

They will reappear, if at all, as part of the four divisions of the national council: human resources, mission resources, financial resources, and heritage and legal services.These would be run by part-time executive chairmen, nominated by the Archbishop, who will be chairman of the new body.

"By bringing together functions at present spread throughout the national level of the church, the council would identify clearly where the responsibility lay for tackling pressing issues. It would be responsible for planning ahead and getting things done and would have the capacity, commitment and `clout' to do so," says the report.

The new council would take over responsibility for deciding how many priests are needed where and how they should be trained. It would also be responsible for developing, with the 43 dioceses, a comprehensive pensions policy and for overseeing the flow of money within the church as a whole.

The present system is chaotic and has emerged from a series of historic accidents. The present staff of the synod are expected to support more than 100 committees, most with ill-defined responsibilities.

Everyone in the system agrees that something must be done; and the Turnbull report is only one of a series of overlapping inquiries into the workings of the Church of England. A committee under the law lord, Lord Bridge, is inquiring into synodical government; another commission is considering the terms and conditions under which the clergy are employed.

First reaction to the committee's report was not wholly favourable. The Rev John Broadhurst, a leading Anglo-Catholic and a member of the synod's standing committee, criticised the commission for not going far enough. "I think their proposals are a bureaucratic nightmare," he said. "The real issue is accountability. The new council is unelected and will therefore only be accountable to the bureaucracy."

Power to the pews, Page 19