Parish Councils / Parorchial Church Councils - What's the difference? Don't get confused!

It's a little confusing because one usually associates a parish with the church. In the case of a parish council this is not correct, although it once was so.

A parish council is a civil local authority found in England and is the lowest tier of local government. They are elected corporate bodies, have variable tax raising powers, and are responsible for areas known as civil parishes, serving in total 16 million people. It is possible for parish councillors to be paid a modest allowance (except for coopted members) and they can also receive reimbursement of expenses (except for coopted members). However, most councils do not pay any allowance to ordinary councillors, and it is common for councillors to make no claims for expenses. Bridekirk parish councillors do not receive any payment or attendance expenses.

The parish council is elected by the constuents who are resident in the parish.

A parochial church council is the executive committee of a Church of England parish and consists of clergy and churchwardens of the parish, together with representatives of the laity. It has its origins in the vestry committee, which looked after both religious and secular matters in a parish. It is a corporate charitable body.

The parochial church council is elected by those who are on the electroral roll of the church, not by the public resident in the parish.

The boundaries of the civil parish and the ecclesiastical parish, are not necessarily the same, which can be another confusing factor.

Legally the parochial church council is responsible for the financial affairs of the church parish and the maintenance of its assets, such as churches and church halls. It also assists the clergy in the management of church affairs in the parish, and promoting the mission of the church.

It's over a hundred years since parish churches gained the power to run their own affairs, separately from what we now regard as local government. The religious affairs of a parish, as well as its secular business had been controlled by a single committee, which met in the church and was known as the'Vestry'. Then, in 1894, Parish Councils were formed to deal with secular matters; the Vestry continued to oversee church affairs until 1921, when Parochial Church Councils (PCC) were established. People (including me!) still get confused by the two.

Churchwardens have been around since the 13th Century and legally 'own' the movable contents of the church. They are meant to maintain order in the church and churchyard, with the assistance of their staves, if necessary. In the event of serious disorder today, a mobile phone might be a safer instrument, with staves reserved for ceremonial occasions! Churchwardens are now chosen by parishioners, though the Incumbent (ie Vicar or Rector) has a limited right of veto.

Today, anyone on the Electoral Roll of the church (sorry, this is another confusion, for the secular Electoral Roll is entirely separate) can attend the Annual Parochial Church Meeting, which elects the PCC. The Incumbent (vicar) is an ex officio member, as are other licensed clergy and Churchwardens, members of the Deanery Synod, plus any member of the Diocesan Synod and General Synod who lives in the parish or is on the Roll. The Incumbent chairs the PCC, which elects a Vice-Chair and appoints a Standing Committee to transact business between meetings.

The purpose of a PCC, which must meet at least four times a year, is to consult together with the Incumbent (vicar) "on matters of general concern and importance to the parish", and that includes the "whole mission of the Church". Did you know that changes to the forms of service, or the vesture or the minister, can only happen after consultation?

A little more information as to some of the responsibility the church council had in former times can be seen here.