Sharing Church Buildings
Buildings can be shared on an informal basis, can be subject to a Sharing Agreement under the Sharing of Church Buildings Act (1969) and/or can be a Shared Building Local Ecumenical Partnership.
The book Under the Same Roof, about the workings of the Sharing of Church Buildings Act (1969), is now only available as a pdf but is summarised, updated where necessary, below.
Which churches are currently designated under the Act?
Under the Same Roof summary
That we worship in different buildings is one way in which the Christian Church appears to be more divided than it really is. When different Churches decide to share their buildings, it is not only good stewardship of limited resources but also a public statement that our mission is to unite, not to divide.
The Sharing of Church Buildings Act 1969 (SOCBA) made such arrangements legally possible in England and Wales. Without it, charity law would prevent one Church from putting its funds into a building which belonged to another Church. The growing number of what were then called Areas of Ecumenical Experiment (now Local Ecumenical Partnerships) required a legal way of sharing the use and ownership of buildings.
SOCBA enables churches in England and Wales to enter into sharing agreements with regard to existing or new church buildings (including church halls, youth clubs and residences for ministers, clergy and lay workers). Similar provisions apply in Jersey by virtue of legislation by the States of Jersey in 1973 and in the Isle of Man by an Act of Tynwald in 1986. No such legislation exists for Scotland, Ireland or Guernsey. SCOBA was amended under The Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure 2014.
SCOBA applies to those Churches which are named in it. Others, who are members or associates of the relevant organisation, can be added by application to the Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, the Evangelical Alliance or Affinity who shall then publish a notice in the London Gazette. A list of all those churches to whom the Act applies can be found here.
Once a notice has been published in the London Gazette a Church comes within the terms of SOCBA.
The Church of England cannot enter into a sharing agreement with respect to a cathedral church, a peculiar (including a collegiate church), a church building in an extra-diocesan or extra-parochial place.
A Sharing Agreement may not be entered into for a school or land used for burials.
Advantages of a Sharing Agreement
• flexibility in worship, work and witness which would otherwise be impossible because of the trusts on which a building is held;
• certain funds to be transferred from one denomination to another e.g. proceeds of sale from one denomination’s building or capital used in the building of another.
• marriage services can be conducted according to the rites and ceremonies of the parties to the Sharing Agreement;
• residences for ministers or lay workers, church halls or centres, youth clubs or hostels can be shared as well as buildings for worship.
Matters to be considered when entering into a Sharing Agreement
Before making a Sharing Agreement, it is essential that there is a full and frank discussion of the vision and prospects of the future of the shared church. Union schemes made from the weakness of two failing causes are most unlikely to lead to a growing united one without fresh input of resources and willingness to attempt innovation. Otherwise, the venture may only lead to greater disappointment and distract from more promising situations elsewhere.
Some pairings of churches such as the Methodist and United Reformed Churches and the Methodist Church and the Church of England have so much experience of Sharing Agreements that the Methodist connexional office and the URC Synod office or Anglican Diocese office can usually process them easily.
For other pairings, follow these ten steps:
1. Consult widely at an early stage: appropriate Church leaders, local or intermediate; members of congregations affected; denominational and county ecumenical officers; parties who will sign the agreement and bodies which must give their consent; other local churches where a Sharing Agreement already operates.
2. Read these guidelines and the Act itself. Roger Mead’s A Harmony of Church Finance (2nd edition) may also be helpful.
3. Agree with your own appropriate Church Authorities the general pattern of the Sharing Agreement that fits your needs best. It should be limited to the management of the shared building. If a single congregation Local Ecumenical Partnership is also being formed, its constitution should not be confused with the Sharing Agreement.
4. Talk with appropriate Solicitors about the procedures involved. For the Church of England, consult the Diocesan Registrar; for the Methodist Church, consult the Resourcing Mission Office, Manchester; for the United Reformed Church, consult the Synod Office; for Baptist churches, consult the Baptist Trust Corporation, Didcot, or the Area Baptist Association.
5. Be realistic about costs and timetables. The legal costs of a Sharing Agreement are normally borne by the local churches and they should budget for them. Even a simple agreement can take 5 or 6 hours of legal time and extra variations add to the costs. Some Agreements are completed within 6 months but a complex one can take 1 or 2 years, especially if there is a ministerial vacancy during the period.
6. The Church owning the building involved instructs its solicitors to prepare a draft which will translate what is intended into an appropriate form of words.
7. The owning Church’s solicitors agree the form of the draft with the other Church’s solicitors.
8. The necessary consents must be obtained before the Sharing Agreement can be signed.
9. The parties must execute the Sharing Agreement; it is formally registered in the office of each of the appropriate authorities and comes into operation. It is unwise for any church to sign building contracts before the Sharing Agreement has been signed and registered.
10. The building should be certified under the Places of Worship Registration Act 1855 if appropriate. If it is to be used for marriages according to the rites of the guest Church(es), registration and authorisation will be needed. The local Superintendent Registrar must be approached and shown the completed Sharing Agreement. If the ‘guest’ church is the Church of England, the bishop will normally license the building for Anglican marriages. If a completely new building is involved, early consultation with the Registrar is recommended.
Most Sharing Agreements under SOCBA set up a Joint Council to manage the agreement. If the building is to be shared by a Single Congregation Local Ecumenical Partnership which is managed by an Ecumenical Church Council, the Sharing Agreement can entrust the ECC with the functions of a Joint Council. However, if the Sharing Agreement creates a Joint Council, it should meet at least annually and fill any casual vacancies.
The usual functions of a Joint Council are:
• to settle any questions regarding respective times at which the sharing churches may use the building
• to advise those responsible for the management, maintenance and repair on behalf of the sharing churches regarding financial questions, especially any exceptional expenditure
• to organise joint raising of funds for the maintenance and repair of the building
The membership of the Joint Council needs careful discussion with legal advisors and Church authorities. There is usually an equal representation of the sharing churches. Think about who is going to chair the Joint Council; it can alternate or there can be joint chairs.
The aim of SOCBA is that in a shared building, each church may do whatever would be permitted in its own building. Since sharing buildings is an expression of ecumenical movement, what begins as two separate congregations worshipping at different times in the same place may develop into a greater visible unity. Sensitivity is needed to the different extent to which Christians are ready to worship in unfamiliar ways. The Ecumenical Sponsoring Body, usually part of Churches Together in the County, will advise on liturgies to be used for joint worship. Greater flexibility in regulations governing worship is developing in many ways but it is important to take care that local congregations ‘own’ any proposed joint service. Worship should arise out of and further deepen and develop the relationship of the congregations involved.
Termination of Sharing Agreements and Security of Capital
A Sharing Agreement must contain provisions for terminating the sharing of church buildings. Such provisions may
• if the agreement relates to two or more buildings, provide for terminating the sharing of any building before the others;
• if there are more than two sharing churches, provide for the withdrawal of any church from the sharing of any church building, not being a church which is the sole owner or previous owner of the building
• specify the financial adjustments as between the churches on such termination or withdrawal (see Section 9(1) of the Act).
• a building owned by one only of the sharing churches shall be held on the trusts or for the purposes on or for which it was held before the Sharing Agreement or would be held but for the Sharing Agreement (see Section 9(2) of the Act).
• Where a building is jointly owned by all or some of the sharing churches (previously having been owned by one of those churches) it shall vest, on termination, without any conveyance, if it was previously a consecrated church of the Church of England in the incumbent of the parish in which the building is then situated, or in such of the trustees in whom the building is vested as represent the church who previously owned the buildings (see Section 9(3) of the Act).
• Where a jointly owned building has not previously been owned by only one of the sharing churches, the Sharing Agreement may provide, on termination, for the disposal of the building, including disposal to one of the sharing churches, and for the application of the proceeds to charitable purposes of the sharing churches (see Section 9(4) of the Act).
The Act leaves unresolved the matter of providing security for the money of one church put into the existing building of another denomination, whether church, hall or house, if for whatever reason the Sharing Agreement is terminated. In most cases the host church will not wish to sell the property and so it is difficult for a guest church to get capital back.
SOCBA makes special provision for the sharing of consecrated churches of the Church of England (Section 5). These remain subject to the Church of England Faculty Jurisdiction and to its system of quinquennial surveys. This applies to the church’s fabric and to movable contents belonging to the Church of England but not to movable contents belonging to a guest church. The Church in Wales has similar rules.
If the Sharing Agreement relates to the whole property, including car park, gardens etc., it should state clearly who is responsible for maintaining grounds outside the buildings. Remember a Sharing Agreement cannot include a graveyard.
Where a Sharing Agreement is made on an existing church building, the legal ownership will normally remain as before the Agreement was made. A Sharing Agreement with respect to an existing consecrated church of the Church of England may only be made if
• the church building will remain in the sole ownership of the Church of England; or
• authority to make the agreement on behalf of the Church of England is given by a pastoral scheme under the Sharing of Church Buildings Measure, 1970 (No 2), and the church building will under the agreement be in the joint ownership of the Church of England and another church or churches (SOCBA Section 5).
Where it is proposed to share an existing residence house of a benefice of the Church of England, authority to make the agreement on behalf of that church must be given under a pastoral scheme under the Pastoral Measure, 1983. These requirements do not apply to the Church in Wales.
In new developments where there are no existing church buildings, joint ownership may be appropriate. It can also provide security for the capital funds of the partner churches since it allows for the selling of the property and an agreed division of the proceeds of sale.
Joint ownership has been brought about in a number of ways:
A the land is vested in an existing body of custodian trustees, and the Sharing Agreement sets up a body of joint managing trustees drawn from each of the sharing churches, usually locally. The custodian trustee is merely the custodian and is subject, like the Managing Trustees, to the trusts on which the property is held.
B The land is vested in local trustees nominated by the sharing churches. The document must provide for the replacement of trustees by appropriate appointment.
C A Charitable Company Limited by Guarantee is formed under the Companies Acts of 1948 to 1989 with Directors appointed by the sharing Churches, and the land is vested in the Company. An alternative created by the Charities Act 2006 is a Charitable Incorporated Organisation.
D Some early Sharing Agreements vested the land in the Official Custodian for Charities. Vesting in local trustees and in the Official Custodian for Charities are no longer recommended.