This update outlines the current situation in relation to shared church buildings with a brief summary of how we reached this point. It then provides details of prospective changes to these arrangements following Conference 2019.
For half a century it has been possible for Churches in England and Wales to share church buildings, in accordance with the Sharing of Church Buildings Act 1969. The first cases of such sharing involving the Methodist Church were:
- St Matthew’s Parish Church in Rastrick, West Yorkshire, was shared with the Methodist Church from 23rd July 1970, with a separate Sharing Agreement being made for the Rastrick Parish Centre, also owned by the Church of England, on 5th August 1971. The Methodist Local Church involved was Crowtrees in Rastrick. Later, a single-congregation LEP was formed. Originally in the Brighouse Circuit, these shared church buildings are now part of the Calderdale Circuit. The Methodist Church continues to share these church buildings and the Local Church is the Methodist partner in a continuing single-congregation Local Ecumenical Partnership.
- St Michael’s Parish Church in Newhaven, East Sussex, was shared with the Methodist Church from 17th November 1970. Originally in the Mid Sussex Circuit, this shared church building is now part of the Central Sussex United Area, itself a Methodist/URC partnership. Newhaven Methodist Church continues to meet in this ancient Parish Church, and is the Methodist partner in a continuing single-congregation Local Ecumenical Partnership.
- The first Methodist-owned chapel to be shared is at Coleshill in Warwickshire, where the original Sharing Agreement with the then Congregational Church, which became part of the United Reformed Church, was completed on 9th August 1972. In order that the chapel could be vested in TMCP and held on the Methodist Model Trusts, the original Sharing Agreement was terminated and replaced with a new Sharing Agreement in 1984. Coleshill United Church LEP (a single-congregation Local Ecumenical Partnership between the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church) continues to meet there.
However, please bear in mind that a Sharing Agreement should not be used, or permitted to continue, when the Methodist Church is no longer using a Methodist-owned church building for worship. Sharing Agreements may continue indefinitely, but must contain provision for their termination by either/any of the sharing Churches. The usual notice period is six months.
In 1983 an additional paragraph was added to Model Trust 14 – 14(2A) – to enable Methodist Managing Trustees to grant what has become informally known as “temporary hospitality” to other Christian churches or congregations to use Methodist church buildings for worship separately to the Methodist Church. Such hospitality under Model Trust 14(2A) requires connexional consent, which must be renewed annually. Connexional consent may be obtained by completing and returning a Schedule 14a form to the Connexional Ecumenical Officer at Methodist Church House. This can be found on the Methodist Church website at: https://www.methodist.org.uk/our-work/building-relationships/relationships-with-other-denominations/resources-and-information/resources/sharing-of-buildings/
A licence-to-use agreement (“Worship Licence”) should also be entered in to between the Methodist Managing Trustees and the appropriate person or body of the other Church or congregation who wishes to use Methodist property for worship. TMCP has prepared a precedent Worship Licence on behalf of the Connexional Team which, if used without amendment, has connexional consent under Standing Order 931(3). Further information on the process for use of Methodist property under Model Trust 14(2A) may be found on the TMCP website.
While connexional consent may be given to a particular case of use under Model Trust 14(2A) for a further year or years, subject to the Worship Licence being renewed, such consent does not, at present, permit medium- or long-term use of Methodist property for worship by another Christian church or congregation, nor is it intended to permit another Church or congregation to use a Methodist Church building that is no longer used for worship by the Methodist Church.
The Conference 2019
The 2019 Conference in Birmingham passed a resolution to amend Model Trust 14(2A). This followed a memorial that was submitted to the Conference in 2016 about whether or not Model Trust 14(2A) should be amended to permit a lease to another Christian church or congregation to use Methodist property for worship. An amendment of Model Trust 14 can only be made by deferred special resolution of the Conference passed in one year by a 75% majority and, after full consultation down to and including Local Church level, and confirmed in the second following year by a further 75% majority. The 2019 Conference has directed the Methodist Council to work with the Property Development Committee (“PDC”) on the production of a policy in relation to Model Trust 14(2A) in amended form (pages 205 to 208 of the Conference Agenda: https://www.methodist.org.uk/media/11751/conf-2019-20-methodist-council-part-2.pdf and to view the discussion at the Conference: https://www.methodist.org.uk/about-us/the-methodist-conference/conference-2019/conference-programme/2019-07-02/1130-am/methodist-council-part-2/) to be agreed by the Conference, and to consider such a policy no later than January 2021.
No change to the present arrangements for the use of Model Trust 14(2A) in its current form will take effect until, at the earliest, the 2021 Conference.
It is not currently permitted to grant a lease to another Christian church or congregation to use Methodist property for worship. However, the Methodist Council has received Counsel’s Opinion that there is no legal or constitutional reason why Model Trust 14(2A) should not be amended and so the circumstances in which connexional consent might be given to a licence for longer than twelve months, or a lease, will form part of the work to be undertaken by the PDC in considering the terms of the policy to be brought to the Methodist Council for consideration by January 2021, as directed by the Conference in 2019.
Beyond England and Wales
In Scotland the Sharing of Church Buildings Act 1969 does not apply, and there is no equivalent legislation. The Isle of Man and the States of Jersey have their own equivalents of the Sharing of Church Buildings Act 1969. In Scotland and the Bailiwick of Guernsey, the only option available for use of a Methodist-owned church building by another Christian church or congregation is in accordance with Model Trust 14(2A).
Protecting the Managing Trustees’ position
Methodist Managing Trustees should only permit another Christian Church or congregation to use a Methodist-owned church building for worship when there is an appropriate written agreement in place, either a Sharing Agreement or Worship Licence, concerning that use. As it can take time to negotiate the terms of a Sharing Agreement, if use by another Church is to commence, it should be dealt with under Model Trust 14(2A) until such time as the terms of the Sharing Agreement have been settled and the Agreement has been executed.
Further information about Sharing Agreements will be available on the TMCP website shortly. In the meantime, if you want to know more about sharing church buildings with other Christian churches or congregations then please contact TMCP Legal or call us on 0161-235-6770, or the Connexional Ecumenical Officer by email or by telephone on 020-7486-5502.