A single congregation Local Ecumenical Partnership is formed either when two or more congregations of different denominations decide to merge or when two or more Churches (denominations) decide to plant a new congregation together.

When people talk about Local Ecumenical Partnerships they sometimes think only of Single Congregation LEPs although in England there are other types too.

Forming a Single Congregation Local Ecumenical Partnership

A single congregation Local Ecumenical Partnership is formed either when two or more congregations of different denominations decide to merge or when two or more Churches (denominations) decide to plant a new congregation together.

It will have a common fund, administered by its Ecumenical Church Council (names for this vary), and it may have more than one place of worship, especially in what is designated an Ecumenical Parish, but is still regarded for this purpose as a single congregation.

To be recognised as a LEP by its partner Churches, the LEP must complete its Constitution and Partnership Agreement – see below.

When this has been approved, it may apply to the Charity Commission to become a registered charity.  It must register if its normal annual income is over £100,000.  If its income is between £5,000 and £100,000 it may choose to register. Even if charity registration is not needed now, using the agreed documents means that the constitution will not need revision in future if its normal annual income increases or the £100,000 ceiling for registration is lowered.

Most of the Constitution and Partnership Agreement is standard text, approved by the Churches and does not need any amendment and, indeed, must not be amended.

The uniqueness and creativity of each LEP should now be expressed in its Ecumenical Vision Statement (EVS), a short document which describes the reasons behind the partnership and the vision which drives it forward. The Constitution, Partnership Agreement and the EVS will need to be submitted to the partner Churches for their approval and then adopted at an Annual Congregational Meeting of the LEP at which the members of the Ecumenical Church Council, who will become its Trustees if it is also to be a registered charity, are elected.

Before completing the Constitution and Partnership Agreement, it will be helpful to assemble the following information:

  • Who is the County Ecumenical Officer of the Sponsoring Body for your county? S/he should be kept fully informed of progress even though s/he should not be playing a key role in this process.
  • Who are the Denominational Ecumenical Officers of the partner Churches? They will have a key role in gaining the approval of their Churches.
  • What will the name of the LEP be? It is better to avoid names such as ‘…. United Church’ (as if the LEP was a union of all the Christian Churches as it won’t be) or ‘…Churches Together’ (which is something different). It is also wise to avoid the name of one of the existing congregations as this might imply a take-over rather than a partnership.
  • What will be the Area of Benefit, the geographical area where the LEP will operate? For LEPs involving the Church of England, this will normally be a parish or a conventional district. For others, it may be the area from which most of the members are drawn or the area which it regards as its own neighbourhood.
  • The size of a normal Congregational Meeting and of its Ecumenical Church Council will vary. Decide the quora for them: a number of people or a proportion of the whole which is large enough to be representative of the whole congregation but not too large to be normally achievable.
  • For an existing LEP, it may be that the congregations merged some years ago. The Partnership Agreement, , should include their names, or include reference to the local partners being ‘a Baptist church within the xxx Association’ or ‘a Methodist church within the xxx District’.
  • Discuss how the ordained ministers serving the LEP will normally be chosen and appointed: will there be a rotation between the partner Churches, a free offering in a vacancy to a minister of any of the partner Churches (or wider), or will the appointed minister normally be from one of the partner Churches?

You are now ready to complete your Constitution and Partnership Agreement. You will find that you cannot edit much of these documents precisely because it has been agreed between the Charity Commission and the Churches. It allows you to do everything you are legally allowed to do so you should not need to change it. If you have a query, use our LEP help e-mail address.

The final step is to apply for charity registration. This can be done on the Charity Commission website here. It will need one of the proposed Trustees to be willing to be the correspondent with the Charity Commission and have their e-mail address published for anyone who wishes to contact the LEP. The completed Constitution and Partnership Agreement, but not the EVS, will need to be submitted as attachments in Portable Document Format (PDF). (You can do this from Word by clicking ‘save as’ and selecting pdf as the document type).

Now the real work begins, the work of transforming the world into the Kingdom of God, especially in this locality, by showing that our deep differences of principle need not divide us if we affirm the work of God in our diversity. As a registered charity, the LEP will be required to send its annual report to the Charity Commission and this should include an indication of its public benefit. No church should be a private club only for the benefit of its members and an ecumenical partnership has a particular commitment to the whole community which it seeks to benefit and the whole of the Church which it seeks to embody.

Single Congregation Local Ecumenical Partnerships and Charity Registration

The new Constitutions

There are now two new versions of the LEP constitution available.  The new ‘Constitution for an Unincorporated Association LEP’ is a direct update of the Model Governing Document which has been in use since 2013. There is also now a template constitution for a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) LEP.  These new documents have not yet been approved by the Charity Commission as updated Model Governing Documents, but we have been asked to make them available for LEPs who are formulating or updating their constitutional documents and/or registering with the Charity Commission. 

The constitutions permit a local church do whatever it needs to do and must not be amended except as indicated by the text in red. The creativity and experimentality of the LEP should be expressed in the Ecumenical Vision Statement and the life of the LEP itself and not in the Constitution or Partnership Agreement.  All new Single Congregation LEPs, whether or not they need to register now with the Charity Commission, should use one of these new constitutions. 

Constitution for an Unincorporated Association LEP

You will need to download and complete both the Constitution and Partnership Agreement.  Please do read the ‘Help and Guidance’ documents for each as they contain useful hints and tips on how to complete the documents.

Constitution for a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) LEP

Moving to be a CIO is a change in the legal status of the LEP as an organisation.  It is strongly recommended that you obtain legal advice, preferably from denominational lawyers, before you adopt a CIO constitution.  There is a legal process to be followed to make sure the assets and liabilities of the current LEP or partner churches follow to the new CIO, and lawyers will need to help you through this process.

Although the new CIO Constitution and Partnership Agreement have been agreed by the four main denominations involved in LEPs in England, the denominations have differing views on the necessity and advisability of the CIO format. You should check with your denominational authorities that they are happy for you to proceed towards forming a CIO at the outset. 

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