Disputed altar frontal: St Nicholas Leicester


On 28 January 2023[*], the Deputy Chancellor handed down Re St. Nicholas Leicester [2023] ECC Lei 1, an initial determination of a petition for the introduction of a new altar frontal. Two potential designs, each incorporating a Progress Pride image, had been provided and the petitioners sought permission for the frontal to be displayed during Sunday worship and on Saturdays when the church is open to the public.

The Registry had received sixteen letters or emails in support of the petition and nine objections; two subsequent determinations were made[**] both of which addressed inter alia whether one of the objectors had “sufficient interest” in relation to rule 10.2 of the Faculty Jurisdiction Rules 2015; an issue addressed in “Sufficient interest” in faculty petitions – II which has now been updated to include the further ruling on “sufficient interest” in the most recent judgment, below.

Re St. Nicholas Leicester [2024] ECC Lei 2

The substantive judgment Re St. Nicholas Leicester [2024] ECC Lei 2 was handed down by Gyane Ch. on 7 February 2024[***]; she was not persuaded to grant a faculty [2], and in her reasons, she summarized the factual background, [3] to [6], and the Interlocutory decisions, [7] to [9]. The proposed altar frontal was described [10] to [14], including colour depictions of the two designs, at [13] and [14].

In the Statement of Need, the Petitioners explain that the ongoing reputation and viability of St Nicholas as a safe place for LGBTQIA+ people is signalled in this proposed Altar frontal [15], and in the Statement of Significance, [italicization in judgment]:

“[18]. The proposed Altar frontal is described as being significant because it will signal St Nicholas’ as open and accessible to all, particularly people of all ethnicities and the breadth of human identity and sexuality. The symbol says, ‘This is a psychologically safe place for you, God accepts you, it is safe here’.

The statement explains [emphasis added]:

“[20]. On this altar table, in each act of worship, we remember the death of Christ. His experience of rejection and physical torture is not unknown to LGBTQIA+ people. This act of remembrance mediates the solidarity of Christ with the suffering of those in our community.

[21]. However, the Statement of Need then explains that the above is not a doctrinal statement, or protest. It is about pastoral care and a statement of welcome and safety.”

The Petitioners’ position was summarized by Mr Gau in his written submission at [22]. i.e. The proposed Altar frontal is: a demonstration of welcome and unity; a demonstration of a safe space for the marginalised and persecuted; and is of assistance in the ministry and welcome of this particular church. The DAC supported the petition subject to two conditions [24]:

[a]. That the larger of the two proposed cross designs should be applied to the frontal (design 2, [14]); and

[b]. That the frontal should only be used on the Altar on an occasional basis. If the PCC wishes to have it on display when not in use, a suitable location should be agreed,

and the DAC Vice-Chair wrote a response to the Petition to explain why it was not the place of the DAC to recommend the permanent use of the Progress Pride flag as an altar frontal [26] to [31], “…the Church of England in its Canons and rubrics are careful in its approach to liturgy and the adornments of its churches. This is to ensure the Church remains a place where all are welcome”. However, the Revd Mr Johnson’s suggested approach, registering his caution about it, in light of his overall response, was for there to be some thought about the occasional use of the proposed Pride Progress frontal [31].

The judgment also summarized the responses in support of the petition [32] to [34] and the responses in opposition [35] to [39]. The Chancellor reviewed the Preliminary Decisions on relation to the Objectors [40] to [51], and those identified as Experts [52] to [58] who “[provided] assistance to the matters set out in [her] Directions for which [she was] grateful”, and gave permission for both expert reports to be relied on. With regard to the Objectors, she obtained confirmation from Mr William Nye, Secretary General of the Archbishops’ Council that the Revd Dr Ian Paul was not “acting as a representative of the Archbishop’s Council or with their knowledge”; and was “not persuaded to set aside or vary the Deputy Chancellor’s order on [his] standing”. She said [emphasis added]:

“[44]. It is from the original decision that the reason Dr Paul was considered to have a sufficient interest was twofold: Firstly, because of his membership on the Archbishop’s Council and General Synod and secondly, because there is a current debate within the church on the doctrine of marriage. The points he raised on liturgy and doctrine are of general public interest. It was on this dual basis, Dr Paul was able to demonstrate some particular interest in the Petition”.

With regard to the Revd Brett Murphy, she set aside the earlier decision to treat him as having sufficient interest in the Petition since: he is no longer a priest within the Leicester Diocese or the Church of England, and therefore not affected by the application; he failed to respond to the Petitioners’ application [45] to [51].

The Application for expert advice was in response to directions Gyane Ch. made for a Theological statement from the Bishop of Leicester and a response from the Petitioners addressing the use of Altars and the use of Altar frontals [53]. However,  matters moved on in that Bishop Martyn Snow took up a national role in relation to the Church of England’s Living in Love and Faith journey. As a result, he withdrew the statement on the basis he considered it inappropriate to comment on a local matter in circumstances where it could be misinterpreted as having national implications [56].

In determining this petition, Gyane Ch. applied the test in Re St. Alkmund, Duffield [2013] Fam 158, noting the applicable Canon F2.2: Of the Holy Table. She accepted and agreed with the submissions by Mr Gau, on behalf of the Petitioners, that it cannot in any way, worthy of respect, be suggested that the proposal causes harm to the significance of the building. Therefore, the ordinary presumption in favour of things remaining as they are applies, unless rebutted by the Petitioners. She therefore confined herself to the second question within the Duffield test.

The expert reports support the Petitioners’ arguments that the Altar frontal is: a demonstration of welcome and unity; a demonstration of a safe space for the marginalised and persecuted; of assistance in the ministry and welcome of this particular church; and in particular, the design is not a political symbol [65, 66]. The Chancellor also took into account Dr Paul’s responses, the submissions made on behalf of the Petitioners in response to the points raised by Dr Paul [67, 68], and the response provided by the Vice-Chair of the DAC [69].

In refusing to grant a faculty, the Chancellor said:

“[71]. The Progress Pride flag is not a Christian emblem. Whilst I agree it is a sign of welcome for people from the LGBTQIA+ community and although not itself political, it is a secular contemporary emblem used for many causes and contemporary discourse.


[73]. The focus, purpose and celebration of the Holy Communion is for all to come to Jesus and remember His sacrifice. We come to the Communion table, not to forget who we are or our identity, but to remember the sacrifice of Jesus and our identity in Him. At the Communion table, ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for [we] are all one in Christ Jesus [ref 4]’. It is clear that there is not a unified belief that the proposed altar frontal achieves this message of oneness in Christ and, in my view, this is the purpose of the Altar frontal. The Petition is on the basis of to the Communion table one group within the Anglican communion (albeit a marginalized one). It is therefore inherent in that objective that not all are represented in the design and the call to draw near”. [italicization in original]

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[*] The text of the judgment was republished on 31 January 2023 to correct an error in the Spelling of the Petitioner’s name.

[**] In his decision in Re St. Nicholas Leicester [2023] ECC Lei 1, the Deputy Chancellor considered whether the nine people who had objected to the petition had a sufficient interest. He had determined that three of the nine objectors had a sufficient interest, but subsequent correspondence required him to reconsider the standing of one of the three. In Re St. Nicholas Leicester [2023] ECC Lei 2 he determined to give this person a short period in which to provide further information before making a decision. In Re St. Nicholas Leicester [2023] ECC Lei 3 as Acting Chancellor he set aside his original order in so far as he now considered that one of those three objectors did not have a sufficient interest in the petition.

[***] Naomi Gyane was sworn in as the Chancellor of the  Diocese of Leicester on 2 August 2023.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Disputed altar frontal: St Nicholas Leicester" in Law & Religion UK, 20 February 2024, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2024/02/20/disputed-altar-frontal-st-nicholas-leicester/