Thursday, 7 April 2011

Amending LEP Constitutions

Aha!!Image by farleyj via Flickr
Over the last couple of days, I have considered the technicalities of ecumenism in Britain.  Yesterday, I wrote about the various documents that contribute to a Local Ecumenical Partnership (LEP).  Hopefully, I showed how, with these documents, there is speed in obtaining approval combined with local flexibility.

When I started working with LEPs in 2003, every LEP was able to write its own constitution.  Some basic model constitutions were coming in about that time but their use was optional.  This meant every LEP had to be approved by the participating churches as well as the local sponsoring body.  This could take a very long time, particularly where the local churches decided to write a new constitution from scratch.

With the new Charities legislation, the approval of the Charity Commission was added to all the other approvals and it soon became apparent the old system was no longer tenable.  Indeed, most complaints were about the length of time it was taking to obtain approval.

Consequently, the churches agreed to manage the new model constitutions in a different manner.  All new single congregation LEPs must use the model and make only those amendments authorised by the churches.  This has considerably simplified and accelerated approvals and most people seem to be happy with the new system.

The Methodist Church for example is now able to approve constitutions at District level, rather than District and Connexion, so long as the new model is followed.  Indeed, the Connexion no longer has the capacity to approve minor changes to the model constitution.

Churches Together in England's Group for Local Unity (GLU) at its last meeting, identified three types of amendment and hopes to encourage churches to work with them to everyone's benefit.
  1. The advice from the churches is the current model is good enough.  No doubt it could be improved but it covers everything LEPs could conceivably need over their lifespan and does so legally.  As I explained yesterday, local effort needs to focus on the Ecumenical Vision Statement and local guidelines.  To expend a lot of energy making amendments to the constitution and schedule is a waste of time.  Most of the efforts that have crossed my desk have been unnecessary and not well drafted.
  2. Sometimes, a substantial change has been suggested and GLU is prepared to consider these.  Hopefully these will be increasingly rare, unless there are changes in legislation.  Where this happens, the amendments will be made to the model constitution, not to individual local constitutions.  A few such changes are in the pipeline and once they have been made there will be some guidelines for those LEPs wishing to upgrade.
  3. Occasionally, the standard single congregation partnership model does not apply.  If no special bank accounts are involved, the old model constitutions might be used.  Sometimes, however, bank accounts are involved and it will be necessary to re-draft the existing model.  Sometimes this will be a one-off but the hope is that once it has been drafted, we can add a generic version to the website.  I don't expect there will be very many of these but it is possible in a few years time there will be 3 or 4 models covering every possible type of LEP.  However, those who are really keen to write constitutions, should not go straight ahead and start writing a new model.  If you think you have one of the rare types that have a bank account, no joint congregation and a radical idea, speak to the National Officers before you do anything.  The fact that you have spent many hours drafting a dream constitution will cut no ice with the National Officers if the existing model already meets your needs!
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