In our round-up on 26 August we included a report on an article in the Daily Telegraph which suggested that the middle classes have become obsessed with stained glass and church pews rather than religion. What the Gloucester Diocesan Chancellor, June Rodgers, actually said in Re SS Philip and James  Ecc Glo was:
“. …Artistic Heritage, on occasions, can appear to become [a] professional middle class substitute for religious observance or belief…”.
However, her 22-page judgment gave a balanced view of the issues faced by Chancellors when seeking to assess the relative merits of the mission, aesthetics and heritage of parish churches. This post reproduces sections of the judgment which will be of relevance to any party involved in the reordering of a church under the faculty jurisdiction; capitalization and underlining in original. A future post will examine legal aspects of the case in more detail.
“. …It would be a mistake to consider that any Parish church is a finite, unchanging entity; nor should it be. However, rather as the ordinary parishioner may stand in the ruins of some pre-reformation abbey and wonder how such things came to be destroyed, so now many, whether post or practising Christian, consider that the architectural heritage of the Church of England should not be thrown out with the bath water to facilitate changing and ephemeral liturgical fashions. Each side call on its literary and ecclesiastical champions to justify their respective positions.
Feelings run high. In the middle are the parishioners; some feeling bereft by what they see as changes to their beloved building and its memories for them, some carried away by more enthusiasm than judgment, some because the proposals all sound wonderful against (often a falling congregation), some because they do not want to rock the parochial boat, some even thinking that to object is “sinful” or will bring “bad luck”.
All Chancellors, doubtless, have been met with these kind of objections. Often such a scheme can be led by the vision of a few. On the other side are ranged potential objectors, local individuals who have real doubts as to whether such a proposal is necessary, relevant or no more than a vanity project of the few who want to “leave their mark” on the church (as, in fairness other generations have done), or the architectural enthusiast who can be indifferent to the actual use of a church but who is besotted with the purity/rareness/example of a particular architect.
Artistic Heritage, on occasions, can appear to become professional middle class substitute for religious observance or belief. Then there may be the local historians/tourist board who see this building as a “heritage item” to be preserved and marketed for the greater good of the particular local area and its townscape. Then there may be the various local groups who want to rent space with lavatories for play groups, concerts, exhibitions and the like, often liaising with the particular church group themselves who want flexible space, lavatories, work rooms and NO PEWS.
Many of the above in one way or another are involved in what is to happen to St Philip & St James Leckhampton”.
“. Having rebuilt itself once, history now repeats itself as the current parishioners are seeking to utilise their church space in a different way, worshipping habits and expectations having changed. What is the architecture of the current church, and why is it said to be of importance?”
2. The relevance of the church
“. The [National Heritage List for England or NHLE listing] describes the church in detail, and I need not repeat that here. In reality, it is not that it is a really magnificent or outstanding church, but it is of important interest because it is built as a whole, in which architecture and fittings resulted in a planned and executed interior. It is that completeness which the Victorian Society see as being disrupted by these proposals. There is evidence before me that the some items, such as the pews were not actually designed by Middleton but were inserted slightly later by his partner and executed by the more than competent local firm of HH Martyn & Co.”
3. The proposals
“. …Now at first blush, this looks like (and is) a big expensive project (even in this somewhat sketchy form) which would result in a building looking very different from its present form, but I remind myself that this was a church which has already re-built itself round itself already once before, and has carried out fairly substantial alterations already. The church building now is not pure, unadulterated Middleton but has been altered, even comparatively recently.”
4. Controversial and non-controversial proposals
“. …At second blush, actually much of what is being proposed is fairly noncontroversial, save, perhaps, to architectural purists.
The raised floor level and underfloor heating, the glazing of the South transept chapel, the new crypt floor, improved lighting, the restoration of steps, a new ventilating door, tanking to a storage area and a new boiler might have seemed really fairly run of the mill and difficult (subject to any DAC concerns) for objectors to oppose. However, the, if I may call the amenity societies, professional objectors did object.
However, it is the other matters which are proving the most controversial.
The Parish commissioned RAA Architects to design the scheme, having seen their work at All Saints Hereford and St Lawrence Reading. Glass pods, clad on the ground floor level and glass above are now becoming le dernier cri, and are becoming more common in churches, providing not so much extra space, save for an upper glass level, but the additional use of space carved out of a nave area for offices, meeting rooms and the like. There are objections to them; ventilation, reduction in the openness of a nave, effect on sound and are they a useful necessity?”
5. Further issues
The more specific details of the faculty will be included in a later post. However, in addition to the three important issues identified above, the Chancellor made the following points which are of relevance to any application for a faculty.
5.1 Compliance with legislation
“. …Time and again I have stressed in judgments that Parishes only bring complaint upon their heads if they do not comply with the legal requirements for full public advertisements of their plans. It matters not that they think it will only invite dissent. However much a Parish may consider that their plans are so superior and the outcome will advance the growth of the ministry, that is not an excuse or justification for not properly complying with what they have been clearly told what to do. Here the original petition just about complied with the legalities.”
5.2 Discouragement of objectors
“. …I deprecate efforts, if such were made, to try to put off objectors. The Faculty system has to work, and be seen to work fairly. In this diocese parishioners, for and against any proposals, should feel that their views have been fairly and properly aired and listened to; there are no “done deals” in advance of proper legal scrutiny.”
5.3.1 Presentation of proposal, I
“. …Not surprisingly, given the experience of RAA, the scheme plugged various innocuous attractive features to deflect criticism. What’s not to like about a landscaped “piazza” rather that a car park? Who can object to improved access to the columbarium for grieving relatives? This Petition really is a text book example of a well though out plan meeting the needs and aspirations of active worshipping community in a stand-off with architectural historians and others, whose hearts are not in approving the proposals because of just what this church architecturally represents; any major alterations will change it completely. The DAC, apparently, could not make that commitment. Their votes show an emotional, but intellectually understandable response, and one which has made my decision all the more difficult.”
5.3.2. Presentation of proposal, II
“. …(It appears that the Petitioners thought that by informing the Chancellor that such ‘library space’ would contain, inter alia, copies of the Church Times for perusal might provide yet another attractive feature! Admirable as that paper is, it is one thing to present arguments in an attractive manner; it is another to window–dress in a manner of a television advertisement. A copy of anything by Dawkins might have indicated the presence of some intellectual enquiry or argument). However, it is of note that they indicate a collection of some 500 books (for adults and children) as available…”
6. The Law
“ …no Chancellor is bound or constrained to accede to any views of any amenity society, nor indeed a DAC. They have no veto, only important weight which has to be, must be considered”.
“So what have I, as any Chancellor, to consider when face with this kind of situation; an active and successful church promoting radical changes which they consider will increase and cater for the various needs of their congregation or the views of the Victorian Society eager to protect Cheltenham’s architectural heritage in this set piece church.”
The neutral citation to Re SS Philip and James  Ecc Glo will be added, when allocated.
With thanks to the Revd Nick Davies, Team Rector, SS Phillip and James, for providing the link to the judgment.
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