Provision for virtual and hybrid Annual Parochial Church Meetings 2021

Following guidance received from our Diocesan Registrar, the Diocesan Bishop has now signed an Instrument putting in place arrangements for this year’s Annual Meetings. The effect of these directions is to replicate the provisions that were in force during the later part of last year. So once again there is flexibility for APCMs to be held virtually should in-person meetings still not be possible, or for a hybrid model to be used. In each case, it is for the chair to determine the arrangements for the meeting and an appropriate method of electronic voting, which may depend what software is being used. The substantial difference is that the statutory requirement for APCMs to be held before 31st May remains in force this year and so meetings must be held before then.

Rules M23 to M29 of the Church Representation Rules relating to notice period, attendance and procedure also continue to apply, but you should also bear in mind the general principles set out in the practical considerations for annual meetings below. The usual steps around the annual revision of the Electoral Roll should also be followed.

Guidance


If the expected numbers of attendees would be manageable within your risk assessment for the church or other venue, and subject to further Government or Church of England guidance nearer the time and any local restrictions, then it may be possible for the meeting to be held physically. However, if it becomes clear that it would not be safe or sensible to hold the meeting physically, the provision allows you to hold your meeting digitally or in hybrid. You may wish to set a date now (we are particularly aware that for multi-parish benefices incumbents are likely to want to spread these through the coming months) but confirm nearer the time whether it will be a physical or virtual meeting or combining of the two (whilst considering the need for notices).

Although a virtual or hybrid meeting will enable essential business to be conducted efficiently and without further delay, there are certain practical considerations which need to be taken into account:

 

  1. The APCM is a meeting for all those on the church’s electoral roll. As with a physical meeting, it is important to be clear who has a right to vote and a right to speak. The purpose of this meeting is to receive the reports referred to in Church Representation Rules rule M5 and to make the elections and appointments referred to in CRR rule M6. The management of all of this in a virtual meeting is likely to be challenging and so you might wish to consider publishing the reports and proposals in advance, being clear about how the information can be accessed.

 

  1. The annual meeting of parishioners is a meeting for all those on the church’s electoral roll and all those resident in the parish whose names are on the civil electoral roll of the parish. The purpose of this meeting is to elect the churchwardens. The provisions concerning nomination in section 4 of the Churchwardens Measure 2001 continue to apply and some thought will need to be given as to how the nomination paperwork can be co-ordinated in advance of the virtual meeting.

 

  1. The new arrangements permit the meeting to take place in a virtual ‘location’ (for example, on an interactive video-conferencing platform such as Zoom) and for voting to take place electronically rather than ‘in person’. It does not change the procedural requirements for the convening of the meeting and notices of it (see CRR rule M2), and some care and creativity will be needed not only to comply with these rules, but also to ensure that the meeting (and the arrangements for accessing it) are clear and widely published so that those entitled to attend are informed about it.

 

  1. The platform for the meeting must be interactive such that those participating can at least hear and be heard (and preferably also see and be seen). It cannot simply be a video platform (such as YouTube) or a video with a ‘comments’ facility (such as Facebook).

 

  1. Where a virtual meeting is arranged, some consideration should be given to those due to attend in terms of access to suitable devices and broadband, as well as assistance for those not familiar with the technology. Certain digital platforms such as Zoom offer telephone conferencing abilities for those participants that do not have access to broadband or a suitable device. This means that members can ‘dial in’ to the meeting using their ordinary landline telephone. They will not be able to see, but will be able to hear and participate.

 

  1. Specialist equipment or reasonable adjustments may be required for certain participants who are visually or hearing impaired. With some consideration and planning, there is no reason that any disability should prevent participation. 

 

  1. Hybrid meetings, where some participants are present in a physical space and others use a digital platform, are an option which may make your APCM accessible to the most people. There are certain technical considerations to keep in mind should you wish to hold a hybrid meeting:
    1. Where will the device which will broadcast the meeting be placed? Will those connecting digitally be able to see and hear enough of the meeting to participate?
    2. Have you tested the equipment to ensure that your planned method will be successful?
    3. Do you have sufficient ‘help’ during the meeting to keep track of voting in both mediums?

This additional provision has been created to give parishes the flexibility to hold these meetings in different ways depending on their needs and local contexts. There is no requirement for a parish to hold a digital meeting if, by following government advice and after conducting a risk assessment, you are able to conduct an APCM safely in physical form.

Swearing in of Churchwardens

The Bishop of Lincoln has also directed that the same provisions for the swearing in of Churchwardens will apply this year as in 2020.  To that end the Admission of Churchwardens is delegated to Incumbents, Priests in Charge, Team Vicars and Rural Deans. That means as soon as you have held an APCM you are able to admit as Wardens those duly elected.

Whilst the Annual Meeting of Parishioners, at which Wardens are elected, must be held by 31st May, the Admission of Wardens must take place before 31st July. The law requires Churchwardens to be admitted to their office each time they are elected and Wardens serve until the admission of their successor.

In order for the admission to be effected please use the form of words annexed to this guidance. In addition the Warden to be admitted must also complete the appropriate form. Again, the form also contains a certificate for the priest admitting the Warden to complete in addition to the usual endorsement relating to election, which should be kept with the parish. The priest will later be asked to confirm that all elected churchwardens have been properly admitted.   

We would suggest that you admit the Wardens as part of worship where that is held in person. If that is not possible or practical it can be done at the conclusion of the Annual Meetings or on another suitable occasion. The Registrar advises that the Admission should be done in person, rather than over video conferencing. However in cases where there are difficulties or complexities please do speak to your Archdeacon about this as we are able to give more detailed advice in such circumstances.

It would greatly help when you return the APCM return forms for your parishes if you could confirm where only one Warden has been elected or where it has not been possible to elect any wardens.

 

Forms and templates

All the usual forms and templates for APCMs can be found here.

A copy of the instrument relating to virtual APCM meetings can be found here.

The churchwarden’s declaration form (which should be completed by the churchwarden and priest admitting the Warden, and held on record with the parish) can be found here.

There form of words for the admission of churchwardens can be found here.

Following your APCM, it is vital that an APCM return form is completed and returned to Tom Wilson in the Archdeacons’ Office by the 15th July, to ensure that our records of your parish officers are accurate.

 

If you have any questions regarding any of the above guidance or associated instructions, please be in touch with Tom on [email protected] , or alternatively with Helen Doyle our Governance and Compliance Officer on [email protected]

 

Published on 23rd February 2021