Dealing with Church Politics

In a meeting on Monday, I used the term ‘Church Politics’ which was greeted with some surprise by one member of the committee who said that there wasn’t any politics in our Church… Didn’t take him long to concede that there was though…

The problem we have at the moment is what should have been purely and administrative issue, which thanks to a lost e-mail has spiralled into a much larger pastoral problem – probably the perfect example of why ‘Church Politics’ are so complicated.

Our situation relates to on of the church groups – like any other they exist under the umbrella of the PCC, so when ‘they’ wanted to buy equipment, it was actually the PCC who bought it and legally own it.

Back in 2006, they made a rejected bid for lottery funding for a community project they wanted to undertake, so went to the local council for advice. The expert there, who has a one hundred percent success rate at getting funding apparently, said that the problem was that they were too closely associated with the Church, as a result they effectively recreated their group as a separate legal entity. The problem came from the fact that they informed the PCC via an e-mail, which it seems was never received.

Roll on to just before Christmas, and all the PCC get an invitation to a launch event celebrating the group having received funding – since the group separated they had not had to consult the PCC about the application. However since the PCC hadn’t discussed their new group at all, most people still thought it was part of the PCC. The fact that they are a legally separate group is a bit of an issue because all the equipment bought by the group prior to the split is legally the property of the PCC, and anything bought afterwards is theirs. Since the PCC has to account for all it’s assets we unfortunately can’t just give away the equipment used by the group.

As a result there have been accusations flying around all over the place, and yesterday I ended up in a meeting with three of the group, the rector, and the advisor from Wokingham Borough trying to pick a way through the mess. On both sides we’ve got rather hurt and angry people, all of whom seem to be managing to repeatedly misunderstand each other. Hopefully we made a good deal of progress, but we still have to get everything sorted out.

So any lessons to learn? I think the biggest is that if you’re on a PCC, make sure that you know what your groups are doing. Our PCC, like most I expect, doesn’t hear anything much from any of their groups most of the time – there will maybe be the occasional request for money, but with this group, nobody really spotted what was happening. The issue here was that the notification to the PCC of the change consisted of verbal conversations with some members, none of whom actually seemed to take on board what was happening, and a single e-mail that got lost. The members of the group admitted that they didn’t really understand the wider implications of what they were doing when they wrote their constitution, and the expert from Wokingham Borough didn’t seem to understand the restrictions that a Church of England Church operated under either. The other lesson to learn is not to rely on e-mail – much like any other communication medium, messages can get lost.

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