Ecclesiastical court judgments – February (I)

Review of the ecclesiastical court judgments during February 2023 (I)

Twelve consistory court judgments were circulated in February, and the six featured in this first part of the round-up relate to Reordering, extensions and other building works and Fonts. The second part will review the remaining judgments which concern Exhumation and Churchyards and burials.

This part also includes CDM Decisions and SafeguardingPrivy Council Business, and CFCE Determinations, as well as links to other posts relating to ecclesiastical law.

Reordering, extensions and other building works

Reordering and alternative uses

Re St. Mary Newchurch-in-Pendle [2023] ECC Bla 1 The Petitioners sought to re-order the west end of this Grade II* listed village church to create a narthex room with a kitchen and an accessible toilet; also the removal of some pews, relocation of the font, construction of a narthex screen, a glazed internal entrance with a pair of frameless glass doors and refurbishment of the porch entrance [1]. Details of the reordering are included in the Statements of Significance and Need [3], [4].

The DAC consulted on the proposals: the Victorian Society did not wish to comment; the SPAB wished to defer to the Victorian Society and the Georgian Group [6]. The CBC was generally supportive and commended the parish for a well-considered reordering proposal and was content to defer further consideration to the DAC. However, the CBC was re-consulted when the DAC proposed relocating the font from the north-west end of the church to the west end of the south aisle in front of the proposed new narthex screen so a to create a new baptistry area within the nave. The CBC remained content to defer to the DAC [7].

In its initial response, the Georgian Group stated that it had no objection in principle to the proposed works but it raised a number of concerns with the scheme. It was particularly concerned by the proposed removal of pews, and we offer some advice on the introduction of the narthex screen; however, it raised no objections to the proposed conversion of the choir vestry into toilets and kitchen [8].

Following a re-consultation and site visit, the Group raised some concerns with the scheme regarding the removal of some of the pews and the proposed relocation of the font [9]. At a subsequent meeting, the DAC recommended the works for approval by the court despite the objections from the Georgian Group [11] to [13].

Applying the Duffield questions in which he referred to his summary in Re St Laurence, Combe [2022] ECC Oxf 5, Hodge Ch. granted a faculty for all the works, being satisfied that the petitioners had demonstrated a clear justification for the proposed works in terms of the church’s worship, mission, and community outreach. [Re St. Mary Newchurch-in-Pendle [2023] ECC Bla 1] [Top of section] [Top of post]

Other building works, including re-roofing

Re St. Nicholas Leicester [2023] ECC Lei 1 The church has a growing reputation as a safe place for LGBTQIA++ people of faith. The parish priest and an assistant churchwarden petitioned for the introduction of a new altar frontal, the design of  which took the form of a Progress Pride image with a white cross upon it. There were nine objections to the petition and sixteen letters and emails in support of it. None of the objectors were ‘interested persons’ within the meaning of Rule 10.1.(a)-(g) of the Faculty Jurisdiction Rules 2015. The Deputy Chancellor therefore had to decide, as a preliminary matter, under Rule 10.1.(h), whether any of the objectors had a sufficient interest in the subject matter of the petition. He determined that three of the objectors had a sufficient interest, namely, a regular attender at the church (who was not on the church electoral roll) and two priests, who raised liturgical and doctrinal issues in their objections. One of the two priests was a priest in the Diocese of Leicester, and the other was a member of the General Synod and of the Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England. [Re St. Nicholas Leicester [2023] ECC Lei 2] [Post] [Top of section] [Top]

Re St. Nicholas Leicester [2023] ECC Lei 2 This is supplementary to the preliminary judgment in Re St. Nicholas Leicester [2023] ECC Lei 1, supra, in which the Deputy Chancellor determined that three of the nine objectors had a sufficient interest in the proceedings. However, subsequent correspondence required him to reconsider whether one of the three had a sufficient interest. The Deputy Chancellor determined to give the person concerned a short period in which to provide further information before he made a decision. [Re St. Nicholas Leicester [2023] ECC Lei 2] [Post] [Top of section] [Top]

Removal and replacement of pews

Re Holy Cross Bearsted [2023] ECC Can 1 The Petitioners sought a faculty for the removal of the remaining fixed pews; minor making good to floor; and the installation of free-standing chairs in their place, in respect of this grade I-listed church [1, 2]. They agreed to retain a single row of pews dating from 1874 at the rear of the nave, in accordance with the DAC’s advice. The proposed type of chair was the non-upholstered Jacob lightweight wooden high-stacking chair by Alpha Furniture [4].

Neither Historic England nor any of the amenity societies expressed concern regarding the proposal, although two objections were received from individuals, neither of whom wished to be a Party Opponent [5]. The Commissary General applied Re St. Alkmund, Duffield [2013] Fam 158 citing with approval Re St. John the Baptist Bishop Monkton [2021] ECC Lee 7. He granted a faculty, being satisfied that the removal of the particular pews would not result in harm to the significance of the church as a place of special architectural or historic interest, and that the petitioners had advanced a sufficiently particularised and convincing case.  [Re Holy Cross Bearsted [2023] ECC Can 1] [Top of section] [Top of Post]

Re St. Peter Chertsey [2023] ECC Gui 1  The Grade II* church is in the conservation area in Chertsey town centre near Chertsey Abbey; it has a medieval Chancel and Tower and a Georgian Nave [1]. The Petitioners seek:

“[14] the internal re-ordering of the worship space including the removal of nave pews and pew platforms; choir stalls and platforms from the Nave dais; new engineered oak board where pew platforms removed; replacement of nave ramp; replacement of carpet; provision of nave kitchen unit; provision of glazed screens to Memorial Chapel; local redecoration below Nave dado and in Memorial Chapel”.

The works are predicted to take 3 months and the Bishop had consented to worship taking place elsewhere during this period. The petitioners completed a net zero checklist in compiling their proposals. The reordering was one of six priorities identified in the church’s 2017-2022 Vision and Action Plan and has the support of the PCC.

The petition accepted that the most significant element of the proposal was the removal of nave pews. The pews are oak and are not considered to be of distinguished design although they are associated with a named architect and the contribute to a sense of order to the interior as pointed out by the CBC [16]. It was proposed to replace the nave pews with Alpha high stacking lightweight upholstered chair. Notwithstanding the advice of the Church Buildings Council that chairs should not be upholstered, the Chancellor granted a faculty for the proposed chairs, as well as for the other items referred to in the petition. He recommended (but did not direct) that the petitioners gave consideration to purchasing a mix of timber chairs and metal frame chairs in similar designs; if they decide to take this option there is no need for an amended petition, and the petitioner need simply notify the DAC [35].  [Re St. Peter Chertsey [2023] ECC Gui 1] [Top of section] [Top of Post]


Re St. Thomas a Beckett Salisbury [2023] ECC Sal 1 The petition concerns the next phase the reordering of this ancient building with its recently restored 15th century Doom painting on the Chancel arch, viz. the introduction of a modern timber and copper font into the west end of the central nave aisle and the removal of the current Victorian stone font and timber cover from the south west corner of the church. The new font is intended to echo and compliment the modern altar which was installed at the east end of the nave in 2020 [1].

The Petitioners also sought permission to install oak storage cupboards to allow for storage of the wooden stacking chairs which are used for additional seating in the church when needed [2]. Having been unable to find a museum which would accept the existing font, the petitioners provided two options for the future of the existing font and cover [4].

The DAC indicated that it did not object to the approval of the proposed works [5], and of the other statutory bodies consulted, Historic England, the Victorian Society and the Local Planning Authority maintained varying levels of objection to the proposed works; however, none chose to become a Party Opponent.  The SPA  was content with the proposal on the basis that both font and cover should be disposed of be sale, Option A. Historic Buildings and Places made no comment on the proposal, and advice was received from the in relation to the proposals and specifically on certain liturgical and canonical issues which arise in this case.[6].

In response to the public notices, the Registry received six letters of objection from local residents and members of the worshipping community, each of whom was deemed by the Chancellor to be an “interested person” for the purposes of rule 10.1 of the Faculty Jurisdiction Rules 2015 [7]. None chose to be a Party Opponent.

After considering the advice and objections [8] to [14], the Chancellor outlined the Duffield Guidelines – Re St. Alkmund, Duffield [2013] Fam 158 as refined further by the Court of Arches in Re St. John the Baptist Penshurst [2015] Court of Arches (Rochester) – and Canon F 1 Of the font [17]. The Chancellor noted the special significance of the building in relation to the Doom painting and the existing font [17]. The latter was designed by E Doran Webb and made by Harry Hems – both significant and highly skilled Victorian artists, and installed in 1902, although the Statement of Significance “unfairly describes the font as ‘unremarkable’” [18].

A condition of the earlier faculty was that appropriate provision was to be made for their storage, though without any assumption that they should be located in the current baptistry. Arlow Ch. commented:

“If the existing font is to be removed or relocated, the location of the cupboards in the south west corner of the church, is entirely appropriate, although I do not find the intended location of the cupboards to provide a good reason for removal or relocation of the existing font…The more contentious elements of these proposals are, of course, the removal of the existing font and the introduction of the proposed font” [20, 21].

“The locating of a font as proposed would bring to prominence the sacrament of baptism in a way which would enhance the significance of this place of worship and would be entirely consistent with the requirement of Canon F1” [21].

“I am satisfied that the introduction of the proposed font of new design would not cause harm to the significance of the building. It has been suggested that the font is inappropriate in its quality and design – being described by some of the objectors as resembling an “ice-cream cone” or a “waste paper bin”.  I am quite satisfied that it is of an appropriate quality and dignity for its purpose. Its design has the support of the overwhelming majority of the PCC”. [22]

“What I am satisfied does cause harm to the significance of the building is the loss of the existing font. Although the petitioners have described the existing font as “unremarkable”, it has clear historic and communal value in the context of this building”. [23]

The Chancellor determined that the font should be transferred to West Grinstead without the cover, which should be retained in the church of St. Thomas. The Chancellor considered whether she could authorise a new font without a cover, in view of Canon F1, which states that there “shall be provided a decent font with a cover” [41] to [45]. She concluded that she could not, and therefore made it a condition of the faculty that a cover should be designed to fit the new font, the design to be agreed by the Diocesan Advisory Committee or approved by the Chancellor [46, 47]. [Re St. Thomas a Beckett Salisbury [2023] ECC Sal 1] [Top of section] [Top of post]

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Ecclesiastical court judgments – February (I)" in Law & Religion UK, 27 February 2023,

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