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Local Anglican church governance, Part III

In reading this post, please keep its age in mind.

So far (Parts I and II) in our investigation of local Anglican church governance, we have seen that our church is

  • an unincorporated organisation,
  • established by a body representative of the mind of the Anglicans of the Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn called the Synod,
  • run by the members of the local church, in partnership with the rector, and
  • run according to rules (an Ordinance) set by the Synod.

In Part III we will see how this partnership is meant to work in practice.

The members

We saw earlier that the members exercise their power through a general meeting of members. However, except in the smallest of churches – and An Outline of The Structure of The Anglican Church of Australia (mentioned earlier) says that some have a membership in the 20s – it would not be practical for the rector to govern with the membership as a whole. This then is where the parish council comes in.

Parish council

The Ordinance mandates that the parish have a body called a parish council [section 35.1]. And then says that “is a body representative of the members of the ministry unit”.

This body can then represent the members in their partnership with the rector, a partnership reiterated under the heading Functions of ministry unit council:

Within each ministry unit, the rector or chaplain, as the case may be, and the council of the ministry unit have, in partnership, the responsibility and authority under the Bishop for the mission and ministry of this Church in that ministry unit [section 36.1].

It exercises that responsibility and authority by providing

leadership for the ministry unit by setting, in conjunction with the rector or chaplain, objectives and strategies for the work of this Church in the ministry unit and by the efficient and effective management of the resources of the ministry unit [section 36.2].

And more specifically:

Without limiting the other provisions of this section, the council is responsible to the Bishop and to the members of the ministry unit for–

(a)  managing the financial affairs of the ministry unit; and

(b)    maintaining the buildings, grounds and other property held on behalf of the ministry unit in good order and repair [section 36.3].

As well as being responsible to the members, it also has a responsibility to a higher authority, the Bishop.

The council is also responsible to the Bishop for meeting the obligations of the ministry unit in accordance with a covenant referred to in section 27 [section 36.4].

Having seen what the council has to do, we now turn our attention to how it should be organised.

Parish administration

The composition of a parish council, and the method of choosing the members (along with how the Chairman is selected, and an Executive Committee), are things that the Ordinance requires a (parish council) constitution to address [section 37.3]. The selections within each of these things, though, is open to the members:

A general meeting of the members of a parish may, subject to the procedures in this section, adopt a system of parish administration, including the constitution of a parish council, appropriate to the circumstances of their parish [section 37.2].

By this we see that parish administration is under the authority of the members, both via control of the Parish Council and via general meetings of the membership.

Council composition

In the case of our church “A parish council consists of up to twelve people comprising:

(a)   the rector or the person in charge of the parish;

(b)   up to two stipendiary assistant clergy of the parish;

(c)   the churchwardens of the parish;

(d)  six other persons appointed for two year terms, three of whom shall be appointed each year [paragraph 1.1].

We are to have three churchwardens [paragraph 3.1], making the ratio between non-clergy (‘laity’) and clergy 3 to 1.

Two later paragraphs conflict with the above definitive statement of the composition:

  • paragraph 1.2, which allows “a non-stipendiary (i.e. unpaid) member of the clergy licensed for service in the parish or a non-stipendiary person appointed to ministry in the parish” to be made a member; and
  • paragraph 4.3, which allows the parish treasurer to be made a member.

Because elections are only held for the lay members (see below), it is assumed that paragraph 1.3, which allows “an assistant priest of deacon” to be “elected” as a member, is merely saying that such a person could take one of the lay positions. Not create a position in addition to the twelve.

Therefore the ratio of laity to clergy could end up being less than 3 to 1. However, because these clergy can only be appointed by either the members or the council, the members (which number includes the clergy) decide whether or not the clergy numbers should be expanded.

Council selection

The constitution doesn’t say, but presumably if there are more than two assistant clergy, it is the rector who chooses the two.

This is how we should get our churchwardens:

…one churchwarden shall be appointed by the rector and the other 2 elected by the members of the parish who customarily worship at the worship centre, or by the members of the parish as the case may be [paragraph 3.2].

There is a problem with this: this is the first time a ‘worship centre’ has been mentioned in the constitution. This is because, as a “parish (that) includes 2 or more places at which a congregation regularly worships”, our constitution does not comply with the Ordinance’s requirement that it provide for “appropriate representation on the council for the congregation of each of these places” [section 37.3].

Two of the six lay positions on the council are filled by a nomination by the rector – a nomination which can, technically, be supported or not supported by the council – while the other four members are elected by the members of the parish.

These six members serve for two years, one half retiring each year [paragraph 21.1 (d)].


The balance between lay and clergy on the parish council, the fact that Parish meetings are clearly part of the governance structure of a parish (for instance, section 32.1), and because clergy themselves are members of the parish, shows that the parish is, in effect, a membership-based organisation.

This is clearly shown by the members’ ability to enforce accountability via a general meeting. Such a meeting must be convened by the council if requested in writing by a least twenty voting members (Schedule 6, section 4.2). And provision for voting in such a meeting [Schedule 6, section 7.4], shows that the members are there to make decisions.

But who can vote, and therefore have a say in the running of our church? Schedule 6 of the Ordinance gives the rules for a general meeting, and there it says that there you must be at least 18 and ‘a member of the parish’ [Schedule 6, section 6.1].

You are such a member if you are (a) ‘a member of this Church’ and (b) ‘entitled to have (your) name on the roll of members of that ministry unit’ [section 33.2]. You are ‘a member of this Church’ if you are a baptised person who-

(a)      attends the public worship of this Church [the Anglican Church of Australia [section 4.1]]; and

(b)    declares that he or she is a member of this Church and is not a member of a church which is not in communion with this Church [section 33.1].

Roll of members’ is not defined, so takes its normal meaning.

You are entitled to have your name on the roll if you are “a member of this Church who customarily worships with a parish congregation or who ordinarily resides within a parish” [section 34.1].

A common use of a roll in an organisation that has members is to prove membership, particularly eligibility to vote at meetings. However, in case of our church, this is the only provision about the purpose of a parish roll:

Ministry units are required to report to the Registrar on the information from the roll of members and on other activities as determined by the Bishop-in-Council from time to time [section 34.5].


In addition to having the general duties of a parish councillor, the churchwardens have additional duties. For these they are responsible not only to the parish council, and through them to the members, but also to a higher authority, the Bishop. In our constitution, these duties depend on whether they are the churchwarden for a worship centre or the parish, but, as we have already seen, without such appointments in our church, this distinction is irrelevant.

The extra duties are divided into three:

  1. Those shared with the parish council:
  • ensuring the provision of all things necessary for the conduct of public worship at (the)… worship centre(s);
  • the maintenance in good order and repair of the property of or used by the worship centre(s);
  • the safekeeping of parish registers and other parish records; and the maintenance in good order and repair of the rectory, other houses provided for the staff of the parish and other parish property [sections 3.4 and 3.5].

2.    Any “functions and duties conferred or imposed by the laws of the Church, including canons of General Synod” [section 3.6]; and

3.   Keeping an eye on the ‘public worship’ and the rector:

The churchwardens of the parish have a duty to provide a written report to the Bishop, signed by a majority of them, on any serious irregularities in the performance of public worship or any wilful neglect of duty or any serious misconduct on the part of the rector [section 3.5].

The Bishop

This is not the only possible direct involvement of the Bishop. He may convene general meetings of the parish, and is responsible for the parish when the office of rector is vacant (section 7.3).

It is clear therefore that, in practical governance, he takes a role similar to that which can be exercised by a regulator under legislation providing incorporation for an entity.

Apart from the parish council and the membership in general meeting, the other compulsory decision-making body in the parish is the executive committee.

Executive committee

In our church this committee consists of ‘the presiding member’ (the Chairman), the rector, churchwardens, treasurer, and one person who is not a member of council, the secretary (if one has been appointed) [section 12.1].

The executive committee, provided that the council has not directed to the contrary, “has all the powers, and may perform all the functions, of the council between meetings of the council” [section 12.2].

Other committees may be formed by council, and may be given all the powers and functions of council (other than its power of delegation). One or more of these may be significant players in parish life.


The purpose of governance is “to ensure, usually on behalf of others, that an organization achieves what it should achieve while avoiding those behaviours and situations that should be avoided” (www.carvergovernance.com). We have seen that in the case of our church the responsibility has been given to a partnership between the rector and the parish council, a partnership that is accountable to the members, and with oversight of the arrangement by the Bishop.