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Ecclesiastical Legislation

Care of Churches - Legal Framework

The day-to-day care of our church buildings rests with the incumbent, churchwardens and PCCs of the parishes. However, every consecrated church and nearly every dedicated church (licensed by the Bishop for public worship), together with its surrounding land (curtilage) and contents, is under the control of the Faculty Jurisdiction, exercised by the Chancellor of the Diocese.

The local control of the jurisdiction is exercised through:

  • the incumbent in whom the building and churchyard are normally vested;
  • the churchwardens in whom the contents are vested;
  • the Archdeacon within whose archdeaconry the building is situated;
  • the Bishop, the Chancellor, and the Consistory Court of the Diocese advised by the Diocesan Advisory Committee.

This control over the buildings is defined in two pieces of ecclesiastical legislation:

The Care of Churches and Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1991

The full text of the Measure may be found here...

The Code of Practice for this Measure lays out the general principles of this legislation as follows:

"The 1991 Measure aims to ensure that churches and everything which belongs to them are properly cared for, and that whatever is done to them is properly considered beforehand and carried out in the best possible way. However, churches are not only historical monuments; they exist for a purpose - the worship of God and the mission of His Church - and they have a vital role to play in the life of the Church, both now and in the future. They should be living buildings, which fulfil and are seen to fulfil that role. Thus the 1991 Measure begins by providing that:

Any person or body carrying out functions of care and conservation under this Measure or under any other enactment or rule of law relating to churches shall have regard to the role of the church as a local centre of worship and mission (section 1).

These principles are, of course, the ones which both clergy and lay people within the Church of England are already applying in practice. They are proud of the fact that churches and their contents are among this country's finest historic, artistic and architectural treasures. Churches are also important from an archaeological point of view, and churchyards in particular are often sanctuaries for wildlife which is disappearing elsewhere. It has been and will continue to be the Church's task to safeguard this inheritance, which has been handed down by past generations of Christians and which is part of the life of the whole community.

The 1991 Measure, with its legal framework, is a further step in securing that the twin aims of safeguarding the inheritance of the past, and fulfilling the local church's living role as a centre of worship and mission, are not incompatible. The keys to reconciling them lie in ensuring that the parish:

  • takes expert advice at an early stage about any project affecting the church, its contents or its churchyard or other land, and consults all those who have a legitimate interest in the project, both inside and outside the Church, before finalising the proposals and taking a definite decision to seek approval for them; and
  • complies scrupulously with the Church's own legal requirements and any other legislation affecting the project.

Taking these steps will avoid wasted time, energy and money, and is vital in order to obtain financial assistance for the project from 'official' sources (particularly English Heritage) where that is available. Moreover, the fact that the Church has its own comprehensive system of legal controls means that it is exempt from some aspects of the normal (secular) legislation affecting buildings of historic or architectural interest, conservation areas and ancient monuments. This leaves it with a greater flexibility to use its buildings so as to meet the needs of the living Church, while at the same time giving due weight to all the various 'heritage' considerations. It is essential that everyone with a role to play in the care and conservation of churches and all that belongs to them should understand and observe both the letter and the spirit of the new legislation, so that the Church's special position in this respect is seen to work well in the interests of the whole community and can be preserved for future generations."

Therefore, before any works are done, or alterations made, to a church, or its furnishings, or in a churchyard, or before anything is introduced or removed from a church, permission must be granted, in the form of a faculty, by the Diocesan Chancellor. Some minor items of work do not require a faculty.

The Inspection of Churches Measure 1955

The full text of the Measure can be found here

This Measure requires that the fabric of all churches is inspected by an approved professional adviser every five years and that a report of this quinquennial inspection is produced for the PCC, the archdeacon and the Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC).

Read more about the quinquennial inspection system in the Diocese of Southwark.

Secular planning legislation

The faculty jurisdiction and its associated procedures allows the Church of England to enjoy exemption from Listed Building Consent and Conservation Area Controls (with some exceptions). However, church buildings are still covered by secular planning permission procedures and Building Regulations.

Questions relating to these two Measures should be directed to the Pastoral Department at the Diocesan Office or to the Diocesan Registry.