Balancing mission, aesthetics and heritage of parish churches – Part I

The Church’s consistory courts are frequently required to weight up the relative merits of proposed building work for repair or modification, in terms of their impact on the heritage and aesthetics of the a building against its overall mission within the community. This exercise is easier to perform in relation to petitions concerning uncontroversial works to “unremarkable and utilitarian buildings” such as that in Re St Richard Crowborough [2014] Chichester Cons Ct, Mark Hill Ch or the disposal of redundant or dilapidated items as in Re St Mary Magdalene South Bersted [2014] Chichester Cons Ct Mark Hill Ch. Nevertheless, the exercise is undertaken in each case regardless of their apparent merits.

Different aspects of this dilemma have been explored recently in three essentially unrelated contexts: two recent court judgements; the publication of English Heritage’s annual Heritage at Risk Register; and the latest Westminster Faith Debate which will consider whether there are creative ways of managing the Church’s material assets, so that they help rather than hinder its work

Consistory Court Judgements

The two recent cases of Re Christ Church, Brixton Road [2014] Southwark Cons Ct, Morag Ellis Dep Ch and Re St John the Baptist, Penshurst [2014] Rochester Cons Ct, John Gallagher Ch provide examples where significant reordering was proposed and the court was required to consider objections from amenity societies, and place the changes in the context of the on-going development of the building. Whilst readers do not have access to the materials presented to the court or evidence from site visits, some of the context can be gauged from prudent use of internet images, church web sites &c. Continue reading