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Faith, Hope and Charities

There are lots of people in our churches whose work may be unseen, but whose responsibility is great. Church charity trustees definitely fall into that group. But how can we support them better?

Faith, Hope and Charities primary image

I was recently struck afresh by the enormity of the task that church charity trustees have. Duke Street Church, Richmond, had asked me to provide training for church charity trustees on their role and responsibilities in Charity Law and I was delighted to be able to help. We met on Saturday 15th March in Duke Street Church’s excellent premises. A number of trustees from other churches joined us for the first two hour session which was generic training for all church trustees. The final hour of the morning was spent dealing with specific matters relating to Duke Street Church’s own governing documents.

A big responsibility

When appointing church trustees, churches need to consider not only the practical knowledge and experience of individuals but also their spiritual maturity and character for such an important role in the church. It’s great when churches are able to find trustees with a range of qualifications and experience, but no single person is going to have the knowledge to deal with the sheer breadth of legal and practical issues that trustees face in the ordinary course of church life. The trustees I met were all, therefore, really appreciative of the opportunity to get some training on these issues. It was also great for them to learn from each other as they shared best practice from their individual church situations.

Church witness and governance

We started the day by looking at how a church’s witness and work is connected to their compliance with legal requirements. I then gave an overview of charity law basics including discussion of the controversial “Public Benefit Test”, how and why a church might be a charity and different organisational structures (especially advising on the new Charitable Incorporated Organisation structure).

Recognising that churches have different biblical views on church governance, we discussed who might actually be regarded as the charity trustees in any church situation. It highlighted the importance of churches having proper governing documents in place that reflect the church’s biblical stance on these issues. So many churches suffer with outdated governing documents which they find difficult to follow in practice. We discussed how such documents could be amended or replaced so that churches don’t simply disregard these documents but are able to comply with them.

We then looked in more detail at the specific responsibilities of charity trustees and talked about ways of putting these into practice. Trustees are often concerned about potential liabilities which charity trusteeship may involve so we discussed in some detail the issue of trustee liability, when the legal structure of the church charity will make a difference to this and Trustees Indemnity Insurance.

Helping more trustees

Duke Street Church was very generous in extending their invitation to trustees of other churches in the area – and they provided a good supply of chocolate brownies and flapjack to sustain us through the sessions! It would be great to see this type of event repeated across the country, with groups of churches joining together to give church charity trustees relevant training as they carry out this significant role.

Please do contact the Practical Services team if you are interested in hearing more about our training for charity trustees. And please don’t forget to pray for your church trustees (if you have them) as they seek to be godly in their responsibilities and decisions.

Gemma Adam photo
Gemma Adam - FIEC Practical Services Director

Gemma is employed by Edward Connor Solicitors as a solicitor and leads the Practical Services team. Her husband, Richard, is Assistant Minister at Emmanuel Church, Bramcote, Nottingham and they have two young children.