the english clergy assocation

buildings and maintainance


Advice on Buildings Maintenance

Note: In most Benefices there are three or four types of building.

1) The Parish Church forms part of the freehold of the Rector or Vicar, and is not part of a diocesan property portfolio. In effect, it vests in the Incumbent for the benefit of the Parishioners at large, an idea that came about before modern ideas of Trusts. But it is the responsibility of the Parochial Church Council to repair and maintain the Church, Churchyard and walls/fences (a Closed Churchyard should usually be maintained by the Local Authority); and the Churchwardens have certain duties as Churchwardens, Parish Officers, irrespective of their ex officio P.C.C. Membership. While they have no right to the keys, usually they do have a set, and in any event they have a right of access for the purpose of carrying out their duties. The contents of the Church vest in the Churchwardens – that includes the Organ: they are not the property of the Incumbent or P.C.C., and are held by the Churchwardens, it may be said, for the use of the Incumbent for the benefit of the Parishioners. The Churchwardens are responsible for maintaining good order, and for seating the congregation. Burials are a matter for the Incumbent, but there will be matters there where he must work with the P.C.C. – unauthorised monuments are a difficult problem, requiring much tact as well as some gentle firmness.

2) The Parsonage is usually as a freehold also in the hands of the Rector or Vicar. Repairs are the responsibility of the Diocesan Parsonages Committee (Repair of Benefice Buildings Measure 1972). But it is in the interests of the parishioners that the Churchwardens should take note of needs and developments, always bearing in mind that during a Vacancy (including a time when there is a Priest-in-Charge) the Bishop as effectively guardian may (under the Pastoral Measure 1983) sell the Parsonage. The Churchwardens always have a right of comment, and the opportunity to make representations.

3) The Curate’s House/Team Vicar’s House is usually either Glebe, and as such the property of the Diocesan Board of Finance, and as such its responsibility; or a P.C.C. owned house, which, although then vested in the Diocesan Authority as Custodian Trustee, is nevertheless owned and managed – and repaired – by the P.C.C.; but the P.C.C. may in practice often request the Incumbent and/or Churchwardens to act for it, although the P.C.C. cannot insist on imposing any duty upon them.

4) The Church Hall may be either a separate building in the ownership of the P.C.C. (in which case the above remarks apply to the Hall too) or owned by an independent or related Parish Trust or it may be part of the Parson’s Freehold, especially where it is attached to the Parish Church or once was part of the Church. In that case, although control is with the Incumbent, or, during a Vacancy, with the Churchwardens, repairs and maintenance are again a P.C.C. responsibility.

The Parish Architect is, strictly speaking, retained by the P.C.C. for the Quinquennial Report on the Fabric of the Parish Church. However, the Diocese has an interest in his appointment, and will provide lists of names for Councils to choose from. It is a good idea for the Churchwardens as well as the Incumbent to meet a prospective Architect before his appointment is voted. Many Architects are Christians, and sometimes a Parishioner is available for appointment. In any event, good relationships are to be fostered, and friendship can grow into a fruitful opportunity to the real benefit of the Church – and sometimes of the other buildings, described above, in the parish. The Architect should be made to feel welcome at Services (it is helpful for him to understand how a Church is used), and it may well be appropriate to give him an annual Luncheon, perhaps in association with a visit. A good Architect will as often as good Churchwardens know of reliable and competent trades people for the vario us tasks of maintenance and repairs, including those that are not strictly his responsibility. Build good relationships. Benefit from his knowledge.

A Faculty is required from the Chancellor or Archdeacon for most Church works. Non curat lex de minimis: little jobs can be done as required. You can change a lightbulb, but not, usually, a carpet. If in doubt, ask: otherwise you are personally liable for putting things right when you are caught out!

Understand the electrical and heating installations, but do not meddle. Keep an eye on the physical continuity of the Lightning Conductor and be sure that it is properly checked from time to time by an approved specialist. Have a maintenance schedule for everything – for example, to make sure that no one has let off a fire extinguisher – it is not good when they are needed and found empty…..Spare bulbs and fuses are within a Churchwarden’s capacity, but, if the steps or ladders are decrepit he should insist on new ones being bought by the P.C.C. – wooden ladders stored near boilers dry out, and then the rungs loosen. They may be tighter after the ladder is left out in the rain a bit – but, remember, someone may then use it to get on the roof and steal the lead! Binoculars and a good Digital Zoom Camera are very useful, especially if a tripod is kept handy, too. Churchwatch is a good concept. An Alarm system should be considered; if installed, the Church’s l ocation may well necessitate its being of the constantly monitored type. Personal Attack alarms may be wearable Remotes, linked into the main system. The Police try to respond to personal attack alerts even more quickly than to break-ins. The Churchwardens have some police-type powers, but prevention is better than heavy-handed if well-meant later action. They should certainly see that locks and bolts are oiled and operative, and that people do not stick pins in pews to hold flowers, or fill the font with flowers, and Insurance for voluntary Church workers is in place. They should understand the Church Insurance Policy which the P.C.C. will have taken out, and ensure that it is adequate not least for the cover of the contents, many of which will be very valuable, and some of which will need to appear as named items of value.

Attacks on the Clergy and Church Officers, or congregation, are more common today. Liaison with the Police is wise. See that you have good lighting. Remove graffiti promptly, employing specialists where necessary. Do not use emulsion or other impermeable paints on stonework/plaster etc.. The Churchwardens are responsible for taking the Collection, through Sidesmen if that is the practice; but it is they who should count it, or at least see that it is counted by two people together, and entered up properly – and that visiting clergy should sign the Register of Services.

When in doubt, ask. In a vacancy, the Rural Dean may well be more accessible than the Architect, and glad to help as part of his duty of care, as well as (usually) as one of the Sequestrators with the Churchwardens.

The Link/s below and on the links page should be found helpful, and more detailed than our brief notes.

Advice on buildings maintenance can also be obtained through