TIMES REMEMBERED The Parochial Church Council
There often exists in the minds of those people not closely associated with either body a certain confusion concerning the distinction between parish councils and parochial church councils. A confusion compounded by the BBC which appeared to have amalgamated both bodies in the sitcom “The Vicar of Dibley”.
Originally, parishes were sub-divisions of an ecclesiastical diocese, each having its own church and priest and the inhabitants of the area were known as parishioners. The division between Church and State at that time was blurred, the clergy having both ecclesiastical and civil roles. Amongst other controls the Church was responsible for the care of the destitute and sick, the cost being borne partly from alms, partly from revenue of church glebeland and partly from the proceeds of convivial entertainment known as ‘Church Ales’. It was not until the 16th and 17th centuries that the State began to assume responsibility for the needy of the parish and even then the churchwardens were often the ‘overseers’ who had to administer the Poor Laws that followed.
The name ‘parish’ was also adopted for the eventual sub-division of counties into districts, frequently identical with the original parishes. Gradually the clergy’s civil duties were taken over by elected representatives of local ratepayers, thus forming the parish councils which have persisted in rural areas.
The administration of the local church’s affairs were originally carried out by the incumbent and churchwardens who were required to give an account of their stewardship to the local ratepayers at the annual Easter Vestry meeting. This was (and still is) open to all parishioners, whether churchgoers or not and at that meeting the two churchwardens, holders of an ancient office, were elected. If priest and people could not agree on the choice of wardens the incumbent nominated his, the Vicar’s Warden, and the people elected theirs, the People’s Warden. These days both are elected by the meeting which still goes by the name of the Vestry meeting.
Parochial Church Councils, the group of parishioners that administer the local church’s affairs, were not born until the early part of this century. In Pirton the first parochial church council was formed in the nineteen twenties and at various times has comprised anything from eight to fifteen members.
The incumbent and churchwardens are ex-officio members of the PCC and the incumbent is usually the chairman. All the other members are elected at the Annual Parochial Church Meeting which usually follows on immediately after the Vestry Meeting. Whilst any parishioners may attend the meeting’ only those who are on the Electoral Roll of the church may vote. At that meeting the various officers of the church such as the Secretary, Treasurer and Deanery Synod representatives give an account of their stewardship while a churchwarden gives a report on the state of the church building and says whether any object has been added or removed from the church during the past year. Nowadays, the Vestry Meeting merely confines itself to the election of churchwardens.
As this is a Parish Magazine produced by St. Mary’s it seems appropriate that my new series of articles should give some prominence to the work of our parochial church council throughout the years of its existence and examine its development and adaptation to change within and without the Church of England.