Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs Written Evidence

Evidence submitted by Revd Canon R B S Burston


    —  Clergyman in Newcastle Diocese since 1970.

    —  Vicar of Alwinton Holystone and Alnham 1977-1983 where the Lord Chancellor is patron.

    —  Rector of Glendale since 1983 where the Lord Chancellor is one patron amongst others.


  It is my understanding that there was some difficulty in 1976 in finding a priest who would serve in the very rural benefice of Alwinton with Holystone and Alnham. The intervention of an eccentric figure with a suggestion, conveyed to the Lord Chancellor's Office, that I should serve at Alwinton lead directly to my being presented to the living. This particular presentation evoked from the then Bishop of Newcastle the comment that "he would not have readily connected my name with such an appointment". I was born and schooled in inner-city Cardiff, educated at Durham, served two curacies in urban Tyneside and now the Lord Chancellor would create the opportunity to be a rural parson in one of England's most remote benefices.

  The promptings of an eccentric soul and the action of the Lord Chancellor facilitated the most significant "crossing of boundaries" in my entire working life. For the past 26 years I have immersed myself in the life of a rural society in North Northumberland that has provided countless opportunities for Christian service and ministry. Such opportunity would probably have eluded me but for the influence of the Lord Chancellor's ecclesiastical patronage operating beyond the influence of patronage systems within church diocesan structures.


  It is a feature of the Lord Chancellor's patronage that regular visits are made to parishes by his ecclesiastical secretary. I recollect one such visit made to Alwinton when the request was made that the secretary should have the opportunity of meeting all six churchwardens and myself.

  The secretary (one Col Salmon) engendered a gentle but challenging conversation with the churchwardens on the subject of maintenance of the ministry. His further inquiries asked for details of parish policies on the re-imbursement of the incumbents legitimate working expenses in one of England's largest single cures. This conversation took place in the late 1970's when clergy stipends were at their lowest, and following the hike in transport costs resulting from the oil crises. The secretary's interest and sensitive handling of these issues lead to a truly amazing growth in responsibility amongst lay church members on the issues discussed. The Lord Chancellor's Ecclesiastical Secretary on this occasion came as an interested and concerned party for the life of the local church, but brought with him an experience from elsewhere; his concern and care was evident, but so was his independence.


  In 1983 I moved to be Rector of Glendale, a team ministry serving much of the Cheviot Hills. Here the Lord Chancellor is one patron amongst several. When the Glendale Team scheme was agreed under the Pastoral Measure of 1968 the Lord Chancellor was allotted one choice of Rector in each five turns. The remaining patrons form a college and act together to appoint the Rector on the remaining four turns. I was an appointee of the college of patrons but on occasion I have still received a "pastoral" visit from the Lord Chancellor's Ecclesiastical Secretary. His indications on such a visit was "to be in touch if I thought that he as patron could be of help". Such comments are helpful, supportive, and reassuring, and convey a sense of connection to an "establishment" beyond immediate church structures.


  5.1  Paragraph "2" demonstrated the facility to cross boundaries by virtue of connection to Lord Chancellor's patronage. Within that system of patronage there would seem to be an offer open to clergy to cross boundaries between dioceses, as well as to cross the cultural boundaries that separate one kind of community from another or one kind of lifestyle from another. I would not want to underestimate the value of a system of patronage that facilitates clergy taking their experience from one community to a very different community.

  5.2  Paragraph "3" demonstrated a system of patronage that has the capacity to bring both a caring and independent voice to the life of a particular parish. Any parish priest will know from time to time his vulnerabilities in tackling certain aspects of parish life. To have a patron who offers friendly support and who might even ask sensitive questions is to be valued. This model of patronage is valuable to the pastor who handles the spiritual care of others day by day, and who thereby discovers his own vulnerability.

  5.3  The Lord Chancellors patronage brings to parochial life an "image" of establishment but in the local church also appears as having an independence from the immediate mechanisms of being part of the established church. Anglican congregations are used to dealing with bishops, archdeacons, registrars, diocesan chancellors, and other parts of the establishment structure, but "establishment" feels very different when someone from the very centre of government turns up one day in a very remote rural parish and declares a genuine interest in the place which he traces back to 1538. For a moment some very remote rural places feel a real connection to the centre.

  5.4  I have only good experiences of Lord Chancellor's patronage of which to tell you. It can be argued that the church needs a wide review of patronage systems. Lord Chancellor's patronage might be used as a model of good practice for other patrons to aspire to.

  5.5  The committee has already indicated that it wants to know which of the three Government Options would be preferred as a future base for the exercise of Lord Chancellor's patronage. My previous comments lead me to suggest that it is not appropriate to pass the Lord Chancellors patronage to structures within the church. Considering the common root of much of Lord Chancellors Patronage and Crown Patronage, and that today they share a common administration, a strong case must be made for the removal of the historic split between the "King's Book" and the "Lord Chancellor's Book".


  Members of the Committee might be acquainted with Edward Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance marches" written to reflect the mood of early Edwardian England. Equally you might be acquainted with Elgar's "Cello Concerto" written post World War One (1919). The difference in these two pieces of music is striking. The first is one of bold imperialism, the second is one of long and carefully crafted statements on the cello bow reflective of history before the work of repair is finally proposed.

  1538 was a time of bold statements about an established church: The Lord Chancellors patronage was part of that bold statement. 2004 is a time to make carefully crafted statements that reflect on the history that has come to pass before the work of repair is proposed. The repair is not to re establish the politics of 1538, but to enable the crossing of boundaries, the preservation of independent and concerned voices, a sense of connecting the local to the centre, and the establishing and spreading of good practice.

  Revd Canon R B S Burston

  29 January 2004

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