“I fear that this proposed design is insipid and uninspiring and will contribute little that is positive to the church, its worship or its mission. If it were to be permitted, the court is concerned that this window will represent something of a lost opportunity and a wasted window space”
Re All Saints Hesketh with Becconsall
“It is surely right that each age adds something to the fabric of their place of worship. This is correct; but it is subject to the proviso that the addition must be a worthy addition to the fabric of the church“.
Re St Mary the Virgin North Aston
This month has benefitted from the circulation of two consistory court judgments concerning the introduction of new stained glass – that of Re St. Mary the Virgin. North Aston which was handed down by the Worshipful David Hodge QC on Second Sunday in Advent, and All Saints, Hesketh with Becconsall, which he handed down on Easter Monday‡. Photographs of the proposed windows have been included at the end of each judgment, and without the benefit of the judicial consideration, a casual observer might have difficulty in guessing whether the associated petitions would be granted or rejected.
From the comments at the top of this piece, it may seem surprising that a petition was granted for the proposed glass for All Saints Hesketh with Becconsall. In addition to the strong reservations of the Chancellor, the CBC and (apparently) the Diocesan Stained Glass Adviser had expressed concerns, and the DAC was less than positive. The window design proposed for St. Mary the Virgin North Aston also attracted disagreement, in this case between: the PCC and party opponent; and the expert supporting the petitioner and the party opponent. However, the court indicated that it was not bound by these expressions of opinion, and as both cases demonstrate, below, the final decision is dependent upon the application of the law to the facts.
Re St Mary the Virgin North Aston  ECC Oxf 3
The Rector sought to replace a clear glass window in the south chapel of the Grade II* church with new, stained glass of contemporary design, but incorporating two small original late medieval glass eagles. A parishioner, now deceased, and his surviving family wished to donate a new window, and had specified that theme – The Tree of Life – and the proposed artist. Although amenable in principle to the introduction of a stained glass window, the DAC had reservations about the content and the style . The DAC did not consult the CBC, but under rule 9.6 the CBC was contacted by the Chancellor, and it indicated that it was content to defer in this instance to the views of the DAC .
In response to the Public Notices, there was one party opponent, although several parishioners, including members of the Parochial Church Council, expressed their objections to the proposed design [10 to 13]; the sole Party Opponent objected to the installation on five grounds . The views of the petitioner and the objecting party, each of which presented expert advice, are summarized in paragraphs 14 to 17. The Chancellor commented that recent case law authorities offered only limited assistance. The cases considered were: Re St Gregory Offchurch  Coventry Const Ct, Gage Ch., ; Re St Mary, Longstock  1 WLR 259, ; and Re St John, Out Rawcliffe  ECC Bla 11, . In summary
“. The court noted that both Offchurch and Longstock were decided prior to the decision of the Court of Arches in the leading case of Re St Alkmund, Duffield  Fam 158 “and they must therefore be read subject to the effect of that decision. The authorities cited seem…to emphasise:
- the reluctance of Consistory Courts to get drawn into disputes about the fine detail of the design of stained glass windows
- the importance of giving due consideration to the views of the PCC and of the DAC and other consultative bodies; and also
- the importance of the appearance of the proposed window in itself, and its effect on the appearance, and significance, of the church as a whole.
Whilst the court was satisfied that the PCC (by a majority) had given its support to the installation , it entertained concerns about the process by which that decision was reached . Against the factual background, in its consideration of the Duffield questions the court noted that there was no other contemporary stained glass within the church; and against an observation that “It is surely right that each age adds something to the fabric of their place of worship” it replied that this is subject to the proviso that the addition must be a worthy addition to the fabric of the church .
In conclusion, the Chancellor refused to grant a faculty; he was not satisfied that a convincing case had been made for the particular design in the particular location, such as to overcome the normal presumption against change. He was also concerned that the design of the window, if introduced, would be resented by a significant minority of the worshipping community.
Re All Saints Hesketh with Becconsall  ECC Bla 1
A sense of foreboding was instilled into the judgement through the Deputy Chancellor’s initial observation :
“In Re St John Out Rawcliffe  ECC Bla 11, Chancellor Bullimore (in this Court) noted (at paragraph 25) that “all applications for stained glass windows are in my view difficult, and often very sensitive”. This case demonstrates the wisdom of that observation”.
The petitioners sought to install a new stained glass window in an existing three-light window in the south wall of a small unlisted church in memory of a former parishioner and funded by her grandson. The eleven members of the PCC unanimously agreed and approved the proposal “in the belief that this will be for the benefit of the church” . The DAC neither approved of nor recommended the proposal, although the Diocesan Stained Glass Window Consultant raised concerns about the design, materials and structure of the proposed installation . The CBC listed its objections to the proposal in the hope that their points would initiate a discussion with the designed of the window, suggesting “a design evolution”, if available, would be helpful. However, “[t]hat hope…proved to be in vain” .
In his consideration of the proper approach, the Deputy Chancellor commented that he had addressed this in his recent judgment as Chancellor of the Diocese of Oxford in Re St Mary the Virgin, North Aston  ECC Oxf 3, supra . He reiterated the three bullet points evinced from the authorities in paragraph 24 of his earlier judgment, but noted the tension between (on the one hand) the first and (on the other) the second and third of these considerations, and the further information in the Church Care Guidance Note entitled “New glass for your church”. However, this was “very different from the present case” in two respects: i] because it concerned the introduction of a stained glass window into the prominent east window of the medieval Lady Chapel of a Grade II* listed building, and; ii] because the petition was one that had been vigorously opposed.
On the question as to the circumstances in which a memorial should be allowed in church, Deputy Chancellor Hodge citied with approval Re St Mary Longstock  1 W.L.R. 259 and Re St John Out Rawcliffe  ECC Bla 11  as:
“… authority for the proposition that the … test of exceptionality, which applies to the introduction of a memorial into a church, does not apply where what is sought to be introduced into a church is an object, such as a stained glass window, which should adorn and beautify the church, and comprise part of its fabric, even though it may also commemorate a particular individual.
On the basis of his analysis of the above authorities, the Deputy Chancellor stated that the court was rightly reluctant to get drawn into disputes about the fine detail of the design of any particular stained glass window . However, it was required to consider a number of issues: the merits of the window itself as an object of beauty its impact on an observer; the design window and its effect on the appearance and the significance of the church building as a whole; the suitability and the quality, of the design; whether it is appropriate to the particular location and how it will serve to advance the church’s worship and mission.
In doing so, the court must: address the critical comments of the CBC and any objections to the grant of the faculty; and have regard to the implications of granting this particular faculty for similar applications in the future. Importantly, it is not being asked to pass any judgment on whether it is an appropriate commemoration of the person involved. As Deputy Chancellor Mark Hill emphasised in Re St Mary, Longstock, the instant application “is to be judged on the merits of the proposed window itself”. In his concluding remarks, Deputy Chancellor Hodge said:
“. On the evidence in this case, the court is concerned that some, albeit moderate, harm may be caused to the significance of this fine, albeit unlisted, Austin & Paley church by the installation of this proposed design of stained glass window….However, despite these real concerns, after much anxious, and prayerful, consideration, and not without some hesitation, the court has concluded that it would not be right to characterise the installation of this particular design of stained glass window as harmful to the church…The court is also satisfied – even if only just – that a clear and sufficient justification for carrying out the proposal to install this particular proposed design of stained glass window has been demonstrated.
The proposed window has received the unanimous support of the full PCC, and no objections have been received to the public notices within the prescribed period… The court does not consider that the PCC (and the donor of the window) should be prevented from implementing a design which is acceptable to the DAC simply because it does not meet the court’s own more exacting standards of design and taste (even though these may be shared by the CBC).
With some hesitation, the court is satisfied that it is reasonably necessary and requisite, as a matter of pastoral well-being, and for the living out of the Christian gospel, for the church to be allowed to receive this generous donation in accordance with the wishes of its PCC, even if the design can be characterised as bland and failing to provide the sort of strong and vigorous contribution to the appearance of the church building that such a donation should be”.
These two cases provide a timely reminder that whatever a Chancellor might feel about a particular petition, their decision is shaped by the facts of the case and the associated legislation. Nevertheless, this does not prevent them expressing personal observations: on the conduct of the case (“this is amongst the most unpleasant cases that I have had the misfortune to hear”); on the aesthetic merits of the petition (“I am not being facetious when I suggest that it looks more like a toilet than a font”); or the unprofessional approach of the parties (“…Notwithstanding the best attempts of the petitioners and inspecting architect to camouflage, conceal and confuse the situation, I have succeeded in finding amongst the jumble of papers a compelling need for the proposal …”). There are no doubt many more, but the task of filling up the blanks we’d rather leave to others.
‡ In Re St Mary the Virgin. North Aston the Worshipful David Hodge QC was acting in his capacity of Chancellor, Diocese of Oxford, and in All Saints, Hesketh with Becconsall as Deputy Chancellor of the Diocese of Blackburn.