The Ecclesiastical Law Society’s Christmas Quiz: an attempt at the answers

The Ecclesiastical Law Society posted a Christmas Quiz [scroll down] some time before we did. Frank had a go at it…

The parish has brought a beautiful Christmas tree but discovers when putting it up in church that it is somewhat top-heavy; a hammer, nails and rope are to hand – what should they do? Use the rope to strangle the idiot who bought the tree.

On the Sunday before Christmas the parish will hold its annual candle-lit Carol Service; all are welcome but no child under 12 will be allowed to hold a candle. Is this restriction legal? Hope so: the only time I ever officiated at a Christingle I was mightily relieved to get through it without any of the kids setting light to themselves.

Following the Carol Service, a sumptuous mulled wine cup is served, made with a combination of wine and port. Many parishioners enjoy a cup or two and then drive home. Several are stopped on their way home and charged with drink driving. What is the parish’s liability? Are you suggesting that they might sue the parish for giving them the opportunity to drive with excess alcohol? Would any civil court buy that? Otherwise, surely drink driving is a criminal offence that the parish cannot, corporately, commit.

As an alternative to a Christingle Service, a parish decides to stage a performance of Raymond Briggs ‘The Snowman’ as a good moral tale of loyalty and friendship which may be more acceptable to a multi-cultural audience. Is there any legal reason why they shouldn’t? Why not? All sorts of stuff gets performed in churches and church halls.

The weekend before Christmas a bride is late for her wedding, by over an hour…. How long should the vicar wait for her to arrive? No idea.

Four days after Christmas the vicar meets a family to plan the funeral of a family member who died on Boxing Day; the family want to sing carols at the funeral. Is this permissible? Surely the answer must be “yes”: there’s nothing in the service books to direct what music may be performed. (I aim to have Boney Was a Warrior at mine but, of course, it won’t be a C of E funeral. I reckon some might take offence, alas, at Short Ride in a Fast Machine…)

In response to the first question, David offered one of his own:

A church had an informal arrangement with local undertakers to place a Christmas tree on the top of the tower. After Mass, the undertakers used a rope to raise the tree up the outside of the tower, but in so doing caused one of the crenellations to shear off and fall onto the apex of the South Transept, and then to the churchyard below.  Assess the liabilities involved and whether the HSE should be notified of a near miss? Was this an Act of God? Who would be liable for the distress of congregation members who were standing in the South Transept at the time?

He commented: “You couldn’t make it up: but I can remember it happening (and the replacement of all the crenellations), but was not involved in any resulting legal issues.”


6 thoughts on “The Ecclesiastical Law Society’s Christmas Quiz: an attempt at the answers

  1. Re drink-driving, I think the church would be liable if an offence had been committed.
    I am not up to speed on the law in this area but I am sure it is an offence knowingly to provide someone with excess alcohol if you are also aware that that person will be driving after consuming the alcohol.
    Whether this legal provision has ever been evoked or not – though – I am not at all certain.
    Pub landlords – I think – have to be careful about allowing inebriated customers to leave their premises who then drive a vehicle.
    In such a situation, it may well be a legal requirement that “I am my brother’s keeper”.
    A similar situation does I believe apply with regard to drivers ensuring that passengers in their vehicles have their safety belts properly attached before driving off.

    • It’s certainly illegal to sell alcohol to a person who is drunk (wonder how many pubs breach that one? – maybe it depends on what constitutes being “drunk”). As to the drink-driving point, surely the church qua church couldn’t be charged with a criminal offence. There’s an interesting guide to Responsible Service of Alcohol here.

  2. Re the late bride, this is a trick question. The vicar ought not to be officiating at a wedding during Advent, being a season of solemn observance.

    That said, under the Marriage Act 1949, the vicar cannot wait beyond 6:00 p.m.

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