I read with interest the letter from Wallace Pepper (March 5) concerning the re-organisation of the Presbyterian Church and the requirement that all elders become charitable trustees in relation to their own congregations.
I draw your attention, and the attention of elders and potential elders, to two extracts from the English Charity Commission website:
“If a charity is a corporate body generally its trustees aren’t personally liable for what it does”
“If your charity is not a corporate body, the trustees are personally liable for what it does.”
For some reason, the Presbyterian Church wants its elders to assume personal responsibility. There may be some very good reason for this but my experience over many years has been that charities are established as corporate bodies to avoid personal exposure of trustees.
If the reason is that the code of the Presbyterian Church prohibits corporate trusts, then perhaps the Code might be changed – it is not written in stone!
Further, every other major denomination, of which I am aware, is organised on a corporate basis.
To an outsider (a lifelong Presbyterian but not an elder), this seems to be a retrograde step by the church.
It has lost and will lose people with skills and knowledge valuable to its work and others will be reluctant to accept responsibility
Sadly, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland seems to be in rapid decline. My own impression is that it is becoming ever more inward-looking, weak and timorous. It is intolerant of ministers who speak their minds (recent treatment of Revs Christina Bradley and Mervyn Gibson come to mind – surely they have a right to freedom of speech?): it is divided over the rights of women: it has congregations in dispute: it has problems over issues of sexuality.
The Presbyterian Church has contributed much to our society over many years but is moving ever closer to becoming an irrelevant institution. The decision to make elders personally responsible as trustees can only hasten this process.
Mark Orr QC, Belfast