With current trends it seems clear that there will be more parishes transitioning into other forms. The Northern Presbytery P & F Work Group was requested to consider the transition process for parishes and whether current policies and procedures are adequate. Our initial thoughts were circulated to the Northern Presbytery Council, PCANZ and the Presbyterian Church Property Trustees (CPT) for their consideration and response. The Church Property Trustees (the legal owners of church properties) have responded with a firmly expressed view that the starting point for reconfiguring congregations must be dissolution of the congregations concerned. CPT has made it clear that if the Presbytery wishes to use a different process the onus must be on the Presbytery to show that the merits of the new approach (compared with following the established processes) outweigh dissolution as a starting point.
The current PCANZ policy is that if a congregation dissolves the assets go to the Presbytery for a decision and action on their future. There is also a policy which mitigates against a transfer of assets parish to parish when two parishes amalgamate or merge. CPT has pointed out however that “if the merger is to strengthen mission through the sensible configuration of strong parishes it may be acceptable.”
The Northern Presbytery considers that there have been and will continue to be situations where the merits of a different approach do outweigh dissolution as a starting point. Having said that however we do accept that the dissolution approach has many advantages including a fresh beginning particularly where an agreement has been reached with the Presbytery prior to dissolution over the nature of the reconfiguration including the apportionment of the assets.
In the development of the Northern Presbytery position on options for the transformation process we considered a range of different scenarios including:
- a parish wishing to dispose of property
- a parish which has recognised that it will not be viable into the future
- a situation where the presbytery recognises that a parish is struggling and is unlikely to return to viability
- a situation where two parishes are considering whether to merge or amalgamate
- a situation where more than two parishes are considering whether a new configuration would be beneficial
- a situation where a parish which is struggling wishes to explore incorporation options with a neighbouring parish
- a situation where a parish sees the future of the church as being mission related without the need for property ownership
As we worked through these scenarios and took into account the views of the CPT we came to the conclusion that there are even more potential scenarios than those which we had identified and that each situation will have differences. A standard approach will not fit all situations.
In our view for a successful outcome to be achieved the most important first step to be taken by a parish or by parishes facing a situation such as summarised in the above scenarios and wishing to explore options for change is to make contact with the Presbytery.
The Property and Finance Work Group in the Presbytery is committed to working with parishes to explore and identify options and to work towards an understanding on what the outcome will be if certain decisions are taken by the parish.
We see the need for a flexible approach with regard to property and finance matters in the case of transitions and reconfigurations and are firmly of the view that the optimum solutions will emerge through discussions involving Presbytery representatives who will be in a position to make suggestions and come to agreements over Property and Finance matters.