I haven't been a priest for an awfully long time, and I have only been an incumbent for a very short time - but in the years I have existed within parish structures, I have been convinced of the cause of the gentle degradation of that noble body - the parochial church council.
I wrote a while ago about how, here, we will do things a little differently when the next session of the PCC begins. That was not all I believed needed adjustment for the Council to be effective in its work. The other factor, I believe, surrounds the right that the members of the electoral roll possess but rarely ever have a real chance to use - their vote.
I am not talking of the pack animal arm-in-air type voting. I am referring to a meaningful election where everyone gets a chance to make a difference. The degradation of the valency of the parish council surrounds the following process:
- The PCC is overworked with the minutiae of parish life
- It becomes an unattractive proposition
- Insufficient people stand for the vacancies at the next session
- To make up numbers arms are twisted
- Just enough people stand for election for the vacancies to be filled
- They get elected en bloc and very much en passant
- No-one remembered who was on the PCC if you ask them after the fact
- The PCC becomes detached from parish life
- ...and a cycle of insufficient nominations for vacancies perpetuates
- Start at the top
My feeling is that an election where, unfortunately, people may lose and not be elected is vital to the health of a PCC and in many ways to the parish. The reasons for this are simple - the people who have the vote are then caused to use it, and become an active part of the process rather than a passive member of the crowd. They get to exercise their responsibilities under that suffrage too. We had an election yesterday here, and yes, people were not elected. I bet that those who were at the meeting will be able to name the new PCC though - and that is a start in itself.
When I was young (in my teens), the PCC of which I was a member was routinely formed in a contested election. It was, perhaps not by chance, a time of great growth in that parish. Oddly, growth seemed to diminish as the PCC seemed to stop being elected. This may be chance, but there is also a chance that it wasn't. Perhaps winning in an election was an attractive prize (it certainly felt good as a 17 year old), and maybe that sense of satisfaction was enough to get the parish 'heart' pumping - but whatever it was, it seemed to make a very considerable difference.