Presbyterian elders feel concern over trustee plan

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Under the present charity regime the Presbyterian Church in Ireland is required to register every church or group of churches as a charity, each with a unique charity number.

PCI has elected to comply with this regulation by forming a trust for each church managed by all of the elders acting as trustees.

They have acknowledged that in the event of a claim against the church this approach places every elder at risk of being personally liable.

It appears that other denominations and independent churches have taken a different approach registering as a company or companies limited by guarantee.

Under this arrangement there is no personal liability for volunteers who are not employed by the church.

Having taken legal advice on the matter I am not prepared to become a trustee under the structure proposed by PCI and therefore be exposed to the risks.

The General Assembly of PCI has made it clear that in these circumstances I can no longer act as an elder. Others have received similar advice.

It seems unreasonable that those employed by PCI have decided that unpaid volunteers should be personally liable for claims against the church.

In our litigious society and with hostility towards the church, it is inevitable that sooner or later there will be a claim against a Presbyterian Church and elders acting as trustees will be personally liable for the defence and outcome of the case.

No amount of insurance can cover for all eventualities.

I am saddened that I will be forced out of the eldership of the Presbyterian Church. It seems to me that in order to protect themselves those elders who do accept the role of trustee will take fewer and fewer risks to spread the gospel message.

In a denomination that is already shrinking at an alarming rate, in my opinion, this unwise decision could spell the death knell for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

I would strongly recommend that every elder in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland takes independent legal advice before signing the trust deed presented to them by their Presbyteries.

Wallace Pepper, Co Down